Most of the time, a DIY flower arrangement involves bringing home a bouquet or two of fresh cut flowers, placing them in a generic glass vase pulled from under the sink and then wondering why they look a little off….but it doesn’t have to be that way.
How to make beautiful flower arrangements yourself
by voiturerobert.com ·
Expert tips and tricks for beautiful DIY arrangements, in three vase styles
September 21, 2023 at 6:00 AM EST
Here’s what they recommend.
Container: Short and squat
Recommended flowers: Hydrangeas, roses, dahlias, carnations, ranunculus, pinaceae, sea oats.
Pro Tip: Buy twice as many flowers as you think you need.
When it comes to designing a small vase arrangement, more is definitely more. “If you’re doing a low, tight arrangement, it’s better for it to be full and lush than to look sparse,” says Amy Wilber, floral event decorator at Hillwood Museum. Plan to purchase enough flowers to fill twice the size of the vase’s opening. “Once you cut them to the right size, they often don’t take up as much space as you thought they would,” she says.
To begin any arrangement, use floral secateurs or sharp scissors to cut the end of each flower at a 45-degree angle, and strip the foliage from the portion of the stems that will be submerged in water. Short stems are less stable, so you may want to add some support to the low arrangement. One easy trick is to tape a grid across the top of the container with clear floral tape or scotch tape. “It allows you to have a drive that the flowers slide into, so they hold the look and feel of the design better,” says Rachel Junge of Helen Olivia Floral Design in Alexandria, Virginia.
Fill the pot with water first, then start the arrangement with one or two “mass flowers.” The mass flower is a single-stemmed flower with one large, complete head. Gang likes to start with a hydrangea or two, because they provide a forgiving base and take up a lot of space in the vase, and then add roses or dahlias and smaller flowers like ranunculus or scabies, also known as pinaceae. . For a budget-conscious option, Wilbur suggests old-school carnations. “I know some people may have a strong aversion to them, but they add a nice textural quality to this type of arrangement,” she says.
Herbs, such as sea oats and eucalyptus seeds, can help fill out the arrangement. “Even if the container is really squat, I still want to have some sort of wispy gesture coming from the body of the arrangement to give it a little movement. Just make sure it doesn’t block the view of the people sitting across the table from you,” Wilber says.
Container: long and cylindrical
Recommended flowers: Delphiniums, larkspurs, gladioli, sunflowers, lilies, dahlias, cosmos.
Pro Tip: To give short stems a boost, fill the bottom of the vase with pebbles or lemons and limes.
The tall arrangements are meant to be showy, and their verticality is part of the drama. “My rule of thumb is that the arrangement should be no more than 1.5 times the height of the container, to stabilize the arrangement,” Wilber says. “Anything longer than that and you run the risk of it being unbalanced.”
For a 12-inch vase, the flowers should be no more than 18 inches high, so the arrangement will be 30 inches tall, measured from the base of the pot. If your stems are too short to touch the bottom, Wilbur recommends filling the first few inches of your container with gravel or lemons and limes.
Jane Ha, founder and president of the Washington Flower School in Takoma Park, Maryland, likes to start with long “line flowers” to determine the highest point in the arrangement. “A linear flower will have a long, strong stem and florets growing along the stem, like a delphinium, larkspur, or gladioli,” she says. Other examples of line flowers include snapdragons, veronicas, and bells of Ireland.
Next, Ha creates the “face” of the arrangement using the main flowers or focal point. This can include any long-stemmed flowers such as sunflowers, lilies, calla lilies and some roses. For major flower placement, Wilbur likes to think in odd-number increments. “For example, you can create a triangle with three large, central flowers, and then fill that triangle with other flowers, such as dahlias or smaller zinnias,” she says.
Arrange the largest flowers for a more natural look. And don’t forget the greenery—Wilbur recommends incorporating foliage and grasses for texture and movement. “You want something with roll quality so the arrangement doesn’t look too firm in the container,” she says.
Or make it very simple. If you don’t want to mess around with lots of different flowers, Ha suggests sticking to just one type of linear flower, such as a group of delphiniums, for a classic look.
Recommended flowers: Dahlias, peonies, roses, tulips, ranunculus, eucalyptus.
Pro Tip: Adding structural reinforcement, such as a floral frog, is usually necessary with this type of container.
No other bowl is as well suited to romantic flower arrangements as the statue bowl, a bowl often featured in Dutch and Flemish botanical paintings of the 17th century. But the wide-mouth shape presents a challenge for the home organizer. “It’s shallow with a very large opening, so mechanics become more important,” Gang says. To enhance the structure, use a floral frog or line the inside of the vase with a chicken wire cushion. For the latter, cut a square of chicken wire and fold it into a pillow or ball, turning any sharp ends inward so they don’t scratch the bowl. Place it in the vase. This should create a frame for the stems to slide into easily. Taping the mesh over the hole can also help.
Wilbur begins by filling in greenery and branches—which make up the tallest part of the arrangement—to create an architectural skeleton. “I like to green up 75 percent of the arrangement before bringing in the flowers,” she says. For foliage, she recommends eucalyptus, ruscus, fern, oak leaf sprigs, or magnolia leaves.
Place larger flowers such as dahlias, peonies or roses near the base of the bouquet, which will create a little support for the other flowers. Next, bring flowers with some movement or bend to the stem, such as tulips or ranunculus. Wilbur is particularly fond of Cloony’s larger buttercups. “If you think about Dutch artists, they painted lilies, tulips, roses, etc., so you can let that theme guide you,” she says. Finally, artistic imperfection is key to this look, so incorporate an element that appears loose or asymmetrical, such as wayward tendrils or a cascading vine.
As for the color palette, Wilbur likes to work with contrasting colors, like blue and orange, because they make the arrangement more dynamic. Gang prefers to stick to colors that are adjacent on the color wheel—for example, an citrus palette of coral, orange, and peach. If you choose monochrome, incorporate different tones and textures to keep the arrangement interesting. And be sure to moisturize your flowers properly. “The first night after you’re done arranging, the flowers drink the most, so replenish the water to the top the next morning,” says Ha.
Michelle Bruner is a DC writer covering interior design and culture.