Once I received this advice: “If you are down to your last two coins, spend one for bread, another for hyacinths.” Beauty and sustenance, both necessities. But in hard times how can you bring those hyacinths into your life?
Flower-arranging is a venerable art, but some of us must make due with flowers plucked from the roadside or gathered from Korean markets rather than the bountiful harvests of our own gardens or the rich offerings of Fifth Avenue Florists.
Here are some tips to make sub-par material pop.
Heat and light are the deadliest enemy of cut flowers. Remember, as wonderful as they look, they are no longer growing so the rules reverse. When you cut flowers from your garden or pluck a bouquet that has been sitting outside at the Korean Market, you are working with material that is dry and heat stressed.
Begin with a sharp knife, not scissors. Re-cut your flower’s stems with a fresh, slanted surface that exposes the maximum surface area to receive water. Strip the bottom few inches of the stem so that they do not sit in water and rot.
Prepare a vase with cold water to which a drop or two of chlorine bleach has been added. The bleach will prevent the growth of microorganisms that foul water or seal the newly-cut stems. After arranging the flowers in your favorite container, move it into the coldest place you can find. A refrigerator is not out of the question. Otherwise, try for a cold area of your home such as a screened-in porch or North exposure of your window. Cut bouquets will last longest in the spring or fall.
If you buy roses, beware of “bullets.” These are tightly wrapped flowers that die without ever opening. Instead, look for roses that have just begun to open.
By the same token, avoid flowers that are fully-open, regardless of what you are buying, because they are late in their life cycle and have been exposed to excessive heat.
Don’t believe that a bouquet consists solely of flowers. Add cut asparagus fern, twigs, pussy-willows, leaves, berries or other found items to fill out your bouquet.
Consider a small vase with one dramatic flower. Perhaps a rose with a spray of asparagus fern or a spike of orchids.
Try re-purposing other containers besides standard vases. Bowls, tumblers, watering cans and many others will work. Proportion is key, not the original use for the container. So long as the height of the flowers is coordinated with the height of the container, you will get a nice look.
When not enjoying the flowers relocate the arrangement to a colder area. Temperatures as cold as the low 40ºs Fahrenheit work well. Change water daily if possible, adding cold water to the very top of the arrangement, just below the level where leaves or flowers touch. Floral arrangements are thirsty for fresh water and the fresh air. Water is literally the fountain of youth. Be sure to re-cut the stems too so that they do not seal or become blocked with bacterial gook. Clogged pipes don’t carry water. Add a drop of bleach each time too.
After flowers drop, many can be made into an arrangement one last time. Take a shallow bowl filled with water and float the fallen flowers in water. This looks great with orchids, peonies and many others.
Expensive floral arrangements can often be allowed to dry naturally when their life as fresh flowers is over and kept without water in a vase at your desk at work for months. Just remove the ugly or flyblown flowers and rearrange in a smaller container.
The same principal can be used when expensive office flowers are to be trashed. With approval, presentable flowers can be salvaged and re-arranged in a smaller vase with some twigs, leaves or berries.
Make space for flowers in your heart and in your home. Beauty feeds the soul in difficult times.