The Charlottesville Garden Club

Flower Arranging


Arrangers Toolkit Conditioning Flowers
General Rules for Arranging Books


Arrangers Toolkit

Materials for the well-equipped arranger to have on hand:
Sheet or lawn sack to spread under arrangement while working
Oasis tape,split roll (not corsage tape)
Scotch tape
Scissors, clippers, hand pruners
Green chicken wire
Watering can
Baster (to add water where it is hard to reach with a watering can)
Measuring tape or a yardstick
Paint brush (for brushing off petals)
Water picks with pointed ends and water picks with rounded end (for round wooden sticks)
Glue gun
Fishing weights
Stand or Lazy Susan
Paper towels and garbage bags
Weather stripping (Office Depot or hardware store) --a sticky substance used to anchor  a saucer holding oasis to the top of a container when height is needed
Materials to take to a flower show:
Registration Card
3 x 5 white index card with list of plant materials used
If you use plant material from a florist, you need to designate it with an F next to it.
Extra index cards
Scissors and hand pruners
Small watering can
Extra flowers/plant material
Water picks, both kinds, and sticks to add length if needed
Flashlight (so you can peer down into the arrangement and not overfill with water)
Paper towels
Bungee cords, bricks,or weights to hold arrangement steady in the car
Try to view the finished arrangement (on a pedestal, etc.) as it will be seen at the Show.
If a flower needs to be removed, never pull it out as half the arrangement will come with
it.  Cut it back so it cannot be seen.


Conditioning Flowers

When we create a flower arrangement we want the creation to last as long as possible.  The proper conditioning of the cut plant material before arranging can ensure that the life of your flowers and greenery  is prolonged as much as possible. The following methods for conditioning flowers have been tested and proven to be effective.
Maximize water absorption and water maintenance:
Cut your flowers early in the morning or near or after sunset.
Cut the stems as long as possible.
Place the flowers in warm water and leave them for several hours or overnight to absorb as much water as possible.
Split the ends of woody-stemmed flowers or branches.  Place them in hot water and leave them for eight hours or overnight.  For flowers with stems that bleed white milky juices such as poinsettias and poppies, sear the stem over a flame to seal the cut and preserve moisture.
Re-cut stems before placing the flowers in arrangements.
Minimizing Bacteria Growth
Use fresh water, clean clippers, and clean containers.  To clean a container, fill it with water, add a small amount of liquid bleach, and leave it for at least fifteen minutes.
Remove all leaves that would be underwater in the arrangement to prevent the growth of bacteria and rotting.
Add a small amount of alcohol, liquid bleach, or sugar to the water in your vase or container to retard the growth of bacteria.  Use the following proportions:
Alcohol:      One teaspoon of vodka or grain alcohol, not rubbing alcohol, to one quart of water.
Bleach:     One teaspoon of bleach to one quart of water.
Sugar:       One tablespoon of sugar to one quart of water.
Since cut flowers absorb an amazing amount of water, add water to the vase or container daily.  If the water is cloudy, add a little liquid bleach with the new water.  There is really no need to change all the water in the container, just add water as needed.  Be sure to check the water level daily.
Reviving Wilted Flowers
Re-cut ends of stems.  Place stems in very hot water on a slant so that steam will not damage the blooms.


General Rules for Arranging

1) Choose the right foam for the flowers you are using. Generally, green water-retaining foam is for fresh flowers and foliage; stiffer foam is for dried or artificial flowers.

2) Think about the size of the space in which your arrangement will be placed, and choose the size of your container and flowers accordingly. A huge vase and lots of flowers will look overcrowded on a small side table, and equally, a small vase and a few flowers would be completely lost in a large area such as a Church.

3) When making an arrangement for a dining table, keep it low (no more than 9" high at its highest point) so that guests can converse with each other across the table without having to fight their way through the flowers!! However, if you are making an arrangement for a buffet table, always make the arrangement on a pedestal or in a tall vase to bring the flowers up and out of the way of the food.

4) Use flowers in different stages of development, from bud to full bloom. Place the buds at the top and edges of the arrangement, and the largest fullest flowers in the center of the arrangement, more towards the bottom of the design, to form the focal area. Half-open flowers can fall anywhere between these two.

5) Use flowers and foliage with different shapes, colors and textures, for a more interesting design. Generally, you need three sorts of shapes - line material (straight leaves, such as Iris leaves, Bear Grass, and flowers such as Liatris, Foxtail Lilies, etc), generally used to form the outline shape of your design; rounded materials (such as Carnations, open Roses, Gerberas, etc.), generally used as the focal flowers; and intermediate or filler materials, (such as Gypsophila, Waxflower, small, ferny foliage) to act as stepping stones between the other materials, and to "fill in". Use different textured materials such as fern or lace like, furry, bold, etc., which will reflect the light differently and give interest to the design. Try to incorporate different coloured foliage, according to your colour scheme, which again will add interest to the design.

6) Flowers such as Roses, Daffodils, Gerbera Daisies, etc., try to turn some of them at different angles to show a different shape. Never arrange all your flowers facing forwards - this is very boring!!

7) Always remove the stamens on Lilies. There are several reasons for this: a) the pollen will stain the flower; b) The pollen will stain any clothing or furnishings it may come into contact with; c) removing the stamens makes the flowers last a bit longer (this is because a flower which has been pollinated has completed its job in life, and therefore dies fairly soon after pollination - by removing the stamens, this is prevented, thus making the flower last longer). NEVER cut off the stamens with scissors. This is ugly, and unprofessional, and causes discolouration. Use your fingers to pull the stamens off, leaving a nice neat point which will not discolor.

8) Make sure that your colours are evenly balanced - this means not having more strong colours over one side of the arrangement than the other.

9) Always allow some space between the flowers to prevent a crowded effect. Constance Spry always said one should leave room for the butterflies!

10) Fillers such as sand, small stones or gravel can be used under the foam to raise it up so that you don't have to use so much in a deep container. This will also add weight to the container to make it more stable.

11) When using clear containers, add marbles, layers of interesting pebbles, or shells to hide the foam.

12) Position a container with three legs to show one leg directly in front. This will help the balance of the design, and prevent it from falling forward with the weight of the flowers.

13) Always check that baskets with waterproof linings do not leak before using them. Minute punctures in the plastic lining do not always show up, and can result in unexpected leaks. Fill the basket with water and leave for around half an hour, somewhere waterproof like a draining board or sink. By this time, any minute puncture in the lining will be leaking water, and you will know that the basket leaks. If in doubt, line the basket again with polythene, clingfilm or tinfoil.

14) Never place containers directly onto polished surfaces. Any unexpected water spillage can cause damage which may be difficult and expensive to rectify. Use a waterproof base under the container.

15) Never place your arrangement on top of electrical appliances. Any stray water or an unexpected leak can cause more damage than you had bargained for!

General Information for Arranging Artificial Flowers

1) Artificial materials and the dry-foam in which they are arranged are quite light in weight, so always weight your container with sand, pebbles or gravel at the bottom, to give greater stability. If using a clear container, add marbles, layers of interesting pebbles, or shells to hide the foam and give stability.

2) Use wire cutters to shorten stems, as scissors may not be strong enough. Stems can be lengthened by using wooden floral picks (floral picks are wooden sticks that come in different lengths, and have wire loops at the top. By wrapping the wire loop around the short stem you have the additional length of the wooden stick to use as the flower stem) or use another stem of similar thickness and color. The stem can be attached with a stub wire, then taped with green or brown floral tape (use the crepe type since it works best for this, as it tends to be stickier, and doesn't slip when you're working with it).

3) Never use bare stub wires in an arrangement. This looks very unprofessional. Use green wires or tape the wire using florists' stem tape.

4) Artificial plants, pre-formed artificial bouquets and foliage can be split into single stems for individual arrangements, or smaller designs like corsages, headdresses and boutonnieres.

5) Think about the way each type of flower or foliage would usually grow, and gently arrange the stems of the flowers and leaves so that they look natural, before inserting them into the foam.

6) When using clear containers, add marbles, layers of interesting pebbles, shells, raffia, potpourri or moss (natural or dyed) to hide the foam.

7) If your arrangement is to be permanent, then dip stems in pan glue, white glue or hot glue before inserting them into the foam for greater stability and permanence.

8) Some artificial materials can be swished in warm soapy water to clean them, then rinsed in clear water, but to avoid any problems, and to save having to rearrange the design, regularly use a hairdryer on a low setting to blow off any dust from the arrangement.


The New Flower Arranger
Author: Fiona Barnett
Barnes & Noble, 1999
Highly recommended, but not available new.  See Barnes & Noble "Out of Print & Used Books" where a number of copies are available from about $7 to $23.

The Complete Guide to Flower Arranging
Jane Packer
Barnes & Noble, 1998, Paperback, $15
Jane Packer has written many books on flower arranging. Some are available new but most can be found in Barnes & Noble online "Out of Print and Used Books" section. Look for Fast Flower Arranging, 1998

Madderlake's Trade Secrets
Finding & Arranging Flowers Naturally
Tom Pritchard & Billy Jarecki
Clarkson N. Potter, Inc. New York 1994
"Practical advice with examples and instructions on how to find, care for, and create natural flower arrangements. Beautiful photographs. A must for anyone with a love for flowers".

Fresh Flowers for all Seasons
By Jenny Raworth and Susan Berry
The Readers Digest Association, Inc.   1996
This is a wonderful book that covers every aspect of flower arranging step by step.  It includes: Basic Techniques, Principles of Design, Shape, Color, Texture, and even Scented plants.  A must for the novice!


Fearless Flower Arranging
Visit to make flower arrangements you never ever thought you could make. Learn how to create stunning and effortless arrangements quickly. Necessary materials for each arrangement are listed on each video so you can have everything you need right at your fingertips. Enjoy flower arranging with talented Anne Vanderwarker.