Photo above: Jewel-tinted ink bottle vases each hold a stem of dogwood flowers (£34.95 for set of four, sarahraven.com)
Article by Pattie Barron
No question: flowers transform a space. Nothing sings spring louder than a mass of fragrant butter-yellow mimosa. Cut flowers in blossom, bud and full bloom bring a room to life.
And do not get stressed about arrangements. A loose bunch of seasonal flowers is key to setting a relaxed, welcoming atmosphere in your home.
WHAT TO WARE
A stash of vases of all kinds is all part of the display. Says Kally Ellis, founder of McQueens, London’s fashionable florist and decorator of post-Oscar LA parties: “Every home should have three kinds of vases: a fishbowl for hand-tied bouquets, a tall, conical shape for lilies and branches, a wide tank vase that is handy for hyacinths and tulips.”
Jugs and pitchers lend a laid-back vibe: kitchen stores, junk shops and car boot sales are all great sources. Anything blue and white – from Chinese ginger jars to Cornishware striped milk jugs – somehow complements every kind of flower, whatever the colour. For something special, take a look at splatterware pitchers, murano glass and wire-framed stem vases at willowcrossley.com.
TIP: A ceramic or opaque glass will hide debris in the flower water.
MORE BLOOM FOR YOUR BUCK
At this time of year, a bunch of scarlet tulips crammed in a jug makes a great spring statement, but you don’t need masses of flowers to create an impact. Bud vases – small holders that are designed to hold a single stem – are a smart way of creating a tablescape of flowers. A mix of old perfume bottles and small jars of different shapes and sizes are ideal, or buy coloured glass holders shaped like inkpots, which have their own beauty and glow in sunlight (sarahraven.com).
TIP: When flowers appear past their peak in a vase salvage the good ones, trim the stems and give each one a second life in a bud vase.
TRICKS OF THE TRADE
To get the most from your flowers, you need to condition them first. Strip off all foliage that is going to be beneath the water line, to keep the water clean and prolong the flower life. Trim stems and cut on a slant for maximum water uptake; for thick stems, use garden secateurs to make a sharp cut.
If you’ve bought a supermarket bouquet with a flower food sachet, use it, because it helps keep bacteria at bay. Alternatively, copy the experts and add a quarter of a sterilising tablet or crushed aspirin.
TIP: Cut-flower queen Sarah Raven adds a drop of bleach as a pong-preventative for strong-smelling flowers such as alliums, stocks and ornamental cabbages.
WHICH FLOWERS LAST LONGEST…
Alstroemerias, aka Peruvian lillies, undoubtedly offer the best value, lasting literally for weeks. With their exquisite, delicately patterned blooms, in the prettiest colour range, they provide the glamorous look of full-scale lilies at a budget-friendly price. Other notable long lifers: hydrangeas, sea holly, sunflowers.
…AND WHICH LAST LEAST?
Budded roses might seem a good bet because the best seems yet to come, but frequently they end up hanging their heads. If you love roses avoid tight buds and buy looser, fuller blooms that contrarily will last longer and are more likely to be scented.
TIP: Ceramic or china vases will keep water cooler so blooms last longer.
FILL WITH FOLIAGE
Make arrangements fuller with imaginative foliage such as chartreuse green bupleurum, pale grey eucalyptus, cream-and-green pittosporum, red-tinged bottlebrush. White silver birch and contorted willow stems add height. Use small bunches of herbs, too, such as pale green sage leaves, feathery dill and fennel stems. If you grow rosemary on your balcony – and you really should – then cut sprays to supplement and bring fresh, revitalising fragrance into your home.
TIP: Cheap and cheerful baby’s blossom, the florists’ favourite standby, is a great filler for a vase of lily stems, which can look bare solo.
KEEP IT LOCAL
Buy flowers in season for a true feeling of the seasons, and because they are cheaper. In spring, take your pick from forsythia, anemones, ranunculus, pussy willow stems, deep blue hyacinths, and tulips; early summer, lilac blossom and lily of the valley, followed by sweet peas, peonies, foxgloves, Solomon’s Seal and hydrangeas; later, salvias and fabulous dinner-plate dahlias.
WHERE TO PLACE FLOWERS
* Place a flower arrangement against a mirror and you instantly double the value, double the impact. Make more of a display, too, by placing on a mirrored or reflective surface.
* In the same way as white, cream and yellow flowers lighten a shady garden border, use similar light, bright shades to lift the gloom in a dark corner.
* If you’re dressing a table for guests keep it low with bud vases not one big centre display.
* Welcome guests with flowers in the hallway and the bathroom.
Photography by Jonathan Buckley