Flower Arrangements

Julia Berrall, in her book A History of Flower Arrangements, says that “Ever since the early days of recorded history, when the man was, at last, able to free himself from the necessities of the hunt and till the soil for his living instead, floral decoration has played an important part in his arts.” The fact that man has decorated with flowers since ancient times is indisputable. Ancient Egyptian pottery and jars include designs of flowers particularly lotus, which was sacred to the goddess Isis, and mallow and corn poppy. During the Golden Age of Greece, the use of flowers as decorations seemed to be limited to garlands and wreaths. The Greeks liked  to use pleasantly scented plants, such as laurel and saffron. They were also partial to the rose, violet, lily, cornflower, iris, cyclamen, and crocus. Flowers were exchanged on many occasions, including weddings, the birth of a son, athletic events, and festivals. Romans had a passion for roses, and they spread rose petals on their banquet tables and throughout their homes. With the fall of Rome and the onset of the Dark Ages, the Church became increasingly powerful, and flowers were grown primarily for their medicinal and culinary value. The lily, however, was cherished for its beauty and its symbolism. Thought to be a flower sacred to the Virgin Mary, lilies were quite often included within the religious art. During the Renaissance, when flowers were once again grown for pleasure, floral arrangements were considered important decorations. Many paintings are done in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries depicted greatly detailed flower arrangements, including flowers such as the rose, lily, iris, violet, and columbine {often seven stalks of columbine were used to represent the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit}. By the seventeenth century, flower arranging became a favorite pastime of the wives of wealthy and prominent men. Social rules during this period forbade many activities, but arranging flowers were definitely socially acceptable. There were many rules and instructions on how to put together an arrangement, the most important of which was “love your flowers: by some subtle sense the dear things always detect their friends,” as one writer put it. It is ageless advice. Whether or not “the dear things” can actually detect your friendship, they will certainly respond better with tender loving care. Conditioning and care of the flowers you arrange is an indispensable step in creating a beautiful bouquet or arrangement.

Conditioning Flowers

By following certain rules and taking advantage of some tricks of the trade, you can condition your flowers to last longer in water.
The most important step is to choose good, healthy plant material. If a flower doesn’t look good growing out in the garden, it is not going to look any better when you cut it and bring it indoors. During warm weather pick the flowers in the early evening, when the plants have maximum food reserves and are full and turgid. Try to maximize the amount of water the blossoms receive.To do this, cut stems at an angle and put them into the water as soon as possible. You might want to carry a bucket of water to the garden so that as you cut, you can put the stems in water immediately.
Other good rules to follow are:
1. Avoid picking fully pollinated blossoms.
2. Recut stems under water to prevent air pockets from forming in the stem.
3. Hollow-stemmed plants {such as delphiniums} the last longer if the bottom of the stem is plugged with a bit of cotton.
4. Milky stems {found on poppies, dahlias, and many other plants} should be dipped into boiling water for thirty seconds, or the ends seared with a gas flame until they turn black.
5. Generally, use room temperature water-never use ice water.
6. Some plants respond well to a weak sugar solution {one tablespoon of sugar to one quart of water}, a weak saline solution {one tablespoon of salt to one quart of water}, or a weak starch solution.

7. Use clippers for cutting woody stems and flower scissors for softer stems.

Drying Flowers

Many plants retain their shape and color quite well, and so they make good dried flowers. The easiest method for drying flowers is to hang them upside down in a dark, shady place and leave them, at least, a week. Bunch the flowers together according to type; pull off and discard the leaves. The flowers are hung upside down so the stems will be straight. Good air circulation is essential, so allow plenty of room between bunches. Hanging them up on hooks or wiring them to coat hangers are both good methods of hanging. Flowers you intend to dry are best picked in mid-morning when the dew has evaporated but before the sun gets too hot. The following flowers are especially good for air drying.  Allium; Artemisia; Baby’s breath; Clematis {seed heads}; Columbine {seed heads}; Delphinium; Foxglove; Globe amaranth; Grape hyacinth {seed heads}; Hollyhock; Honesty {seed heads}; Hosta {seed heads}; Iris {seed heads}; Lupine {seed heads}; Poppy {seed heads}; Scilla; Statice; Strawflower; Yarrow {yellow}

Pressed Flowers

Another good way to preserve flowers is to press them. Although elaborate flower presses are available old telephone books and big catalogs will suffice. Flower presses do have an advantage: They usually contain blotting paper; which will help retain better color in the blossoms than newsprint will. Flowers you choose to press should be thin and should have no thick or hard parts {although you ca always remove the petals of flowers that have a hard center}. Pick them when they are completely dry and are in prime condition. Carefully place the flowers between pages of the book or layers of a plant press. Once the flowers have dried, they become quite brittle, so position them correctly before you close the book or screw down the top to the press. Flowers should be left to dry for one to three weeks, depending on the type of plant material you used. The thinner the individual petals, the less time necessary for drying. Pressed flowers can be used to make stationary, wall hangings, or small framed pictures. Pressing flowers {common and abundant flowers only} on a trip and using these to illustrate a travel book makes a beautiful and unique memento. Although there are many methods of attaching pressed flowers to a background, one of the easiest is to use clear contact paper. Carefully arrange the flowers on the background as you wish, and then cover the entire area with contact paper. The following flowers are some of the best for pressing. Alyssum, sweet; Baby’s breath; Bachelor’s button; Calendula; Christmas rose; Clematis; Coreopsis {annual}; Cosmos; Daffodils {petals}; Hollyhocks; Johnny-jump-ups; Nicotiana; Pansy; Phlox; Pink; Primrose; poppy; violet

Flowers For Cutting

  • Artemisia: dip stems in boiling water for twenty seconds; leave in warm water for two hours.
  • Aster: cut when 3/4 open and soak overnight in sugar solution. Lasts six to ten days.
  • Bleeding heart: dip stem ends into boiling water for ten seconds, leave in cool water three hours or more.
  • Calla lily: blossoms need no special treatment; leaves should be soaked in the weak starch solution overnight.
  • Campanula: place stem ends in boiling water for twenty seconds; then plunge in deep, cool water for three hours or more.
  • Chrysanthemum: cut in full bloom, remove lower foliage, hammer ends of stems, and place in water to their necks for three hours or more.
  • Clematis: crush stem ends lightly and takes lower leaves off; allow them a long drink before arranging.
  • Cosmos: cut blooms when almost open; leave them in cool water overnight. Last five to eight days.
  • Dahlia: dip stems in boiling water for twenty seconds; let stand in sugar solution plus one aspirin. Lasts five to seven days. Avoid using the larger blossoms, for they don’t last as well as the smaller ones.
  • Delphinium: cut blossoms when tops are still in bud; fill stem with the weak starch solution and plug end with a piece of cotton. Lasts seven days.
  • Gaillardia: pick blooms when fully open; remove lower leaves and soak overnight in a weak sugar solution. Lasts seven days.
  • Gladiolus: cut when buds begin to show color; set in cool water until ready to use. If placed in warm water; buds will open overnight. Lasts seven to ten days.
  • Hosta, spring leaves: dip stems in boiling water; submerge in cold water overnight. Flowers need no extra treatment. Lasts five days.
  • Iris: give a long drink before arranging Remove flowers as they fade. Lasts seven to ten days.
  • Lily: handle gently, for they bruise easily. Cut stems on a slant; place in warm water for several hours. It lasts for seven days.
  • Marigold: scrape the bottom of the stem to expose inner tissue. Remove foliage beneath the water level. It lasts for seven days.
  • Narcissus: cut as buds show color; wipe off sap before putting stems in water. Arrange in shallow water. It lasts for seven days.
  • Phlox: cut when clusters are half-open; split stems and soak overnight in cool water.
  • Pink, carnation: cut stems at an angle between joints and put in water immediately. Cut, when centers are tight and outer petals, are firm. Lasts ten to fourteen days.
  • Peony: cut when petals begin to open; put in warm water. It lasts for seven days.
  • Poppy: cut before fully open, Dip stems in boiling water for twenty seconds; place in cool water for several hours.
  • Primrose: lasts four days. Prick stems just under flower head; plunge into the warm water for several hours.
  • Rose: cut as buds begin to open; hammer stems. Lasts five to ten days.
  • Sweetpea: handle as little as possible. Arrange in shallow water. It lasts for seven days.
  • Tulip: cut off the white part of the stem. Wrap stems together in bunches in the newspaper; place in a warm, weak starch solution. Prick stems just under flower head with a pin.
  • Vinca: either burn ends or dip in boiling water. Place in cool water overnight.
  • Zinnia: cut right above a leaf joint; remove extra foliage; place ends in boiling water for twenty seconds and then place in warm water for several hours.

Flowers For Dyeing

Dye Garden Plant List
Plant Botanical Name Type Height Flower Bloom Time Plant Part Mordant Dye Color on Wool
Agrimony Agrimonia eupatoria perennial 3-4 ft. yellow July/August leaves and stems alum brassy yellow
Alkanet Anchusa offinicinalis biennial 1-3 ft. blue mid-summer roots red dye to foods
Bloodroot Sanguinaria canadensis perennial 6-14 in. white spring roots none orange
roots alum rust
roots tin reddish pink
Bronze Fennel Foeniculum vulgare ‘Purpurascens’ annual 3-6 ft. yellow summer whole plant alum clear yellow
Black-eyed Susan Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldstrum’ perennial 2-3 ft. gold summer leaves and stems alum gold and dull orange
flower heads alum olive green
Coreopsis Coreopsis grandiflora perennial 1-2 ft. yellow daisy early summer flower and stalk alum yellow
copper brown
Dahlia Dahlia spp. tender per. 10in. – 5 ft. all but blues summer to frost flowers alum yellow to orange
Dyer’s Broom Genesta tinctoria shrub 2-3 ft. yellow June all parts alum yellow
Dyer’s Chamomile Anthemis tinctoria perennial 2 ft. yellow daisy mid summer flower alum yellow
(Golden Marguerite) flower tin, chrome gold, orange
leaves alum greens
Dyer’s Coreopsis Coreopsis tinctoria annual 1-2 ft. gold, maroon, bi-color mid summer flowers, whole plant alum gold, orange, rusty red
Dyer’s Woad Isatus tinctoria biennial 1ft. yellow spring leaves blue
Dyer’s Woodruff Asperula tinctoria perennial 1ft. white early summer leaves alum reds
Elecampane Inula helenium perennial 4-6 ft. yellow summer roots ? Scottish tartan blues, purple
Goldenrod Solidago spp. perennial up to 5 ft. gold late summer flower and stalk alum bright yellows, golds
chrome brown
Heather Calluna vulgaris shrublet 12-18 in. pinkish purple mid summer leaves& flower buds alum golden – orange
Hollyhock Alcea rosea perennial 4-8 ft. dark rose, red, black summer light colored flowers alum yellow, gold, brown
dark colored flowers alum lilac, purple,mauve
Indigo Indigofera tinctoria shrub 3 ft. violet summer leaves indigo blue
Lady’s Bedstraw Galium verum perennial 2-3 ft. yellow early summer roots alum red, brick, coral
flower alum yellow, dull gold
Lady’s Mantle Alchemilla vulgaris perennial 10- 18 in. yellow early summer yellow
Madder Rubia tinctoria perennial 2ft. pale little flowers roots alum shades of red
Marigold Tageles erecta, t. patula annual 12in.- 3 ft. yellow, orange summer to frost flowers alum yellow, gold, orange
Purple Perilla Perilla fructescens annual 3 ft. bronze leaves leaves red to foods
Pot Marigold Calendula officinalia annual 12 in -3 ft. orange/ yellow summer to frost flowers yellow to foods
Purple Basil Ocimum basilicum purpurescens annual 2 ft. pink summer tops of plants alum dark browns
Rose Mallow Hibiscus moscheutos ‘Lord Baltimore’ perennial 3-6 ft. reds, rosy reds summer flowers alum browns, black
Russian Sage Perovskia atriplicifolia subshrub 3-4 ft. blues mid/late summer flowers blue
Saffron Crocus sativus bulb 8 in. white fall stigmas yellow dye for food
Scotch Broom Cytisus scoparius Shrub 6 ft. yellow late spring flower/green stems alum yellows, yellow-green
Sunflower Helianthus annuus annual 4-6 ft. gold summer/fall flower heads alum yellow/green
Tansy Tanacetum vulgare perennial 3+ ft gold summer flower and stalk alum yellow/,gold, olive green
Weld Reseda luteola biennial 2-4 ft. yellowish late spring flower and stalk alum yellow
flower and stalk copper greenish yellow
Yarrow Achillea millefollium perennial 2-3 ft. yellow early summer flower and stalk alum yellow
Yellow Comos Cosmos sulphureus annual 1-3 ft. yellow summer flower and stalk alum orange
Yellow Root Xanthorrhiza simplicissima perennial 2 ft. roots and stalk yellow
Zinnia Zinnia elegans annual 1-3 ft. red, orange pink summer to frost flowers alum beige, tan

The flower garden provides an abundant supply of natural dyes. Leaves and flowers of many of our most beautiful flowers also are suitable for coloring wool or cotton. Good recipes and instructions for dyeing yarn and cloth are available in many books. Including mordants, such as chrome or alum, when you dye will not only fix the colors but will bring out sharper, brighter shades.