Flower Arranging 101

February 12, 2013

Inspired by conversations on the FOOD52 Hotline, we're sharing tips and tricks that make navigating all of our kitchens easier and more fun. 


Today: How to buy, arrange, and care for flowers like a professional.

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Starting arrangement

It's February: the doldrums of winter, the month of Valentine's Day, the time when we start aching, longing, and praying for spring.

All of these are reasons to buy fresh flowers.

But arranging these flowers? We know. It's scary. Which is why it's so easy to go for the pre-made bouquets at a flower shop, or to stick to one, simple type, or to forgo flowers altogether and dive into chocolate cake instead.

To get over our flower-arranging anxiety, we spoke to our favorite flower guru: Meredith Sexton, the florist for the Vetri Family of restaurants in Philadelphia. Armed with a good pair of scissors, we got to work -- and realized that the process itself is just as rewarding as the final product.


Choosing your flowers

• Pick a color sequence of no more than three colors. It's easy to get carried away while browsing a flower shop -- but making something beautiful is easier when your flowers match each other. In the winter, we're fans of purple and orange; white, green and blue; or, in honor of Valentine's Day, red, white, and pink.

Bouquet 1  Flower bouquet 2

• Get inspired. If you fall in love with one color or type of flower, carry it around the shop with you. Then, match up the potential accompaniments, seeing if their colors and shapes work well together.

• If you're making multiple bouquets, pick a base flower. Look out for an inexpensive, filler flower in a neutral color -- and then stretch it throughout all of your arrangements. This allows you to buy in bulk -- and to have fun picking special items for each separate bouquet. Meredith is a fan of using white limonium as her base flower; they're small, elegant, and allow the bigger, more colorful flowers to pop.

• Be wary of the flowers on sale. They're on sale for a reason; the store is trying to move them quickly. If you're looking for your flowers to last up to a week, it's best to buy them full-price.

• Big flowers stretch the farthest. If you're on a budget -- or if you're nervous about making your own arrangement -- go for a larger type of flower. They take up more space in a bouquet, so you can buy less of them -- and they're easier to work with while building a bouquet.

• Think about timing. Some flowers, like roses and tulips, benefit from a night in water. If you're building a bouquet for the same day, it's important to keep this in mind.


Arranging your flowers

• Pick your vase. For a rustic look, we're fans of circular, wide-mouthed vases -- even pitchers. For a more refined arrangement, go for a tall, skinny vase. 

• Where will your flowers be standing? Is your arrangement a centerpiece for a table? Will the vase be standing against a wall? The placement of your bouquet will determine how you arrange it.

• If you're using a round, wide-mouthed vase, make the arrangement in your hand first. Start with the flowers you'd like in the center, and start building around them, rotating the bouquet in your hand. When you're satisfied, you can cut them all together -- and just plop them in your vase!

Building  Building  Cutting

• If you're using a tall, skinny vase, think about height. Since these vases look beautiful standing against a wall, take advantage of your point of reference. Starting from the front, build your bouquet upwards, so that the tallest flowers stand up in the back. Here's where your filler flowers come in; use them as your tall backdrop, while letting your colors pop in the front.

Bouquet 1  Bouquet 2

• Prune, prune, prune. Just because you buy the flowers a certain way doesn't mean they're finished. Trim away all extra leaves, thorns, branches, and other distractions; you want the flowers themselves to shine.

Pruning  Pruning

• Work on symmetry. When you're starting arrangements, it's easiest to make things beautiful by working in symmetry. Putting a pink flower on the left? Put another on the right. Is there a big flower towards the front? Try framing the bouquet with them.

• Test for height. Each flower should get two snips: one to test the height, and one to determine the height. This allows room for error -- the first snip should allow for a second cut, so that you don't accidentally cut flowers too short.

Cutting Cutting Cutting

• Experiment! Nothing is permanent. Once you've got the height down, play around! These are only flowers, and they're beautiful on their own. Your job is to have fun with them.


Taking care of your flowers

• Change your water every day. If you have time, wash the vase with soap and water, and add a tiny bit of bleach to each new change of water (this will kill the bacteria). Each time you put your flowers in new water, you should give the stems a fresh cut. Meredith is not a fan of flower food; she believes it can make the flowers over-bloom.

• Do a mid-week check-in. These are living plants, after all -- they're going to morph as they get older. Take some time to prune your bouquet as the week goes on.

What are your favorite kinds of flowers, and how do you like to arrange them?

Vetri Bouquet Vetri Bouquet

Photos by James Ransom and Meredith Sexton

Throwing a party?

Build a Centerpiece

Shuck Oysters

Set the Table

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Veronica Flores
    Veronica Flores
  • pamelalee
  • sophiea
  • darksideofthespoon
Brette Warshaw

Written by: Brette Warshaw

I'm a reader, eater, culinary thrill-seeker, and food nerd.


Veronica F. August 11, 2013
I also would add, once flowers are all placed in the vase, cup the bouquet on either side with your hands and gently lift them an inch or two to fluff them up and out. I always love the way this helps them to fall nicer and look a little less "arranged", especially in the case of most bulb flowers or wildflowers. :)
pamelalee February 14, 2013
I was so glad to read, "prune your bouquet as the week goes on". This is one of the most ignored tips! When a flower is past its prime, pull it out. Only the most beautiful foliage and flowers deserve a spot in your bouquet. This will mean trimming the stems to make a much shorter posie and arranging it in a smaller vase.
sophiea February 12, 2013
What does "over-bloom" mean?
darksideofthespoon February 12, 2013
I worked as a florist after high school. A few essential tips I have to give are:
Follow the rules of 3, 5, 7. Odd numbers of flowers are more appealing to the eye.
When holding the bouquet, try and add in a clockwise order. IE, If you put a flower "facing" north, add one on the east side. Then south, followed by west.
Keeping that in mind, add flowers at an angle, not so the stem is straight down.
After you tie the flowers (essential to keeping the bouquet looking the same), cut all the stems (using a knife sharp enough to cut through a tomato, or sharp clippers) and quickly put them in water. The flower's stem will begin to "heal" the cut after 30 seconds and that limits the amount of water it drinks!
Cut the flowers EVERYDAY.
darksideofthespoon February 12, 2013
And replace the water every day. ;) I love this post, arranging flowers is so much fun!