Wildflower Arranging

by Cheryl Shank | Jul 1, 2022 | 0 comments

Fireweed with trees and meadow
Fireweed in Rocky Mountains. Photo © Dogwood Ridge.

The scenarios are endless. A slope covered with goldenrod and daisies…the first autumn olives opening…a dogwood in full bloom…a facet of my brain whispers, Time for another wildflower arrangement. When I say flower arrangement, I mean more than just a vase of flowers. While I enjoy those arrangements, I also enjoy flower arranging, using florist foam.

To make your own flower arrangement, you will need these supplies: a container, wet florist foam, flowers, a bucket of water, a sharp shears, and a bit of imagination.

Florist foam is a very fine green foam sold in craft stores. There may be several options available; the most important choice is wet or dry. Dry florist foam is fine for artificial or dried flowers, but wet (absorbent) florist foam is essential for live flowers, as I discovered on my first arrangement. It would probably still be floating if I had left it in water.

Flowers are often divided into four categories: line, massing, form, and filler. Line flowers are tall, spiky flowers like lupine or goldenrod that add height and dimension. Massing flowers, such as asters or ironweed, grow on the ends of stems and are used to fill in an arrangement. Form flowers, such as lilies or orchids, are interesting and showy; they provide a focal point, especially in informal arrangements. Filler flowers are small flowers, such as Deptford pinks, or berries inserted throughout an arrangement to “tie it together.”

Flower arrangements also have various categories. Formal and informal are commonly used to indicate symmetrical or asymmetrical arrangements. I also classify arrangements as spring or summer arrangements. In spring arrangements, a greenery base covers the foam; flowers are inserted above the greenery. Summer arrangements use little greenery, relying on flower fullness to hide the foam. Arrangements also come in many different shapes.

The first step in constructing an arrangement is deciding on the type of arrangement. Consider what flowers you would like to use and how they would work best in arrangements. Then select an appropriate container—low and obscure, or visible and pretty.

Next, cut a piece of florist foam to fit your container. Do not reuse used foam; it contains air pockets and will not absorb water well. Soak the foam in a bucket of water deep enough to cover it. Flower food may be added to this water. Never compact the foam or force it underwater; it will sink as it fills. This may take several minutes or less.

Then find a sharp scissors or shears and go flower hunting. Gathering in the morning rather than the afternoon may help your flowers not to wilt as quickly. Wrap the stems in moist paper towels to prevent water loss. If you are planning a spring arrangement, gather your greenery first.

When you return with your flowers, place the soaked foam into your container. It may be secured with florist tape. Then begin placing your flowers or greenery. Give the stems a fresh 45° angle cut to help them absorb water. Never remove stems after inserting, as this will leave air pockets. Avoid pinching or kinking flower stems; tape fragile stems to a toothpick fragment for stability.

In formal arrangements, a good rule of thumb is to set the height and width of the arrangement with several flowers, and then evenly fill in the rest. For informal arrangements, I often start at the back and work to the front. Add filler flowers last to complete your arrangement.

Congratulations! You have created a beautiful wildflower arrangement. Don’t worry if it isn’t perfect; most people admire, not scrutinize. As you practice, don’t forget that flower arrangements make wonderful gifts. Use them to bless a friend, neighbor, or shut-in.

It is important to remember that wildflower arrangements may not last very long; I have found three days to be about average. Using flower food and refrigerating arrangements at night may increase their duration. Keeping flowers away from fruit helps as well, since fruit gives off ethylene gas that ages flowers.

Another factor to consider is flower type; some flowers simply last longer than others. Warm weather can shorten flower duration. If flowers are picked young, they will naturally last longer than those that have already been open several days. Some flowers will open even when picked in bud; others, such as rhododendron, will not.

This is where I find a flower log to be helpful. I can record which flowers lasted and which ones did not. The next year, I can see which flowers are best to use. While not a foolproof system, it does allow me to estimate how long a bouquet will last.

And if you are like me, the next year you will use the short-lived flowers again. If azaleas are blooming but only last three days, then in three days I can enjoy creating another arrangement. Happy wildflower arranging!

Tips for Gathering Wildflowers

  • Never over-pick wild populations. Pick flowers only when found in abundance.
  • Never pick rare or protected flowers. Flowers are protected in areas such as National Parks. Check state and local laws.
  • Collect only where you have permission.
  • Some flowers, such as orchids, reproduce slowly. Pick sparingly and only when legal and found in abundance.
  • Use a sharp scissors or shears to cut flower stems. Be careful not to uproot the plant.

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