How to Arrange Flowers Like Jane Austen

This summer is going to be busy! With four weddings in four months, two out of state and two requiring my participation, I’ve been thinking about brides and bouquets more days than I’d care to admit.  It’s been neat to see a few arrangements already, these gals owing many-an-idea to Pinterest and CraftGawker. At the two most recent weddings, I was asked to help with the flowers. You see, my mom is a florist turned gardener turned landscape designer, and somehow the flora knowledge that trickled down to me seems to read “flower expert.” I boast no such title.

I will, however, admit to knowing the lost feminine art of arranging flowers for household bouquets.  Back in the day, women were often schooled in flower harvesting (to be distinguished from the act of growing the flowers strictly reserved for the gardener) and arrangement for domestic design.

Depending on the region and annual season, an estate might boast anywhere from 15-30 vases of flowers on dining tables, side tables, coffee tables, corner tables…any surface in want of a pop of color and fresh scent.

There are two basic ways to arrange flowers based on this model. The first is the 180° view, and the other is the 360° view. These directly correspond to the view angle from which the arrangements will be seen. For example, the 180° view might be atop a mantle. As such, there would exist no reason for creating a round, symmetrical bouquet when half will be smashed against a wall. The 360° view bouquets are used for table centerpieces, small personal vases on bedside stands, or bathroom tussie mussies.

Beginning with the 180° view, choose a container or vase that appropriately matches your décor. Thrift stores and yard sales offer great eclectic finds for a few bucks. My favorites are the square, green glass ones with pedestal feet. You might want to use a florist’s block of Styrofoam which you wet and stick the stems into. If you’re going guerilla style, you’ll need to start the bouquet in your hand then transfer to the vase. Start with your biggest flower heads and hold them up at the stem. Using odd numbers, start with 1, 3, or 5 stems. Then choosing the best side, build from that base. Add small filler flowers and greenery like baby’s breath or ferns. Then add some bigger flowers. When you have between 10-15 stems, transfer the bouquet to your vase and continue sticking in stems, watching for “holes” where spots look empty. To get a good balance, you’ll either want absolute symmetry or asymmetry with varying flowers using similar traits. For example, one sunflower equals two small peonies.  Try varying the length of the stems for height variety.

For the 360°, the principle is similar. Start with your flower base, and grasp at the stem below the flower head. Build up one side with filler flowers, and then rotate the bunch 90°. Add more fillers. Rotate.  Repeat until all sides are filled with a variety of fillers and greenery. Then add your substantial flowers again, mirroring opposite sides. For example, as you put one on the left side, put one on the right, but not on all four or five sides. Keep rotating as you add more stems. If you have three or more colors, balance the colors by mirroring. Finally, give the bouquet a final even cut, and place in your vase.

Enjoy your flowers in the sun with a “right cup o’ tea” and a good novel.