An Amateur’s Guide to Arranging Flowers

Here’s something you don’t know about me, after two billion years of blogging (I know; I can’t believe I left a stone unturned either): I adore arranging flowers into vases or other containers.


It dates back to the late 1980’s when I was an eighteen-year-old newlywed, working at LeeWards Craft Store. I worked in the custom frame shop, which was located adjacent to the floral department. Two women who worked in Floral, Judy and Cherry, were much older than me–probably my age NOW–and very maternal towards me. I loved hanging out with them and was fascinated by what they did. They stood at the counter day after day, calmly making magic out of ceramic and glass containers and a wonderland of silk flower and greenery stems. They created wedding bouquets and corsages, huge arrangements meant for the entryway of a home, and everything in between. Where every element of every single project I worked on in the frame shop had to be approved by the customer down to the last detail, Judy and Cherry had occasional cost and color guidelines for custom jobs but were often able to let their imaginations run wild when creating arrangements to put on the shelves for sale. I used to spend half of my lunch breaks hanging out in there, just watching them create something from nothing while they worked, practically zen-like.

I wasn’t just standing there chatting, sharing candy bars, and being a generally bothersome co-worker with Judy and Cherry, though: they were accidentally teaching me about how to arrange flowers because I was paying close attention. I hardly ever put those lessons into practice back then because flowers weren’t in my house due to our needing to eat and pay rent, but almost thirty years later I am using what they taught me, and if they could see me I know they’d be proud. These days, I love standing in my kitchen, casually putting together a beautiful arrangement: it’s a creative outlet that’s also practically zen-like for me.

Here’s one thing I DON’T DO when someone gives me a plastic-wrapped mixed bouquet of flowers: take off the plastic and shove them as-is in a vase full of water. No. Just no.

Here’s what I DO when someone gives me (or I buy) a plastic-wrapped mixed bouquet of flowers:
1. I lay the bouquet on the counter and carefully take off the plastic wrapper.
2. I pick a container from the variety I have in the kitchen cabinets, my favorite being a tall copper vase, and fill it with water and the packet of floral preservative that comes with the bouquet.
3. I fill a medium-sized bowl with water.
4. Starting with the biggest flowers, I pull from the bouquet and cut a fresh edge on the bottom of each stem while it’s submerged in my bowl of water, to keep air bubbles from getting in the stem by cutting it “dry”.
5. I pull off any leaves that would be sitting in the water once the flower is in the vase, to keep the water clean longer.
6. I place the flowers into the vase, checking the stem heights as I go, making sure that I’m not cutting them all at the same length.
7. Working from the biggest flowers to smallest, I continue trimming flower stems and arranging them in the vase, turning the vase as I go to make sure that the arrangement looks pretty and interesting from all angles.
8. After all of the flowers are placed, I fill in with any greenery that was included in the bouquet, usually throwing away some of it (or using it in another arrangement if I happen to have a wealth of flowers that day).
9. For the duration, I TAKE MY TIME and savor the experience. I can stretch this activity out to about thirty minutes if I’m careful (and lucky).


Many people figure they’re done when the flowers are arranged in the one vase and when the flowers start dying a week later, they just toss everything. Not me! I re-purpose. I change the water every couple of days and as flowers die off I pull them out and throw them away. When the arrangement still has great-looking flowers in it but doesn’t look pretty anymore because I’ve pulled out too many dead ones, I grab a smaller container and start the process all over again with what’s left. Two years ago I made one bouquet last for nearly six weeks in four consecutively smaller containers. It was a proud era for me. (It doesn’t take much.)

One of our favorite movies around here is “RED”, starring Bruce Willis and my actress crush, Helen Mirren. I loved the scene in which her character—a “retired” CIA assassin—is on screen for the first time, arranging flowers at her country home. (If you’ve seen that, you have an idea of my state of mind when I arrange flowers. I mean, Helen’s character and I are practically twins if you disregard the “killing people” part of her resume.)

And with that, I think you now know everything about me.

Well, maybe.


  • Mollie

    I am a plop in a vase person myself, but I read this in it’s entirety because j can get on board hearing how anyone loves anything this much. Also, your talent gives you the added bonus of being someone worth giving flowers to! I never enjoyed getting them because the throw-away-a-week-later part of it got to me. Six weeks?!!?!!! Good work.