One of the reasons we garden is to grow flowers to beautify our tables as well as our landscape. Too many of us give up too easily and buy grocery store flowers because we are intimidated by the process. Flower arrangement is an art that is taught, but it can also be practiced using materials out of our own gardens if we follow the same principles professional florists use with plant materials. Plant a "cutting garden" and follow a few steps to lovely tables and fragrant summer rooms.
Choose a shape for your arrangement and find a container that will complement it. You'll need a tall vase for an informal bouquet but a low, wide container for a dinner table arrangement. Formal occasions call for long, low sprays or pyramidal table arrangements in plain, classic ceramic or brass containers, but informal tables can use baskets or colored glass --- anything that captures the colors or reflects the style of the arrangement. Use angular, plain black boxes or clear columns for "Ikebena," or minimalist Japanese-style arrangements and bud vases for single stems.
Pick flowers in the morning when they are freshest and plunge them immediately into cool water. Cool water slows their respiration down a bit --- like a florist's refrigeration case. Strip most of the leaves from the stems as you pick the flowers but wait to cut flower stems to size until you actually arrange the flowers.
Fill the vase or other arrangement container with tepid water mixed with florists' flower food. Country Living magazine reports that a few drops of bleach could be used instead of florists' food (see Resource 2). Use a "frog" or glass anchor to hold stem bases; or use florist's foam to hold stems in place. Many arrangements need neither of these, though; they can be anchored by laying stems around the container in a spiral, creating a grid to hold other stems in place.
Establish a basic shape with "form" flowers, the large-faced flowers like roses, marigolds, zinnias or dahlias that establish the body of the arrangement. Lilacs and hydrangeas provide large body with only a few stems. Cut flower stems (the section from the bottom of the bloom to the end) about twice as tall as the arrangement container. Leave a few stems until last to cut for center stems that stand taller than the others.
Set a few "line" stems to emphasize the shape and limits of your arrangement. Trim stems underwater in their holding container or a sink so that fresh cuts don't have a chance to seal with sap. Use long-stemmed flowers like gladiolus, Bells of Ireland or larkspur; or use budding branches of dogwood or magnolia. Use distinctive branches from willows, birch and other trees for line materials, too. Skin tree branches and smash the ends with a hammer before plunging them in water --- woody tissue needs some extra help with absorption.
Finish your arrangement with very small flowering "filler" branches like baby's breath, tansy, yarrow, heather or statice. Use fillers to provide background for form flowers or fill empty spaces and mask plain stems. Ferns and shiny green foliage also make good fillers.