How to Arrange Fresh Flowers

Have fun arranging flowers from your garden or local market, says Josh Tierney, of Great Performances. Aim to please yourself, and your floral pieces will be fabulous.

Photo By: Courtesy Amanda Gentile / Great Performances

Photo By: Courtesy of Amanda Gentile / Great Performances

Photo By: Courtesy Amanda Gentile / Great Performances

Photo By: Courtesy Amanda Gentile / Great Performances

Photo By: Courtesy Amanda Gentile / Great Performances

Photo By: Photo by Amanda Gentile / Courtesy Great Performances

Photo By: Courtesy of Great Performances

Photo By: Photo by Amanda Gentile / Courtesy Great Performances

Photo By: Photo by John Labbe / Courtesy Great Performances

Photo By: Photo by Amanda Gentile / Courtesy Great Performances

Photo By: Courtesy of Great Performances

Photo By: Courtesy Great Performances

Photo By: Photo by Amanda Gentile / Courtesy Great Performances

Teapot Arrangement

Get creative when you're arranging flowers from your yard or local market, says Josh Tierney, Director of Style & Design for New York's Great Performances. "The key is keeping it simple. A lot of people approach floral arrangements as something very formal, and they get nervous about how to handle the flowers. Trust your intuition. It's like arranging furniture in a room, or putting together an outfit. Consider the same qualities: composition, balance, and style. Don't get flustered by the flowers. Keep it natural."

Floral Market Arrangements

Fresh-cut flowers from local markets or your garden make spectacular arrangements. If you may have many different kinds of flowers, and you're not sure what to do with them, Tierney suggests doing "mono-arrangements". Then cluster them together, "so you might have one of cosmos, one of roses, one of tulips and one of hydrangeas, for a sort of 'European floral market' feeling."

Flowers with Wheat Stalks

Arranging with local flowers is trending now, says Tierney. "There's a move away from rounded, mounded shapes in floral design and a move toward naturalist shapes." Look around your vegetable garden, he adds, and add pea tendrils, rhubarb leaves or wheat stalks. (Tierney warns that parts of rhubarb plants can be poisonous. Do not use any plants or parts of plants that may be toxic around children or pets. Wash your hands thoroughly after handling toxic plants.) Then "pay attention to composition, scale, height and textures, and what looks good together. That knowledge comes from the rules of art, which are about perspective, line, form and shape. But if you don't have a handle on that, it's okay. Keep it simple. Please your heart and eye."

Creative Containers

When you're choosing a container for your floral arrangement, look around your home, says Tierney. He suggests a set of eclectic teacups, "an old, brass Moroccan urn, a silver English teapot or a china compote." Look for containers in thrift stores, flea markets and yard sales, or check around your home for pails, old vases or vintage buckets. The front container shown here holds anemones. The one on the left is filled with succulents; the one on the right holds stems of veronica.

Wildflowers in Arrangements

Try using hardy wildflowers in your arrangements. "Look around your yard and see if you can envision any weeds as part of the arrangement," says Tierney. Consider adding branches, shrub cuttings, ferns or hosta leaves. "Sometimes the most humble flowers from the side of the road, like Queen Anne's Lace, can be really beautiful." This bouquet consists of sweet peas, lilacs, veronica and wildflowers.

Dinner Party Arrangements

If you're arranging flowers for a dinner party, Tierney may use one large centerpiece or multiple elements for his designs at Great Performances. "These might be different vases, or containers of different sizes that are related by material or scale or finish or shape, all coordinating with each other."

Simple Floral Arrangement

Your task is to highlight the beauty of your flowers, says style and design expert Josh Tierney. "Flowers are usually so beautiful to begin with, it's about enhancing them. Keep (your arrangement) simple. Nature is beautiful in and of itself."

Peony Arrangement

"Peonies are so beautiful on their own," says Tierney. But if you wish, he suggests complementing them with lilacs in the spring. He also likes to add wildflowers to arrangements for his designs at Great Performances. "Wildflowers speak to more wild, natural shapes. You can incorporate English ivy and fragrant jasmine," or look around your garden for other possibilities.

Floral Centerpiece with Candles

How long will flowers from your garden or local market last? It depends on when they are cut, Tierney says. "If you cut a big, overripe peony blossom when it's mature, it's already near the end of its life cycle and may last only a couple of days. A tight bud might open up and last longer."

Caring for Local and Garden Flowers

"There's a whole art and science to caring for flowers that are flown in" from distant sources, Tierney says. "For local (flowers), I just get them while they're fresh, put them in fresh water and that's it...I don't practice mashing the stems or searing them. We do cut the stems at a 45-degree angle. We don't use chemicals in the water."

Hydrangeas in Vase

Tierney suggests arranging hydrangeas with viburnum blooms. "They're similiar in shape, style and texture, with a kind of 'fluffy bushiness' about them." When you bring them indoors, strip the branches or stems of any leaves that would be underwater in your vase. Decaying leaves can contaminate the water, causing the flowers to fade faster.

Creative Flower Arrangements

"Keep an open mind and be creative," Tierney advises. Tear pages out of magazines or take a picture when you see something you like. "Put it on a Pinterest board so you can go back and reference it...It's about playing, having fun and learning by doing. Humans have an ancient cross-cultural need to decorate their homes and spaces, and that's what floral arranging is about."

Non-traditional Arrangements

While you can certainly arrange your garden or fresh local flowers in vases, Tierney suggests non-traditional choices. "Raid your attic or garage and make an evergreen wreath from a Christmas wreath. You could also attach floral foam and make a beautiful, local wildflower wreath." And remember: wreaths don't have to hang. You could put candles or food inside the wreath and place it flat on a table. "A wreath has a kind of bohemian feeling, like a floral crown."