FLORAL BASICS: ARRANGEMENTS
by Joelle Steele
Flowers are arranged in various design styles, and the container (vase, pot, etc.) is always an integral part of the overall design as it establishes how the flowers are going to look when placed within it. A container should never compete with the flowers, but rather should complement them. Like the use of foliage, a container should be a backdrop for the flowers, not the focus of the design.
As a rule of thumb, most vertical arrangements are created so that the flower portion is approximately 1-1/2 times the height of the container. If the arrangement is a horizontal style, the flower portion should be about 1-1/2 times the width of the container.
In most arrangements, you will want to have a focal point of some sort that draws the eye to the arrangement. This focal point is usually just above the edge of the container and is composed of a flower or flowers that are either bigger, darker, brighter, or more unusual than those used in the rest of the arrangement. All of the flowers and foliage are arranged loosely, with room between them, and at varying heights, with the tallest ones in the center of the floral mass.
In some cases, you will be given a particular vase that your client wants you to use. It may have a very distinct design character, and so you may need to work a little harder at finding appropriate flowers for it that do not detract from the vase, but that still work seamlessly with it design-wise. For example, for a party that a client was giving, I was given a very large, antique, black vase with a simple gold Asian design on the front of it that was going to be placed in the foyer of a large residence. I had so much difficulty finding anything that looked good in it. I ended up using a combination of dried flowers sprayed antique gold and matte black, deep green Pittosporum foliage, and ivory peonies right out of the client's own garden. It looked great, and it was anything but a traditional approach, yet it suited the vase, the home décor, and the client's taste.
Another example of a client request is one in which the client was opening a restaurant with an ancient civilizations theme. She gave me several large vases (over 3' in height) that were made out of antiqued faux terra cotta. I noticed that the walls of her restaurant were frescoed with some Egyptian design elements, and I tried to find appropriate flowers, but I just could not find anything that looked right. Then I was at a friend's house and was looking at the papyrus growing in her back yard. I decided maybe traditional flower elements weren't the answer. So, instead of flowers, I used giant papyrus, equisetum ("horse tails"), and kentia palm branches. Again, it fit the bill and the client was very happy with the look.
Most of the time, you will be creating arrangements that fall into the three traditional styles of arrangements: triangles, rounds, and horizontals.
Triangles. These are the most popular style for most arrangements and are quite easy to create. They are a good style for small gift plants as well as large arrangements. They can be cone-shaped to be viewed from all sides, or they can be flat triangles to be viewed from one side only, as when placed in front of a wall. The triangle can be used in low containers in a shorter triangular shape, or they can be placed in tall containers, in a height that is in proportion to the vase.
Triangles are created by first anchoring the three points of the triangle with line and/or mass material. The focal point is created next with your form or mass materials. Then, to finish it off, you fill in around those materials with filler or mass materials, leaving a little more space between the flowers the further you get away from the focal point.
If you can think back to your basic geometry studies, triangle arrangements come in four basic types:
• Equilateral. All three sides are equal in length, and the focal point falls in the middle just above the bottom side.
• Isosceles. This is just like the equilateral, except that the two vertical sides are longer than the bottom one, making it possible to have a triangle that is either narrow and tall or low and wide.
• Right. One side is completely vertical and the bottom side is completely horizontal, forming a 90-degree angle where the two sides join. Usually, you want the height to be greater than the width, and the upright vertical side to be on the left, with the focal point on the left side too, just above the bottom side.
• Scalene. This asymmetrical arrangement has a focal point that is slightly off-center. You will need a container that is short and squatty, but that is tall enough to allow for some of the arrangement to overflow the side on the right.
Rounds (aka "mounds"). These arrangements are actually half-rounds, and must look good from all sizes. They make nice gift arrangements and also look good on small tables. Creating a nice, evenly shaped "ball" of any size is not as simple as it looks, since they have no focal point, and you need to spread the flowers evenly throughout, using flowers that aren't too tall or too wide and that can look good at any height. Filler material and one type of mass material combined usually works best.
To create a round, you need to establish the round shape first using form or mass materials. Add any foliage next, then finish it off with smaller flowers and filler materials. Try not to make the arrangement too dense, but don't leave any gaping holes either.
Horizontals. These symmetrical arrangements have their own challenges, as they must be viewed from all sides, including the top. They are usually used as table centerpieces, and so may be on a dinner table or a coffee table. They can't be very tall because people need to be able to see over them. Because these arrangements must be kept low, you can allow the flowers to cascade out over the edges of the container to give a kind of "spilling out" effect onto the table.
A horizontal arrangement does not have a focal point, and its length is usually about twice its height. It is created by first establishing its length with foliage and/or line material, and the width with mass or form materials. The height can be established with a flower in the center. It is at this point that you should examine the framework to be sure everything is in balance and that it is not too high to see over and not too high in proportion to the length of the arrangement. Add flowers from the center moving outward to the edges, with more space between the flowers as you approach the edges. You do not have to make the top round or even, and you should vary the heights of the flowers a little. Add filler material to finish off the design.
Beyond the traditional arrangements are everything from the very small bouquets found on restaurant tables to the stark, architectural yet flowing style of Japanese ikebana arrangements, and the lush, overflowing, and extravagant "lobby" arrangements that dominate the entries of hotels, corporate buildings, or office spaces. Here are examples of non-traditional arrangements:
Crescent. This arrangement is shaped like a half-moon, and making it curve well is a challenge. It is also asymmetrical, and it must be created to be viewed from all sides. It can be a vertical or horizontal (bowl-shaped) crescent.
Dome. The dome is shaped like ... well, a dome! It is meant to be viewed from all sides, with a completely symmetrical arrangement. Usually there is a focal point in the middle at the top. This is a rather formal arrangement, usually placed in a medium height container rather than a low or tall one.
Fan. This is a fairly large, one-sided arrangement suitable for a hall table, mantle, or buffet table. As its name implies, it is shaped like an open fan, and to make it you must first create the fan shape using line materials with very sturdy stems, such as gladiolas or stiff green foliage. The focal point is the center, about one-third to midway from the base.
Hogarth Curve or Hogarth S. This is a one-sided arrangement in the form of a flowing S-shape. It is a very graceful arrangement that looks good in a tall vase, with flowers cascading downward to form the bottom of the S. The shape is also attractive when hung on the wall or in the form of a wreath.
Inverted T. This symmetrical arrangement looks a little like a triangle, but it is actually an upside-down T that has the same types of flowers on all three sides, and a focal point on each side, about half-way down the middle.
L-shape. This is an asymmetrical, one-sided arrangement, usually created in a low container with few flowers. It is suitable for small tables and as accent pieces on buffets, desks, entry tables, etc. It is similar to a right triangle arrangement but less formal, with the focal point at the top or near the top of the L.
Oval. This symmetrical, one-sided arrangement is very similar to a fan, except that it is narrower. These are usually found on funeral stands, but they can also be used in other applications where a fan-shape is desirable, but space dictates that the width be narrower. The focal point is usually just a bit lower than exact center.
Pyramid. The base of this arrangement is a triangle and it is usually a very tall arrangement suitable for a lobby arrangement. It has a focal point at the apex of the pyramid, and three smaller focal points on each side of the pyramid.
The best way to acquaint yourself with the various kinds of containers for floral arrangements is to visit a floral supply company, a garden center, Ross, or any online store that specializes in floral supplies and equipment.
No container is unsuitable for cut flower arrangements. Even colors don't matter that much, depending on the occasion for the arrangement. Heavier containers for larger arrangements are usually somewhat of a necessity, as they must be able to support the flowers in them. You might want to get in the habit of buying anything you find that looks suitable, including vases, pots, low bowls, bonsai dishes, etc. Don't be afraid to buy them used at thrift stores such as Good Will.
This article last updated: 08/24/2007.