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8 Steps to Beautiful Flower Arrangements

April 20, 2020

Here are 8 steps to beautiful flower arrangements from regular first place prize winner Paddy Parmee – illustrated with her own fabulous photos!

I’ve always loved cutting flowers to bring indoors to enjoy. Seeing the amazing flower arrangements at AGS shows made me think I could do this too. So, when I retired six years ago, I started entering flower arrangements into the shows. Gradually, my entries started to win.

I wanted to share with you the details of how I do it, so that you might improve your flower arranging skills. Perhaps you might also exhibit your own beautiful flower arrangement at an AGS flower show one day. We’d love to see them!

Step 1: Know the Flower Arrangement Rules

If your plan is to enter your flower arrangement into a show, then first up, you’ve got to know the rules. For flower arrangements at AGS shows, you need:

‘An arrangement of cut alpine flowers including dwarf shrubs, grown by the exhibitor. Judged for quality, delicacy, and artistic arrangement. No accessories or base. Varieties to be named.’

If you don’t obey the rules, your entry can be discounted, so this is an important first step to make sure your arrangement gets the attention it deserves.

Step 2: Soak Your Florist Foam

You’ll need to use florist foam to hold your flowers in their arrangement, so begin by soaking the foam overnight – or for at least a few hours.

Weigh it down in a bowl of water and don’t cut it to shape until you’re ready to do the arrangement.

While we’re on it, let’s talk florist foam! I don’t like using it as it’s not environmentally friendly, but the rules of the AGS state ‘no visible vessel.’ I’m researching how to show within the rules in a more eco-friendly way.

I’ve found some biodegradable foam that I’ll be trialling. It has mixed reviews and still takes a year to compost. So for now, it’s a ‘watch this space,’ but it would be good to hear your thoughts on this!

Step 3: Survey Your Garden

When I do an arrangement, I want the arrangement to feel like my garden and what it looks like at different times of year.

To achieve this effect, take a walk around your garden and see what’s in flower and which foliage looks good. Look for colours dominant in the garden, then choose a palette to capture those in your arrangement.

You can take a peek at my garden in my entry to the Great British Garden Show.

I have six small glass vases I fill with water, put in a tray and take round the garden with me. I also take a sharp pair of scissors. That way, when something captures my eye, I can snip a piece for my arrangement and keep it fresh by putting it straight into water.

It’s also a good idea to look for any good moss you can take without spoiling the look of where you’re taking it from. We’re lucky – our garden is quite damp, so at this time of year moss is everywhere.

Step 4: Choose Your Flowers

Each flower needs to be perfect. It also needs to have a long enough stem to cut for the arrangement and not ruin the look of the garden!

You can use three of any one sort or one special one that with be the focus of the arrangement.

I cut from anywhere – pots that haven’t performed well enough for showing, but have a few stems worth cutting, show pots that are going over, but still have some perfect flowers… I also use flowers that are not open to semi open to keep the arrangement fresh.

If you carefully take a few stems from each plant you’ll never know you’ve been there!

Another tip I have is to grow spare plants and bulbs in a dedicated cutting bed. These are very useful for bulking up your arrangement so you’re not taking too much from the main garden.

Time and experience will teach you how many you need. These days, I get a feeling of when I have enough – but you can always go back and get a few more later if needed.

Step 5: Hydrate Your Flowers

Once you have your flowers, put them in water somewhere cool to hydrate. This is very important if you want the flowers to remain as fresh as possible.

Before you move on, make sure you have time! Flower arranging is very time consuming. I need total peace to relax and immerse myself in it. You’ll get best results if you don’t rush.

Step 6: Ready Florist Foam for Flower Arrangement

Look at your florist foam and think about what shape you need to create your arrangement. I usually use a pyramid shape.

Then, cover the foam with moss. I do this for winter and spring flowers as I feel it’s in keeping with how they grow.

You can secure the foam with green cotton or wire – I use what I have to hand. Here are photos from two different occasions to illustrate how I build up my flower arrangements.

Step 7: Arrange Your Flowers

You need good light space to lay your flowers out. I group them in colour type which helps me to see what I’ve collected ready for arranging.

Then I make the front of the arrangement by inserting flowers into the section of the foam that’s facing me. I do this because you can get lost when you keep moving round inserting flowers.

Once you’ve done the front, move round to the other sides and repeat, slowly building up your display.

Sometimes as you’re arranging, you’ll get a feeling for what looks good. If something is working, go pick more! I also set a theme colour pallet and I like it to harmonise the colours together.

Next, step back and look at the overall shape, height, width and balance. Does it look right?

I also take a photo to see the arrangement properly. Strange how a photo can focus your mind and let you see the arrangement how it is!

All the while, keep your foam hydrated. I keep mine sat in a dish the whole time so it can take up as much water as it needs.

Step 8: Keep Flowers Fresh

When you think it’s finished, leave it somewhere cool to keep it fresh. I look again several times before I’m totally happy, adding a few bits here and there as needed.

Remember, lots of your flowers aren’t properly open, but once they’re on the judging table they will open in the heat of the room. Flower arrangements can take on a different look and feel. I occasionally take out a few flowers to give a better balance on the table.

Wishing you the absolute best of luck with your flower arrangements! Please do let me know how you get on – you can find me in various AGS Facebook groups, including the newly launched Alpine Garden Society Members Group.

Image of Paddy Parmee Paddy Parmee

Paddy is Chair of the Hampshire AGS Group, Show Secretary for the Wimborne Show and a frequent winner of first place prizes for her flower arrangements. In the last four years, she has won 10 firsts and countless second and third place prizes for her delightful alpine flower arrangements at AGS shows. Her arrangement at the Early Spring Show 2020 helped her and husband Ben Parmee over the line to a well-deserved Gold medal. Paddy’s love of alpine plants stems from the time she and her mother used go hunting for treasured plants with the plant finder map. Now retired from her demanding job as a Senior Theatre Sister and with three children grown up, Paddy has more time to devote to alpines, gardening and flower arranging.