Autumn is a great time of year for getting creative with found natural items such as colorful leaves, berries, seedpods, pinecones. and acorns—very Thanksgiving-y! If you can't find these items in your yard or garden, head to your local farmer’s market, florist, or grocery store. Pick up some gourds, miniature pumpkins, ornamental grasses, and delicate wheat stalks that will create a harvest feel. Choose cut flowers in fall’s warm color palette: shades of yellow, orange, rust, burgundy, and deep purple. A plus: items such as pumpkins and wheat stalks can last a long time, and some pretty fall flowers, such as statice, will even dry as they're displayed—perfect for making your centerpiece ahead of time so you don't have to give it a thought come Turkey Day. I've included instructions for creating your own arrangements at the end of the post as well as some great—and stunning!—books on floral design for inspiration and tips.
Especially popular and long-lasting cut flowers that come in an array of fall colors include:
When buying blooms at a florist or farmer’s market, look carefully at the flowers you wish to purchase, and use the following rules of thumb to pick the best of the bunch:
- Choose flowers that have not yet bloomed fully so that they’ll last longer once you get them home.
- Look for flowers that are clean and vibrantly colored, not faded or browning.
- Leaves should be bright green, not yellow.
- Stems should be sturdy and unbroken.
- Roses should feel firm and be slightly closed.
There are a few things you’ll need to do and buy in order to make an arrangement at home. You can find most of the following flower-arranging tools and supplies at any hardware store or garden center. Others are available online and at most craft stores or florists.
- Knife: A small Swiss Army knife or retractable knife is the most important and useful tool for arranging flowers
- Pruning clippers: Garden clippers are useful for cutting thick branches and trimming the stems of a finished bouquet.
- Floral foam: Use floral foam to hold the stems of the flowers in place (soak the foam in water first). Floral foam also holds water so that flowers can continue to draw the water after you arrange them. Oasis is a popular brand of floral foam.
- Strapping tape: Use this heavy tape for countless tasks, including securing floral foam to containers.
- Floral preservative: Many florists provide small packets of flower food or preservative with their flowers. This product prevents the growth of bacteria and helps flowers last longer.
You'll also want to set up your work space ahead of time so that all the tools you'll need will be nearby.
- Flat, counter-height work surface: A kitchen counter is an ideal place to work on your designs.
- Sink: A nearby water source is convenient for filling buckets and containers while prepping your flowers.
- Empty vessels: Fill buckets or vases with water to store flowers in while you work. If you’re working with smaller or shorter flowers, keep a few small vases or old glasses or mugs nearby.
- Trash can: You’re bound to end up with a lot of scraps when you’re cutting flowers for arrangements.
Helpful hint: Don’t wear anything that you'll be upset if it gets wet or dirty, as it inevitably will.
To get started, first things first: give all the flowers an initial cut. To do so: cut a few centimeters off each flower’s stem on an angle with a sharp knife. Store the freshly cut flowers in a bucket or vase of water so they can drink while you work.
You may have some vases lying around the house to use for a vase arrangement, but you can also arrange flowers in just about any vessel that doesn't have drainage holes. Teapots, mugs, pitchers, and bowls all make great, unconventional “vases." For a distinct fall touch: wind a vine of bittersweet into a circle with your hands and push it into the bottom of a round glass vase before adding water. Use your fingers to spread it apart a bit for an autumn-inspired vase decoration that helps disguise the flower’s stems.
- Fill the vase about 2/3 of the way with clean, cool or room-temperature water. If your flowers came with a packet of floral preservative (or if you have some on hand), pour it in. But don’t worry if you don’t have preservative; clean water is the most important element for prolonging the life of your cut flowers.
- Create a base of greenery for your arrangement. Add a few varieties to create a fuller look and to help hold the flowers in place.
- Take your tallest flowers, or “line flowers,” cut them to the desired height, and arrange them into the base of greenery.
- Take your largest flowers, or “focal flowers,” such as football mums and lilies, cut the stems (on an angle) to the desired height, and place them in the vase. (Cut the stems conservatively at first. You can always trim later if needed.) Vary the heights of these large flowers to lend the arrangement a natural and interesting shape.
- Fill the spaces throughout your line and focal flowers with the rest of your blooms, or “filler flowers,” one variety at a time. Move from large to small: for example, daisies first, then miniature carnations, then solidago.
- Add wheat, berries, and/or leaves for added fall beauty.
- Stand back and have a look. Are any of the flowers sticking out too far? If so, gently remove them, trim their stems, and replace them. Continue as needed until you achieve your desired effect.
A container arrangement is one that you create using floral foam to hold flowers at different angles when making low centerpieces or arrangements in wide, shallow containers. For a great fall centerpiece, use a pumpkin as a container. Just cut off the stem, scoop out the insides, and fill with floral foam.
- Soak your floral foam in water until it’s fully saturated. With your knife, cut the foam to fit snugly in your container. (It should extend over the top rim of the container by about 1/2–1".)
- Use strapping tape to secure the floral foam to the container by taping across the foam in an X shape.
- Fill the container 2/3 of the way with cool or room-temperature tap water. You may wish to treat the water first with floral preservative.
- Cut pieces of greens and insert them into the foam to begin covering it. Start by lining the perimeter of the container, then fill in, moving toward the center. Add a variety of greens to cover your floral foam and tape and to give the arrangement interest and texture.
- If you have tall line flowers, add them first to establish the outline of the arrangement’s form. The way in which you place your line flowers will help to define the shape that your arrangement will take on.
- Add large focal flowers to the arrangement. Insert them as far down as possible so that their stems will be submerged in the water.
- Continue to cut and insert the stems, one variety at a time, ending with your small filler flowers. Try to face the flowers upward and outward from the center so that each one is visible. Insert stems at varying heights for an organic appearance.
- Stand back and view your arrangement. If it looks tight and rigid, pull the stems out a bit to loosen it up and stagger flower heights. If it’s lopsided, carefully remove stems that are too long, then recut and replace them.