Try this foolproof approach to composing a simple, pretty bouquet.
Rustic Ribbon Bouquet
This bouquet of peonies and roses is tied with burlap and ribbon.
| Credit: Photo: Jen Fariello Photography

If you ever feel all thumbs when it comes to arranging flowers, you're not alone. The next time you take a stroll through your garden or a trip to the local florist, try this foolproof approach to composing a simple, pretty bouquet.

Wherever you decide to get your flowers from, your garden or a florist, choose a small, narrow-necked vase, such as a glass one about 8 inches high. If you will be arranging flowers with large blooms, such as iris or gerbera daisies, you'll need about a dozen stems. When using flowers with smaller heads, plan on using roughly twice the amount.

Sharp, scissorlike pruners are a must for cutting. Use them to make a fresh cut about an inch above the original one on florist flowers. Condition all flowers by letting them stand in lukewarm water several hours.

For a conservative and full arrangement, cut all of the stems to approximately the same length (about twice the height of the vase). Cluster them in a container that's partially filled with water, and then pull up some of the center flowers to give a little height and roundness to your composition. Rotate the vase, and check the appearance of the flowers from different angles, especially if you are placing the arrangement where it can be seen from all sides.

For a freer, more airy arrangement, try a mixture of various types of flowers from your garden or local florist. Let the height of the flowers vary to give the bouquet depth.

A few tricks of the trade can help. Remember that support within an arrangement is the key to success. Without support, you will need twice the amount of flowers. Try using devices such as clear marbles, chicken wire, a needleholder, or florist foam. These support devices can be manipulated to fit any size vase, and they will make arranging flowers much easier. Florist tape and clay also help hold the devices in place. Whether you enjoy a free and natural arrangement of various types of flowers or a more conservative, tidy arrangement created with the same type of flower, these easy methods will keep you arranging every chance you get.

"Fast Flowers, Easy Bouquet" is from the Southern Living Gardening Guide 1999.