The Professional Trick My Grandmother Taught Me for Arranging Flowers At Home

Did I mention she’s a bit of an expert?

My grandmother has always been the creative type. She refuses to use recipes, even if that means experimenting at the big family holiday—when in doubt, add more seasoning and a dash of Durkee's or Crystal Hot Sauce, she always says—and could make a leopard print couch go with the queen's fine china. Let's just say, rules aren't really her thing.

Until I was older, I didn't know that she'd once even put her artful skills to work by doing flowers for weddings. It started as a hobby and a favor for friends, but soon became a full-fledged business. So, it finally made sense why she always had the best tiny arrangements scattered around by the bedsides and in every powder room when we came to visit. There'd be fancy flowers from the plant nursery cohabitating with wild ones she'd found in a field somewhere. Beautiful chaos.

Spring Flower Arrangement
Photo: Hector Manuel Sanchez; Styling: Kathleen Varner

Turns out, it's not that easy to make effortlessly perfect flower arrangements by yourself at home, or so I found out when I tried taking over the flower duties for Thanksgiving one year. I could mix and match the different flowers and colors from remembering her favorite combos—not too matchy-matchy and don't dare go near any baby's breath, she warns—but I couldn't quite swing how to put them together in a vase to look professionally done, rather than picked from the bin at the grocery store.

When I asked her how I could arrange flowers like she does, she let me in on a simple trick easy enough to remember whenever I had a vase to fill at home. No frills or fluff. Just one tweak that would help any amateur arrangist out: Think different lengths. When transferring a store-bought bouquet into a vase, our first instinct is to hold it up to the vase and then get to chopping all of the stems to be the same height—that is, whichever height seems to be appropriate for the vase. Well, don't do that. Think different lengths.

To be specific, she said to separate about a generous fifth of your flowers from the rest. Then, make sure to cut those around one to two inches shorter than the rest of the flowers. Put the longer flowers in the vase and, afterwards, surround the outer rim of the arrangement with the shorter flowers. This creates a more rounded, multi-level arrangement that doesn't just look like your favorite vase with lots of long stems and a poof of flower blooms at the top. From there, you can pull out some extras to cut shorter and fill any holes.

It seems self-explanatory, but sometimes the smallest things make a huge difference. For someone who's never hosted a shower, dinner party, or any occasion that requires some floral flair, this can be especially helpful to keep top of mind, and it works wonderfully when mixing different flower types into one vase. Just remember to vary the lengths of each type you're using.

I repeat my grandmother's mantra to myself every time I'm arranging flowers, even if I'm going a bit rogue. She'd approve. She prefers going rogue, anyway.

Flowers can be sneakily harder to master than you think, so here's hoping my grandmother's tip can make it a little bit less stressful for at least one Southern hostess out there.

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