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The Joy of Arranging

Flower arrangements, like firewood, warm twice. When you put the composition together, you get the rush of creativity; then when you look at it later, it brightens up the room. I don’t make them often enough.

One particular vase teases my mind: pale green art-deco ceramic, shaped in a dramatic, shell-like swirl, that uncurls from a tight spiral near the bottom, into a scalloped fan of ribs at the top — leading the eye in that direction. I’ve been imagining a spray of golden-yellow jerusalem artichoke flowers continuing the lines of the vase, radiating up from it and similarly leaning to the right. Some will lean left, but I’ll keep them lower: asymmetrical balance is fun.

Creating this kind of effect requires precise placement. Needlepoint frogs are tricky with small stems. At times like this I miss the ugly old juniper tree I got rid of. A small branch of its foliage, broken and crushed into an open mass, then shoved under the water line of a vase, provided perfect support to insert stems into. It even looked pretty, and didn’t become slime the way soft leaves do, submerged. Needled evergreens will work, too, but juniper’s little scale-like leaves catch on each other, creating a more stable mesh.

I walk around the yard and try to look with eyes unprejudiced about how to use the materials at hand. Aha! the green flowerbuds of Autumn Joy sedum catch my eye. The same green as the vase, in a showy, bubbly texture — and a fairly dense mass: can I put them at the base of the arrangement, resting on the lip of the vase, and use their bulk to support the slender sunchoke stems? Yes! It works.

Now I crave some deep red-purple-bronze, to add contrast. I pick some ‘Palace Purple’ heuchera leaves, and some of the delicate, lacy flower stalks too. But when I get them indoors, I discover that the leaves smell strongly aromatic, in a way that bothers my allergies. The flowers are fine, I keep them; but for mass I get some perilla leaves. (Also aromatic, but these don’t bother me.)

I don’t have much perilla this year; there’s enough for color but I need more mass. Leaves from some of my variegated hostas make good fill: ‘Gingko Craig’ and ‘Louisa’ with white edges, and H. ventricosa ‘Variegata’ with irregularly-streaked cream margins.

Can’t bear to throw out the leftovers: I end up making three more.


Published in the six Nashoba Publications papers on Friday, 20 August 2004

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Photos by C.H. Clark
  • The photo accompanying the story is the one I had in mind when I started.
  • The three subsequent arrangements (in the order I made them) were
    1. The one I wrote about in "Paying Attention to the Muse


    2.

    3.

For more information
  • Helianthus Tuberosus - lots on the Jerusalem artichoke, including how to grow it and how to cook it.
  • I think the vase is Art Nouveau. I always have trouble remembering the difference between that movement and Art Deco. These two sites helped me decide.
Text and photos © Copyright 2005 Catherine Holmes Clark