Successful floral arrangements depend on four simple steps: selecting, conditioning, arranging and care.
For spring, choose a complementary colour scheme using pastel shades coupled with bright yellow, strong purple and fresh spring green. Look for bouquets that include the three main shapes of flowers: line, mass and filler. Line flowers have lots of blossoms along a single stem, such as delphiniums, gladioli and pussy willows; mass (or focal) flowers have a single bloom on a single stem, for example, tulips, viburnums and roses; and fillers have several blossoms on multiple stems, such as alstroemerias and lisianthus. Add lushness to your arrangement by splurging on extra foliage. Choose the freshest flowers possible. Look for ones that are firm and plump, with clean, unbroken stems.
To condition your flowers, put them into water as soon as your get home and let them stand for an hour or so prior to arranging. Using clean floral shears, remove a minimum of 2.5 centimetres (one inch) from each stem with a slanted cut. Remove all but the uppermost leaves, since foliage below the water line rots, turning the water cloudy and creating an unpleasant odour. Prepare your vase with floral food diluted in lukewarm water.
The goal is to create a bouquet that is full, lush and in proportion to the vase. Begin by sorting your flowers into "like with like" bundles, then return the sorted flowers to the florist's bucket to soak. To create the domed arrangement seen in the image, it is easiest to arrange the bouquet in your hand instead of in the vase. Arrange the blooms in a series of concentric circles. Place each bloom at a slight angle (about 20 degrees), positioning each just slightly below the previous circle of flowers. Begin with mass flowers, such as roses, for the centre of the bouquet, and then encircle with foliage. Create the next circle with filler flowers. Repeat with more mass flowers and then again with filler flowers or smaller mass flowers. Keep your grip loose so that you can turn the bouquet and adjust the flowers as needed. Finish with a circle of foliage to frame the bouquet.
To measure the correct height of the arrangement, place your vase close to the edge of your work surface. Place the index finger of the hand that's holding the bouquet on the top edge of the vase. Using the table top as your guide, cut all the stems (at an angle) to the same length. Gently drop the completed bouquet into the vase. Add pussy willows.
Display flowers away from drafts, heat and direct sunlight. Change the water every second day, using fresh floral food and lukewarm water; recut the stems under running water before returning the to the vase.
You can find step-by-step photos and instructions for arranging flowers - plus ideas for more great arrangements - here.
This story was originally titled "Pitcher Perfect" in the April 2010 issue. Subscribe to Canadian Living today and never miss an issue!