Turn a $10 Bunch of Flowers Into a $70 Holiday Centerpiece

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I’ve learned not to turn my nose up at bargain flowers during the holiday season. Even though I really appreciate beautiful and unusual flowers, the holiday season is hardly the time for me to spend $100 on disposable flowers. When I used to work as a professional florist, I quickly learned how commercial holiday arrangements were often made — a base of holly and boxwood, three or four red and white carnations, two stems of this or that and viola — a $70 arrangement after you factor in labor and delivery.

If you have access to a garden that has evergreens such as pine, holly, boxwood, spruce, laurel or ivy, that oh-so-cheap $10 bunch of holiday flowers from your local supermarket can easily be converted into an impressive holiday centerpiece. Here’s how.

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1. Pick greens from your garden. Every year I try something different, but I rely on a base of boxwood or pine and then fill it in with various twigs of interesting evergreens. Even if you live in California, there are greens you can pick, such as olive and rosemary. All will make a festive, if not more authentic holiday arrangement than one you could ever buy from a florist.

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2. Arrange a base of greens in your container. The best container is one as deep as it is wide so that you won’t need to use floral foam or chicken wire. Arrange greens densely at this stage — tight enough so that they will be able to hold a stem or branch erect. Don’t worry about how it looks, as most of these greens will be hidden. This is an old florists’ trick from the 1920s, before they used floral foam. Add water to your container at this stage.

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3. Add a second layer of greens. These should be more interesting greens, as you will be able to see these. Be sure that all of the woody stems touch the water.

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Arrange the greens as if they are growing in the container, which just means no upside-down leaves or odd angles. There is a natural angle for each branch in relation to the ground.

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4. Decide on style. If you want a low arrangement, keep your stems short. If you want a tall arrangement for a buffet or mantel, start adding taller stems. If your arrangement needs to be one-sided, add stems so that their good side faces the front.

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I’m even adding some evergreen bamboo (Sasa veitchii), which has interesting leaf patterns, as it grows in many places in my garden.

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5. Add interestingly shaped bare branches or leafless berried branches. These red deciduous native New England holy berries (Ilex verticillata) add so much red color that you can already see that flowers may not even be necessary.

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6. Add a little glitz or glam for the holidays. Erring on the natural side of things, I inserted a few glittered cones from one of our fir trees. I rolled the cone in white paint and then in some vintage German glass glitter (while the paint was still wet). Allow it to dry before wiring to insert.

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To wire a cone, twist the wire so that it attaches tightly to its base. Then attach the cones to branches that are already positioned in the arrangement.

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7. Add flowers. Inserting flowers at this point only gilds the lily, but as you will see, the bright color really makes a difference. A mixed bunch of inexpensive flowers is all you will need, and the holidays may be the only time when the simplest of flowers, such as carnations and pompom chrysanthemums, will go a long way. I am always surprised at how only a few red and white flowers with garden greens transform into a florist-quality arrangement. Start by organizing your flowers by color and type, which will make arranging them easier.

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8. Use the smallest flowers at the top (and this includes buds). I like to lay out my three corners of the arrangement first, the top and the two sides, and use the tallest stems and the smallest flowers.

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Keep the largest flowers for the base, which means that these will have the shortest stems. If you are designing a low arrangement, still keep the largest flowers as your shortest flowers, and the smallest flowers as the tallest.

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At this point, you will see your arrangement come together naturally. Experiment by either clustering all of your colors together for a more contemporary look or by separating them symmetrically for a more classic look.

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Even though this arrangement cost me $10 plus some garden greens, clearly I could have divided all of my plant material up to produce numerous smaller arrangements in mason jars or in small vases for guest rooms or other rooms around the house.

Photo credits: Matt Mattus

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