by Joelle Steele

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Working with cut flowers starts with learning some basic design Good design is the basis for any arrangement. Think about what you want to achieve in your arrangement and then apply all of the following design principles to ensure that your final effort will be attractive and suitable for your client's needs.

Balance. This refers to how an arrangement looks, whether it is symmetrical or asymmetrical. In most arrangements, symmetry is important — everything is equal and formal in appearance and there is a distinct and highly visible focal point. But, in some cases, such as the Hogarth Curve, L-shaped, and some Ikebana arrangements, asymmetry is intended and, when done correctly, is very attractive.

Scale and Proportion. These two terms are hard to define in regard to floral arrangements but, in general, scale refers to the relationship of the size of the flowers to the size of the container (i.e., small and large), and proportion refers to the relationship of the arrangement to the container size. For example, very big splashy flowers in a small container would be out of scale, and a very tall flower arrangement in a very small container would be out of proportion.

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Contrast. This refers to emphasizing two distinct design elements, which can emphasize and make prominent one or both of them. It is part of creating the focal point of an arrangement.

Rhythm or Movement. This is achieved by placing flowers in such a way that the eye must move through the arrangement to experience it. Usually the flowers will be of contrasting colors, or there may be patterns of color and texture, or there may be a transition from one color to another.

Color. This is one of the first considerations when selecting flowers. There are four main color schemes or designs: monochromatic (one color in varied intensities or shades); adjacent (using three colors found next to each on a color wheel); complementary (using color directly opposite each other on the color wheel — the highest contrast combination); and triadic (three colors spread equally throughout the arrangement). In all these schemes, it is helpful to know that dark colors recede and lighter colors appear closer.

While you can create any kind of floral display using every color of the rainbow, most flower arrangements, corsages, etc., are created within a particular color scheme. This is because many people simply don't like, say, orange flowers or purple ones. Likewise, people have favorite types of flowers that only come in certain colors, and of those colors, one or two will be the most popular and therefore the ones that sell best. And if you're doing a custom arrangement or corsage, you may have to create within a very specific color theme, such as yellow and white, or pink and purple, or even all blue. Fortunately, you will have many, many beautiful flowers from which to select to suit any color scheme or personal taste.

Size. Flowers grow to different heights, sometimes within the same genus, so that you may have, for example, very short tulips and very tall tulips to choose from if you are asked to use tulips in an arrangement. The sizes of flowers themselves can be small, medium, or large, also within the same genus. Smaller flowers generally lend themselves for use in small arrangements, while the large ones are more appropriate to bigger and splashier floral designs.

Shape and Texture. The shapes of the flowers may be round (e.g., open roses and mums), lipped (e.g., orchids and lilies), or ovate or oval-shaped (e.g., budded roses, gladiolas). Some may have cone or triangular shapes, such as in Celosia, while others may be kind of star-shaped, such as some types of lilies.

Some flowers are arranged on a spathe such as Calliandra or Callistemon. The texture and shapes of the petals may be dense, loose, smooth, shiny, grouped on a stem, velvety (hairy or "pilose"), long, wide, etc. Within each genus or species, there may be flowers that have variegation in their petals, may have shaggy-edged petals, may be "double" flowers (twice the number of petals), or may be shaped completely differently than in the more standard or common flower of that species (e.g., the petals are extremely long and narrow as opposed to their normal size). You can combine different shapes and textures, but do so carefully, since an overabundance of shapes and textures in a single arrangement can result in a loss of focus, which makes an arrangement appear amateurish.

Leaves. While some florists remove almost all the leaves on a cut flower, and some flowers don't even have leaves on their stems, leaves (foliage) should always be considered, as they are generally added to an arrangement as a backdrop for the flowers themselves. Ferns are still popular for very lush and traditional arrangements. But almost any greens that stay green when placed in water are going to be a good choice as a backdrop for the flowers you use. Other options for arrangements are those that use variegated and colorful leaves as backdrops for a single-color-themed arrangement. The main consideration in choosing foliage is to be sure that it complements the flowers and does not detract from their appearance or overshadow their beauty.

Use. The use of a flower dictates its selection. For vase arrangements of any kind, you will need to select flowers that last, because these kinds of arrangements can easily be on display for up to a week. The exception is events, such as weddings, parties, or openings in which the display may only be required for the space of a day or less. With corsages, boutonnières, and hand-held bouquets, nothing more than a full day of use will likely be required.

Cut flowers are divided into four "floral types" that are used in arrangements:

Form material. This type consists of flowers that have unique shapes that make them unlike all other flowers. Examples include exotics such as orchids or certain types of lilies. Form flowers are the stand-outs in any arrangement.

Line material. These are generally long, slender flowers that create the linear design elements in an arrangement. Examples include gladiolas, irises, and snapdragons.

Mass material. These are the standard flowers used in most arrangements. They are capable of being used to create a focal point, but they can also stand on their own in a group as a large bouquet arrangement. Examples of mass material include roses and mums.

Filler material. These are flowers (or foliage) that are used to "fill in" the background of an arrangement. They are not usually capable of holding their own in an arrangement, but they are lightweight in texture — for example, baby's breath — and help pull an arrangement together.

This article last updated: 08/24/2007.