Arrange flowers and you control some of the essentials of life. The act hones visual literacy, and the results lend a new seasonal touch to any decor and hold back the forces of darkness fast heading our way. Once we enter the holiday season, it's time to get out the vases and introduce new colours and wonderful scent into the house.
For a beautiful, contemporary take on a such an arrangement, I turned to Tod Caldwell, owner of Toronto's Emblem Flowers, whose work I admire. The designs coming out of his studio have a classic look using seasonal concepts without stooping to clichés, and his shop is wonderfully accessible.
"We try to source about 30 per cent of the material locally," Caldwell says of thefragrant blooms that inhabit the shop. "We don't like being trendy but emphasize seasonally appropriate blooms." He tells me that these days, lilacs are available almost year-round and tulips are being pushed in January, but "they are definitely not seasonally appropriate. I have one exception to this rule: coral peonies. Who wouldn't want them any time? They are from South America and are so rich in colour, they transcend every season."
First he selects what he needs for his chosen theme: in this case, pink, coral and burgundy with a dash of orange. Anything goes with orange but a lot of people hate it. Not me – I love it and find this colour scheme sensual and dramatic.
Caldwell starts by making a grid with thin Sellotape across the top of the vase. For the centre, he grabs B.C. salal, one of the most useful kinds of greenery. It is increasingly expensive and difficult to obtain because of fire and drought, but we need it here for good structure. He nips off the bottoms of the stems on an angle, strips them of foliage and shoves them into the middle of the grid. The aim is to have everything touch the bottom of the vase and for the highest part of this design to be at least 25 centimetres above the top of the vase.
As he gets to the next layer he shakes out magnolia leaves. It's important to do this because they are shipped folded up and the shaking gives them better form. He adds some soft white pine. "I don't have a formula with a set pattern or order. Each one is a matter of filling in with what it needs." And he makes sure there's a double face so the vase can be viewed from either direction. "There should be lots of movement in and out, then it will look more natural and dynamic." When things look wrong, he calls it "pretty garbage."
"Once greens are in place, you should have a sense where you are going, or where you want to be with the arrangement. You can make a long, low tablescape with a series of low vases; or have something more prominent for a central piece."
The introduction of colour comes from the blooms of several coral roses, Rosa 'Free Spirit' followed by a burgundy amaryllis and another rose called 'Pink Floyd.' The crowning touch is berry-laden twigs of ilex (holly) with brilliant jewel-like tones of orangey coral.
To keep your arrangement healthy and attractive, Caldwell advises the following: Cut fresh flowers again once they have been brought home. Don't bother with flower food – it's pointless. And be sure to change the ater every day; fresh water is paramount and this step is worth the effort.
Other stems with foliage only can be added for scent (geranium, for instance), but to my eye this combination is perfect. It would be easy to add or subtract colours as the basic design ages. It's so appealing, I'd be tempted to copy it out in the garden, already dreaming of yet another blooming new season. That's what a good arrangement will do to you.