Flower Tutorial – Pave Centerpiece

Today I wanted to demonstrate a type of floral centerpiece that I think is pretty professional looking for how easy it is to create, and vice versa.   If you’re going the DIY route for your wedding, it’s definitely not as easy to pull off as, say submerged single stalks of orchids, but it’s a lot more impressive from a design standpoint, and lets you acheive that lush, mixed-up look.

First, here’s the centerpiece (photos were taken by me, and also look pretty darned near-professional courtesy of the advice and guidance of Lori of The Purpletree Photography).

antique hydrangea vintage wedding centerpiece garden orchids cymbidium calla tulips parrot fringe dusty miller garden roses how to tutorial diy


Now here’s the step by step.

1) Choose Your Flowers

I think that hydrangea makes a really great base for these types of arrangements.  First of all, it’s voluminous.  It took only two stems to fill out this 6″ x 6″ cylinder vase.  I could have stopped right there and had a pretty, simple centerpiece for around $20.  You can mix in as many other flowers as you want with the hydrangea- it conforms its shape- but an arrangement will never look sparse with a full base of hydrangea like it might if you start with a few too many roses.  It can make calculations about how many flowers to order a lot more fool proof if you’re going the DIY route.

The second reason I think it’s perfect for DIY’ers is because its many little florets from a central stem, so you get a natural support structure for other stems.  It’s almost like designing in foam, where you stick each stem into its own little tunnel, and it’s very easy for beginners to place flowers with added support like hydrangea.  (Do note however that hydrangea is considered a delicate flower and is very easily dehydrated.  It should be conditioned carefully and handled lovingly with a good, constant water source.)

For your ad ins, you want to choose some focal flowers, and some accents or fillers.  I wanted a really mixed up look, and chose garden roses, fringed tulips, calla lillies, and mini cymbidium orchids for my focal flowers, and dusty miller for the accent / filler.  You could definitely use fewer varieties or different varieties, but you want to stay away from line elements for this type of arrangement – this is meant to be “low and lush,” so the flowers need to “face up” to show up.   A flower that comes in stalks, like delphinium, wouldn’t work well for this arrangement shape.

Here are my flowers, waiting to be worked with!

hydrangea garden roses cymbidium calla parrot tulips fringed dusty miller centerpiece wedding how to diy

2) Condition your flowers

Flowers all have slightly different conditioning needs.  In this group alone, the roses needed to be cleaned and de-thorned, the hydrangeas needed to be re-hydrated, and the tulips needed to have their stems straightened.   You can get info about how to condition your specific flower types when you purchase them, or from an online source.  Almost all flowers need to have the stems re-cut at an angle with clean, sharp shears.  The goal is to unclog any flower scabs that have formed at the ends of the stems in transit and allow clean, fresh water to work its way to the blooms.   The other thing that needs to be done is to remove any foiliage that will be under the water line (some people prefer to remove all foilage, period and to not have any leaves included with the buds).  I did leave a leaf on each tulip, because I liked the look, but I don’t leave any leaves on most other flower types.  Leaves left under the water line will rot and spread flower-killing bacteria up to the blooms.   After prepping the flowers (note, this gets messy when it comes to flowers like roses with lots of foiliage on the stems!), leave them in clean water with some floral food mixed in for at least a good number of hours, preferably overnight.

Here are my flowers, in various states of prep.  Notice the tulips wrapped and taped in a heavy cardstock – this is to allow the stems to straighten while they condition (it’s sort of like they’re wearing a back brace).  Without this step, I would have been working with some droopy, floppy tulips!

Something else that’s very important when choosing flowers is which flowers (or parts of them) you DON’T choose.  Every bunch will have some icky, discolored, dried out or otherwise undesirable petals, or even whole flowers.  Edit them appropriately.  Snip off little hydrangea florets if a few of them are browned.  Take off the outer guard petals of the roses – they’re stiff and dry, and even the first couple of layers of regular petals if anything is bruised.

roses garden tulips fringed parrot hydrangea antique how to diy wedding centerpiece ti leaves cymbidium orchids dusty miller calla

3) Prep your vase

I like to hide the stems of mixed arrangements like this.  This is because with so many different flower types, the look of the mixed stems is quite a jumble and distracting.  With a single flower type or flowers that have smooth, attractive stems – unlike hydrangea – I don’t always find it necessary.  Because I was designing in a super basic glass cylinder vase, I chose to use a chocolate ti leaf to line the inside of the vase.  The leaves are extremely hardy, and don’t deteriorate in the water or encourage bacteria growth.  They’re also very economical.  I learned a great little trick from my floral design teacher Sarinya Villaneuva of The Daily Petal.  With a knife (I actually used a veggie peeler and it was even easier this time), shave off several thin layers of the spine on the back of the leaf.  This makes them far more pliable and less likely to split.  After wrapping the leaf inside the vase and filling it with water, I used plain scotch tape (you can also use green waterproof floral tape) to make a grid of 9 small squares.  Though it’s less necessary with a hydrangea base, the tape will give your stems something to rest against and form a support structure for your design so your blooms don’t shift around on you after they’re placed.

calla hydrangea antique cymbidium how to diy wedding centerpiece cylinder vase ti leaves lined orchids dusty miller tulips

4) Begin to arrange!

It’s less daunting for sure when you’re starting with hydrangea (in this case, 2 stems, which I chose to tape together just to make the shape a nice, even dome to build on).  If you are not using hydrangea, start with a big focal flower for the top/middle of the arrangement, and work around it.  You do want a semi domed shape, not a totally flat arrangement, and not a pointy shape either, so bear that in mind as you arrange.  I always start with my bigger focal flowers or the ones I’m going to use the most of, so the garden roses in this case.

antique hydrangea wedding centerpiece garden roses orchids cymbidiums ti leaves dusty miller callas parrot tulips fringe diy how to cylinder vase tutorial

If using hydrangea, place flowers in between the florets and nudge them down into place.  You want them to stick up a little bit higher than the hydrangea so they stand out just a tad.

Do *not* handle roses by their buds, especially not white roses.  Handle by the stems, and if you need to adjust placement, poke them back up out of the arrangement by their base or stem without pawing the petals – they’ll bruise on a dime!

A note about flower placement- for flowers that really stand out (like the orchids or the callas in this arrangement), I like to use odd numbers of them.  For these noticable flowers, you don’t want to place them super evenly or systematically.  It will look too perfect, like a robot made your arrangement.  You want a natural flow, and don’t want a “polka dotted” look.  Rotate your arrangement as you add flowers, taking it in from all angles and rearranging as needed to keep it all balanced, but not “forced” balanced.

The callas and tulips should peek out a little bit more than their flatter counterparts like roses.  And for a flower like callas, that kind of have a “direction” you want to arrange accordingly.  If they are pointing straight at each other, it will look crowded.  If they’re all pointing directly away from the center of the arrangement, it will look too perfect.  Tinker with it until it looks and feels right to you!

hydrangea calla cymbidium wedding centerpiece dusty miller diy how to tutorial cylinder vase antique vintage garden roses fringed tulips parrot orchids

5) Finish it off

Orchids come on a stalk, so you will have to cut them off and either wire them individually, or water pic them.  They will last a bit without water, so if you wire ’em the day before or day of the wedding you should be fine, but it just makes me nervous.  I chose to water pic them. You just cut them from the stalk and insert the tubes into the design.  Again, because of the kind of cushion-ey base it creates, this is much easier with hydrangea than with, say a mostly rose arrangement that wouldn’t support the tubes so well.

I also inserted the dusty miller at this stage.  Dusty can be tricky.  If you have a vase this size, you will have to insert really big clumps of it to get all of the stalks to reach down to the water, because it branches off.  It holds up OK without constant water though (it is already a little limp, and it’s usually either supported by other flowers, or allowed to be limp in a kind of graceful sloping way anyhow), so I just cut them off shorter and inserted them individually to avoid having to use big huge clumps of it.  Some of these guys are probably just touching the water line, and others aren’t quite, but it’s ok.

Here’s a photo:

dusty miller how to wedding centerpiece bouquet cymbidium orchids wire tape cylinder vase hydrangea garden roses antique calla tulip

And another couple photos of the finished design, just for fun ; )

hydrangea antique vintage diy wedding centerpiece flowers florals tutorial how to callas tulips cymbidium orchids dusty miller garden roses

Here’s a list of all of the flowers that ultimately made their way into my 6 x 6 cylinder vase:

2 stems antique hydrangea

10 garden roses

6 small burgundy cymbidium orchids (there were 20 on the stalk, so I had 14 left over)

5 fringed tulips

About 1/3 – 1/4 bunch dusty miller

5 small, black calla lillies

2 ti leaves (I ended up adding a second to cover a little gap left by the first, you can easily do this with one per vase though)

A note about ordering flowers and flower quantities – you should always order about 20% more flowers than you think you’ll need.  There is always at least one unusable flower in a bunch, and there will always be some damage or broken stalks caused as you work.  It’s a great comfort to not have to worry about every single bud and fret over whether you’ll have enough to achieve the look you wanted.

Also though, obviously not every single centerpiece needs to include the exact same number of each flower type.  You don’t need to be crazy about adhering to a recipe, but you should start from one to give you confidence in the order you’re placing and a clear plan of action when you start the designing!

Happy flower trials!

February 25, 2011 - 5:19 am

botanical brouhaha - This is a great post, Kate! The arrangement is beautiful…love your choice of flowers and the ti leaf lining the vase. You obviously spent a lot of time on the details of the post. Great instructions and photos! Have a great weekemd…

February 25, 2011 - 8:00 am

Future Mrs. - Great tips Kate! I am using a several of these flowers in my own wedding – it’s great to see how they will all come together.

February 25, 2011 - 8:15 am

Kate - Glad you enjoyed the post!

February 28, 2011 - 11:15 pm

Miles Johnson - Very well explained Kate! This is very close to how I explain it in my classes. You’ve done a great job of breaking it down in to steps and explaining why each step is done. Great post!

March 2, 2011 - 9:20 am

Kate - Thanks so much!

March 7, 2011 - 9:50 pm

janet - Gorgeous arrangement and gorgeous photos!

October 1, 2011 - 5:43 am

Trudy Rosemarin - This is wonderful!! The arrangement is fab, well done! This is definitely a good guide for starters..=)

September 10, 2012 - 9:28 am

Dana - Love your posts! Especially all the great tips you come across!

September 10, 2012 - 10:00 am

Kate - Thanks Dana!

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