When I say flower power, I’m not talking about “sex, drugs, and rock & roll” or “make love, not war.” And I am certainly not advocating bra burning (at my age, that could cause a natural disaster). No, think less Woodstock and more “Downton Abbey.” I’ve always been a huge fan of British period dramas, and as a student of interior design, I am endlessly fascinated with the stately manor homes featured in these series. Most people wouldn’t consider PBS to be a guilty pleasure, but for me, it’s like watching “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” only without the annoying nasal narration by Robin Leach.
So what does this have to do with flowers? Well, I’ve noticed that besides architectural detail, exquisite artwork, and fine furnishing, all these grand interiors feature large lush flower arrangements. In my rich and varied fantasy life, I imagine myself as Lady Fancy Pants, creating elaborate arrangements of colorful peonies, roses, and snapdragons that I have gathered from my estate’s vast formal gardens. Unfortunately, when I wake from my crazy daydream, I am faced with the reality that, as a 21st-century middle-class suburbanite, I have neither the funds nor the acreage available to a by-gone-era member of the landed gentry. Bummer!
However, I refuse to allow this sad fact to keep me from having flowers in my slightly less than grand manor. Flowers for me are a necessity, not a luxury. Since necessity is the mother of invention, I resolved to satisfy my need to have flowers in my home by purchasing them from the grocery store. “Horror!” shrieks Lady Fancy Pants in my head and I must agree with her ladyship that supermarket mixed bouquets tend to be less than desirable. They often are a mish-mash of too many colors, and they contain a lot of uninteresting filler flowers like statice and baby’s breath. Instead, I usually buy a single kind of long-lasting flower. Alstroemeria, mums, and carnations will survive in good shape for a week and look modern and chic massed together in a simple glass vase. My store sells three bunches for $12. I cut the stems short so that the flower heads create a dense mound at the top of a clear cube.
Another way of arranging cut flowers that I employ all the time is displaying long-stemmed blooms like gladioli or sunflowers in a tall clear vase. This can be very dramatic on an entry or side table.
Fresh flowers are great, but they are ethereal. To really get my Downton Abbey on, I wanted to have some (more or less) permanent large-scale arrangements. Silk flowers were all the rage in the 80’s and 90’s, and I confess that I had some silk arrangements back in the day. Don’t get me wrong; there are some beautiful silks out there. I just prefer real to faux. My solution was to make dried arrangements. If you shop wisely, you can find some great dried flowers and other natural elements like seed pods and branches (my husband calls them sticks) to create beautiful floral designs. Having said this, you have to take care to purchase quality botanicals that will not crumble and disintegrate when you touch them. I recommend incorporating freeze-dried and preserved blooms in arrangements because they retain their color and shape. They are harder to find, and they are a bit pricey, but they are worth the investment, even if you only use a few feature flowers as part of your overall design.
The first thing to consider when making this kind of arrangement is the container. Her ladyship, no doubt, would use a priceless French cache-pot but not having any lying around the house, I had to improvise. I wanted something substantial for this pair of stands that flank my front door. I found these two good-looking and remarkably inexpensive urns in the outdoor planter area of Home Depot. Because they are scaled for outdoors, they aren’t dwarfed by the space.
Once you have a suitable container, you’ll need dry floral foam or desert foam bricks. This is not to be confused with Oasis or wet floral foam which is meant to be soaked in water and used for fresh flowers. These bricks can easily be cut and shaped to fit snugly inside your pot. Now you are ready to build your arrangement.
For these urns, I used one of the easiest design techniques to pull off. All you have to do is to group like items together in tiers. The first layer of these arrangements consists of preserved lemon leaves. These are topped by alternating bunches of red and yellow yarrow that are dotted with platyspermum cones and interspersed with more lemon leaves. Above this is a row of freeze-dried basil hydrangea. In the center of the hydrangea, I grouped a bunch of tall grasses and some moss-covered branches to give the piece some height.
This more traditional scattered arrangement has pride of place on the buffet in my kitchen eat-in area. It consists of seeded eucalyptus, yellow spray roses, yellow hydrangea, proteas, unidentified red puff balls and red dyed seed pod mums.
You don’t have to wear love beads and bell bottoms to have flower power. Just add some flowers to your decor, and you will start feeling groovy. The Countess of Grantham will be totally jealous!