Thursday, March 11, 2010

Flowers 101: Courage, thorns, and the wisdom of Fearrington House

When we lived in Boston I ordered flowers when I wanted them in the house: While Winston Flowers is infallible and talented, they were also staggeringly expensive. In the seasons when the garden there was not producing I dreaded ordering flowers. And flowers very much should not create dread.

I started to take notice of the sometimes remarkable varieties of cut flowers available everywhere: The corner store, the grocer, the cost club, and the on-line wholesalers. Without much confidence but full of inspiration, I began to deal with cut flowers. These days, I am steady from practice and a couple of indispensable resources (the arrangements in various posts on this site are mine). While the beauty of the arrangements leaves a lingering touch of luxury in our spaces, some part of me equally prizes the luxury of holding a coffee cup in one hand as my wellies hit the wet floor of the flower market and I spend some time bent over flower bins, looking, sniffing, matching, and thinking. I find just as much pleasure in cutting blooms around the house in the growing season. These places number in my quiet sactuarys now.

Ina Garten is a firm believer in singular color arrangements. And I believe in this like I believe in black clothing, to a practical point: It never fails aesthetically, and it is not difficult to find or arrange.

But the world would be less a place of beauty for me if tonalities of sweet peas did not spill over baskets in spring and brambles of hot shades of roses did not crowd one another in the foyer in the sweltering heat of long hot summers. I don't know about you, but I'm not in life to avoid the challenge of coloring it (you have been viewing some of my inspiration for this season courtesy of

Those who love beautiful, artistic arrangements and have no experience in creating them may chafe the first time they take a clipper to two dozen stems. They will be reminded to be careful when the first blood is drawn by a rose only suggesting it is regal and to be handled carefully, but in the end it will be worth overcoming fear, thorns, entitlement, and inexperience to be able to afford better, more creative arrangements than one might find at an FTD franchise, say.

One of the best simple references is the unassuming Fearrington House Cookbook. The Fearrington House Restaurant and Inn rest on hundreds of acres of their own growing land in North Carolina. It is now the only five star bed and breakfast in the state, although they were still on their way when the book was published in 1987.

The cookbook is full of the secrets of the farm as they relate to event planning and entertaining and in my opinion, indispensable, although not for those who relish photos or overt instructions. If a few minutes is spent reviewing Fearrington's website, you will be assured of their experience and aptitude on the subject matter, however.

One of the best early guides I had was this single line diagram and set of instructions from Fearrington, I hope it helps you in turn (although one might just order the book, its very nearly free on Amazon).

Building a Mass Arrangement

Regardless of weather the the flowers to be used are tall and spikey, rounded or sparse and in need of supplementing with greens, there is a single system for building the arrangement.

Begin with the placement of the first flower in the center. Fill in around the center according to the numbers in the diagram. Angle and force flowers forward and backward. The placement of the first nine flowers has now formed a basic skeletal structure which may be finished and filled in any manner. This same technique applies to both flowers and greenery.

Once the basic shape is achieved, stand back to view the arrangement. Fill the vacant spots with a variety of flowers and greens that offer differences in textures and shapes.

- The Fearrington House Cookbook
, Jenny Fitch (Verdana, 1987)

What are you arranging this season?


Acanthus and Acorn said...

Wonderful images and tutorial! I can not imagine life without fresh flowers. And when none can be found...branches are always welcome. I will never be able to get my head around the silks or faux...not for me. I am not a great arranger, and have found the less I mess with mother nature the better, and to call on the experts when necessary!

sle said...

I am lucky enough to live within half an hour from Fearrington House and as you mentioned it is such a lovely place. Sometimes, if I am feeling stressed, I will make the drive over there just to unwind. Your flower arrangements are beautiful! Flower arranging is a talent I have tried to accomplish over the years, and it is a process! Thank you for the reminder to look in my FH cookbook for the guide sheet.

LPC said...

The other option, of course, for those of us with no patience, is to buy 3 dozen of the exact same beautiful flower - tulips, peonies, yellow roses - and jam them into a silver pitcher and be happy.

Aimee said...

Thanks for sharing the diagram - it's so helpful. Look forward to learning more!

Karena said...

Fabulous floras Love the images you chose!! The tips mean so much, how often do I say "Now what????"

Art by Karena

Jaime said...

I love arrangement #2!

little augury said...

what a lovely place FH is. I am about an hour+ away- it is a treasure, amazing cuisine, have attended a number of events,weddings, dinners here- It never disappoints. Jenny Fitch's vision throughout the place-and the decor is quaint chic, she had a shop called the dovecote that was an echo of everything she touched-she left her mark in this heavenly spot- You would love it. pgt


great advice--everything looks brighter and fresher with flowers. You've inspired me-perhaps a potted violet or just some green clovers will brighten this dreary NY day!