Autumn Flowers & Flower Arranging
Musings. Written by Michelle Samson
Autumn is my favorite time of year. I love the perfectly cool, crisp air in the mornings, the occasional sound of the leaves blowing around on the sidewalk and the somewhat silence in the evenings. I also enjoy the richness and textures of what autumn has to offer as far as floral selection. Below is information about flowers that can be found locally to the Washington, D.C. metro area seasonally, flower arranging tips, and cut flower care tips.
Seasonal Flowers for Autumn
A few of my favorite seasonal, autumn ingredients for my floral compositions include dahlias, heirloom chrysanthemums, celosia, amaranth, zinnias, bittersweet and rosehips as well as foraged porcelain berry, clematis paniculata and Chinese pistachio foliage.
Rules are meant to be broken and one rule I am pretty lenient with is mixing fruit and flowers as fruit emits ethylene gas which causes senescence or aging of flowers. I love using fruit in my work. Fruit branches are abundant right now and are perfect to use with florals as accent pieces including pomegranates, persimmons, figs, pears and apples. Think Dutch still life for inspiration. I also love pale green gourds especially paired with porcelain berry.
It seems pumpkin is everywhere around autumn! If you are tired of pumpkins, local basil and tuberose paired together make for an interesting scent. Combine with garden roses and freesia – it is amazing!
Foraging for Flowers and Foliage
I like to forage for flowers and foliage especially for hard-to-find elements such as blackberries, porcelain berry, honeysuckle, oak leaves, plum leaves and passion flower vine. They add a natural aesthetic to your composition. Place foraged flowers and foliage immediately in water and let them rest in a cool area for several hours before using to prevent them from wilting.
Dahlia flowers are one of the most common of autumn flowers. Dahlias come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, colors and forms. They could be as small as half inch pom poms to as a big as ten inch dinner plate sized varieties. Dahlias originated from Mexico and were mainly single flowered. Seeds were sent from Mexico to Madrid then were distributed to famous gardens in England and France. Local flower farmers who typically grow amazing dahlias include Don’s Dahlias in Leesburg as well as Wollam Gardens and Lynnvale Studios which you can find at the Dupont Circle Farmers Market on Sundays.
Chrysanthemums originated from China two thousand years ago, holding a noble status alongside plum blossoms and orchids and commonly found in Chinese paintings. Popular appreciation made “mums” a garden cut flower favorite and can be found year round in different colors, sizes and shapes, making them more common. Older, more elegant heirloom varieties are slowly making their way back to popularity.
Below: Pretty, ribbon-like heirloom chrysanthemums from Lynnvale Studios.
Amaranth colors are the epitome of jewel tones. They are rich burgundy/pink flowers that fall and droop gracefully and give floral compositions movement and interest.
Below: Foraged beauties including cat tails, amaranth, dahlias, Northern Sea Oats grass, lunaria (money plant), honeysuckle and callicarpa (beauty berry) from Fields of Flowers, a pick-your-own flower farm in Purcellville, Virginia.
Cosmos, with their watercolor-like hues, grow in the summertime into autumn and are common flowers found in gardens. The name is Greek in origin and means orderly, beautiful and ornamental. Use cosmos to add movement to your floral compositions.
Zinnias are another summer –to-autumn transitional flower and come in a variety of colors. They are part of the sunflower tribe within the daisy family. Zinnias are one of the few cut flowers that are not stored in the cooler prior to design work. Keep them in a shaded area out of direct sunlight.
Above and below: Cosmos and zinnias.
I love the trailing stems of ornamental oregano. The chartreuse bracts change into mauve and lilac shades. They look pretty on their own in a simple vessel. Cut them now before they go dormant for the winter months. They also look pretty combined with soft, blush shades.
Vessels and Creating Floral Compositions
When it comes to creating floral compositions and selecting color palettes, there really is no rule. Use what you like. I have a tendency towards colors close to each other on the color wheel. Dutch floral paintings and even the way branches grow serve as inspiration for me.
1. Establish the shape of the arrangement by using different types of foliage. The foliage will serve as the frame work for the piece.
2. You want to keep your eye moving from one ingredient to the next, just like a painting. The flowers should be “talking” to one another. Varying the size and shape of blooms, clustering, using directional elements like spires and vines can point the eye in different directions and also give it a place to rest. Vary the height of flowers. Air and space can create as big an impact as a focal flower; arrangements don’t always need to be packed full or perfectly round.
3. Follow your gut!
4. Add textural elements to give the arrangement movement and interest.
5. Insert the larger focal flowers before the arrangement becomes too full. Working in groups of three to five, nestle the statement blossoms into the foliage base.
6. Layer in a collection of supporting blooms smaller than the main flowers. For the finishing touch, tuck in a few stems of an airy plant (like cosmos, grass) to fill out the arrangement.
Below: Various types of chrysanthemums, amaranth, cattail, lunaria, figs and chinaberry. A final touch of bittersweet adds architectural interest and shape to this composition.
Cut Flower Care
Here a few simple tips to keep your cut flowers and foliage lasting longer. More details via Basic Cut Flower Care page.
- Recut the stems and remove excess foliage.
- Harden the flowers by setting them in warm water in a cool place.
- Use a floral preservative.
- Keep them cool and avoid drafts, hot spots, and television sets.
- Use a clean vase or container and check the water level daily.
- Change the water every few days.
- Following these simple tips will make your cut flowers last longer, up to 7 to 10 days and maybe even longer.