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Exotic Flowers For Your Home: Birds from Paradise and Other Places
by Marjorie Dorfman

What is the best way to arrange exotic flowers? Will you have to sell stock to afford them and keep them alive in your home? Read on for some answers and some questions too.


The art of flower arranging is centuries old, dating back to the ancient Chinese and Egyptian kingdoms. Flowers are nature’s poetry, a language universal in meaning and beauty. Although an art of the most consummate skill, it is not a deep dark secret passed down from ancient hierophants that cannot be learned. Anyone who loves flowers and is willing to take the time and thought to combine them with discernment can succeed in this art. This article shall attempt to cover two schools of thought on the subject; what to do and what not to do. After that, I am afraid you are on your own in the middle of your living room with all the orchids, gladiolas and birds of paradise looking back at you and begging for a place to be!

While there are no "steadfast rules", there are some principles of good design to be considered while arranging flowers. Proportion is very important. A floral display is proportionally sound when it seems the right size for its container. It is only dazzling to behold however, if the colors, textures and forms contrast each other. Dark colors look best low in an arrangement, as they appear heavier to the eye. Soft, velvety flower petals are best displayed against shiny, glossy foliage. Balance too affects an arrangement and there are two kinds: symmetrical and asymmetrical. Asymmetrical balance requires greater practice, but can be more rewarding and challenging. Harmony is always the final goal of any display. It is the result of blending all of the elements so that they seem to belong together (like the United Nations, only even more colorful).

Homes as well as people have their own personalities. Flower arrangements enhance décor and as such, must complement the individual character of the home. According to the Society of American Florists, there are five styles of home arrangements. They include: Classic Traditional, Modern Contemporary, Victorian, Casual Easy Living and American Country.

A traditional home has formal architecture, classic furniture and individually decorated rooms. The best complement would be an arrangement of a mixture of flowers, such as roses, gladiola, iris, carnations, lilies or snapdragon, to name a few, and dried foliage and fruit as accents. Crystal, brass, silver or porcelain containers are ideal for the classic floral centerpiece.

The modern contemporary home calls for clean lines and smooth surfaces. Bold, exotic flowers (anthuriums, heliconia, callas, and orchids) with strong lines complement clean open spaces. To complete the look, display flowers in frosted glass vases, decorative pottery and metallic containers with pewter or stainless steel finishes.

Victorian homes have a soft sensual look rendered by the use of pastel colors, velvets and satins. Fragrant flowers (roses, spray roses, peonies, lavender, gardenias and freesia) in peach, pink and soft yellows conjure images of romance and sensuality. These colors are best complemented by vases of clear glass, crystal and silver.

Casual living décor includes furniture of light pine, natural woods, bleached oak and neutral tones. The right floral match might include flowering and green plants (like cyclamen, pothos or ivy) casually grouped in a basket, or flowers such as sunflowers, daisies, delphinium or tulips) placed in a glass vase, pitcher or piece of pottery.

American Country motifs include artifacts from the past, such as quilts and wooden crates. Woven baskets or simple vases of mixed spring flowers (yarrow, wild roses, scabiosa, heather) fit perfectly on a coffee table or kitchen counter.

The first decision to be made after you purchase your flowers is where in the house they will be placed. Then it can be determined if the finished arrangement should be tall or wide or round and full. Choose a vase that is in proportion to the flowers; it should comprise one-half to one-third of the total arrangement. Use tall, cylindrical vases for arrangements that incorporate line flowers, such as gladiolas, Liatris (gayfeather) Delphinium, snapdragons and bells of Ireland. Use vessels with a belly (such as urns or ginger jars) for mass and filler flowers. This category includes roses, carnations, sunflowers, lilies, tulips, daffodils and chrysanthemums. Filler flowers include statice, baby’s breath, waxflower, Queen Anne’s Lace and Saponaria. There are many materials to choose from, but the decision does require some careful thought.

Condition the flowers by cutting the stems diagonally under water. This prevents air bubbles from forming that can block water from being drawn up into the flowers. The diagonal cut allows a wider surface from which the flowers can drink. Remove the foliage from stems that will be underwater. This discourages the growth of bacteria due to decaying foliage in the water. Re-cut the stems every few days and change the water. Make sure the container has appropriate water-holding capacity in proportion to the size and quantity of the flowers (large flowers will not work in a bud vase, for example).

Some don’ts for the novice may seem obvious, but should be mentioned anyway. Don’t use tall arrangements for dinner table centerpieces unless you don’t care if your guests can see each other across the table! Don’t combine flowers that do not naturally blend well. For example, the bird of paradise, exquisite all by its lonesome, does not blend well with many other flowers. If you’re not sure, keep it alone. It neither likes nor needs any other company. Do not place flowers in a drafty or warm place, such as an open window or on top of the television. The drafts and heats will cause evaporation and wilting.

For a loose arrangement just clip the ends, place the stems in the vase, pull flowers out and trim a bit here and there until you are pleased with the overall shape. A more planned arrangement is achieved by placing the stems in the vase one at a time until the look pleases you, and then tying the stems together and trimming them evenly. In the case of tropical flowers, Anthuriums, also known as Heart or Flaming Flower, are the longest lasting with a life span of 7-14 days. This exotic flower comes in many colors and the leaves are large and glossy. There are more than 20,000 species of orchids to choose from and they are the very easiest to arrange. They will naturally arch and fill any space beautifully. The Dendrobium Orchid will last from 5-8 days, while Oncidium Orchids will last 7 to 10 days. Longevity in all cases depends not only on the flower care in the home, but also the climactic conditions.

So don’t be afraid to try your hand at tropical flower arranging. Talk to your florist and ask for his suggestions. Start with the simple and work your way up. For all you know, that’s how the rain forest got started. Who knows what consequences such bouquets may conjure within your very own living room? The bird of paradise, that’s who!

Did you know . . .

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