Flower Arrangement Tips from Frances Palmer
Frances Palmer keeps her hands busy: on her potter’s wheel, in her garden, and behind the camera with which she photographs what’s blooming in her Connecticut garden twinned with her fine clay creations in the most surprisingly simple compositions. These photos of her local arrangements, which she presents on her Instagram feed, are so movingly beautiful that you wonder why you don’t get your hands dirty. (At least we do, and we bet we’re not the only one of his 97,000 followers.)
With that in mind, we wanted to know what Palmer is growing this spring. Luckily for us and for you, she’s put the shovels and trowels down long enough to share with us what she’s planting now, where she buys bulbs and other plants, and her secrets for getting by with each variety. Consider this preview of what to expect in Palmer’s Flow, your spring flower playbook.
6 Surprising Flowers to Use in Arrangements This Spring
Each season, I plant scented geraniums (mint, apple, lemon, and rose) in the beds and place the more common annual geraniums in large pots on the tennis court. During the winter, they all come inside my greenhouse. More recently I have purchased a more eclectic group of plants from Geraniaceaea Californian nursery specializing in geraniums and The lodgeda favorite local source here in Connecticut.
Floristry tips from France: Geranium plants do well with pruning, so I often cut them at the stem to include a flower and a few leaves to use alone in a bud vase or with other flowers in my garden like tulips, zinnias, dahlias. The herb varieties are reserved for cooking and making jellies.
The dahlia is an easy-to-grow flower. If you have a sunny spot in your garden with healthy, organic soil, a good staking system, and protection from deer, you could have flowers from July until the first frost. I always make sure I get the classic tuber type from the American Dahlia Society, but this year I bought some of the new varieties developed by the brilliant dahlia breeder, Kristine Albrecht of Santa Cruz Dahlias. Some of my other favorite producers are: Dahlia Addict for particular tubers; Swan Island Dahlias for variety; and Old House Gardens for inheritance types.
Floristry tips from France: Cut dahlias early in the morning when they are strongest and freshest. They can be combined with zinnias, cosmos, marigolds or herbs. I really prefer to use them in groups of similar colors to create an ombre effect. One last thing: don’t leave the stems too long. Short arrangements make a stronger mass.
This spring I went a bit overboard by ordering bare root roses which I now plant in the garden and in large pots. I am excited about some beauties of David Austin Rosessuch as Lady of Shallot and Jude the Obscure, as well as the Limoncello and Pretty Lady varieties of Farm & Flower Menagerie. Roses are such a vast subject that I can only touch on them lightly here. Their exquisite petal formations, range of colors and fragrance captivate me. In addition to David Austin Roses and Menagerie Farm, I enjoy ordering from Edmunds Roses, Roses of yesterday and todayand old roses.
Floristry tips from France: Appreciate roses through all their stages. A closed bud will eventually open. I like to pair roses with peonies, lilacs, bearded irises and poppies that bloom at similar times. Or enjoy a single stem with perfect flowering.
These are coming back into fashion and are easy to have in the garden. Bulbs can be planted in successive weeks in the spring to maintain a good supply. With a little staking when they reach their height, they can provide a glorious and dramatic statement in a vase, alone or with lilies, roses and dahlias. I focused on heirloom gladioli for sale at Old House Gardensbut I also ordered the bright and crazy colors of Dutch bulbs.
Tips from Frances Florist: Remove the faded flowers from the top so that those below continue to open. I also continue to cut the stem to freshen it up. Make sure you have a tall, sturdy vase that can support the height of the stem.
I select a variety of tomatoes each year for different purposes. My organic plants come from Organic products from Gilbertie or I start from seeds – plum tomatoes for sauce, heirloom varieties for slicing and cherry tomatoes for eating, of course, but also for use in vases. Some of the ones I’m most looking forward to this summer are: Spoon Tomato, Brad’s Atomic Grape Tomato, Thorburn’s Terracotta Tomato, Black Beauty Tomato, Chocolate Pear Tomato.
Floristry tips from France: I don’t use one type of tomato exclusively. If a medium-sized tomato has nice coloring, that’s fair game for my composition, as are indeterminate tomatoes with nice vines. For my arrangements, I cut off a long piece of stem, remove the extra leaves, and place it in the bowl or vase. Then I let the leaves and fruit further down the stem drape over the pot. Be sure to put in the tomato stems before the other flowers, so they don’t need to be handled as the arrangement grows.
While I try to plant sunflowers specifically grown for cutting, I also plant mammoth sunflowers in the garden for birds and bees. For cultivation and arrangement I just ordered Chocolate, Florenza and Pro Cut Gold Lite from Johnny’s Selected Seeds and sunflower Arikara from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and Pro Cut Ivory and White-Lite from floret flower. I sow the seeds successively, to have flowers all summer.
Floristry tips from France: The leaves can be quite overwhelming, so I often remove them after cutting the stems. Sunflowers pair beautifully with dahlias and zinnias. A strong flower frog at the bottom of the vase or bowl helps stabilize the sunflower heads. I tend to choose smaller heads for arrangements because they are easier to manage.