Photograph by Peter Frank Edwards from Southern Bouquets
by Melissa Bigner with Heather Barrie, with permission by Gibbs-SmithEven though I now live in Vermont, I'll always be a Southern girl at heart.
Recently, I had the pleasure of browsing through the new Southern Bouquets book by Melissa Bigner and Heather Barrie, and I immediately fell under its spell. So, I decided to ask Melissa and Heather to share their ideas and tips on how to create a simple DIY bouquet using flowers from your yard. The result is stunning and would be perfect for Mother's Day. Enjoy!
5 Steps to a Super-Simple Bouquet
Need a pick-me-up or a Mother's Day gift? Look no further than your backyard.
As a kid, I’d bring home fistfuls of flowers from nearly any roadside patch I found near my North Carolina house. Though my ragtag bundles would make my mom sniff and sneeze mercilessly, she’d always plant them in a vase somewhere we could all admire them.
Flash forward to 2010 and Heather Barrie, of Charleston’s gathering: Floral + event designs, and I are celebrating the release of our book, Southern Bouquets. In it, we collected blooms and greens into arrangements for Peter Frank Edwards to photograph in area mansions and cottages -- my and my mom’s Lowcountry places included. Our goals? To celebrate down-to-earth, local beauty, to share great Southern garden stories, and to inspire (and instruct) readers to create their own masterpieces.
While the book’s bouquets are a far cry from my childhood creations, they're still backyard-born and utterly simple at heart. (We used only fresh-cut fodder from area flower farms, local plantations and parks, and surrounding home gardens too.) So if you’re craving fresh florals for your house, for a Mom’s Day gift, or for any reason under the sun, just grab your scissors and flower bucket, then follow these step-by-step directions to something stellar.
Step One: Gather your greens and flowers.
Heather and I are scavengers when it comes to collecting bouquet fodder. For today’s arrangement, I broke off budding boughs of a ligustrum hedge that was growing next to a dirt parking lot on my running path. (I can still sleep at night as a marauder because a) the hedge was on public property and very neglected; and b) I prune instead of decimate, rotate my scavenging sites, and make sure the remaining plants look verily untouched. For the record, we cut blooms only with supervision and permission for Southern Bouquets.) As for the rest of the materials, we got ferns and confederate jasmine from my yard, and some spiderwort from an old abandoned house down the street.
- Choose a variety of stem, leaf, and flower shapes and shades to give your bouquet depth and texture.
- Let what’s blooming or thriving now guide your bouquet rather than a preconceived idea. We ended up with a green and white arrangement with purple accents.
- Use loppers to cut woody plants, and anything from clippers to sturdy household scissors to cut other stems.
- Cut at an angle. If a stem or branch rests flat on the bottom of a vessel, it can’t suck up water, but angling your cut helps them drink.
- Have a vessel with cool water handy to transport your finds.
Step Two: Pick your vessel and prep your flowers.
Since we ended up with leafy branches, we needed a sturdy vase that wouldn’t topple from their bulk, and one that could balance out the volume of the bouquet. Thus we picked this vintage pitcher that family friends had gifted me as a housewarming present. We filled it up about three-fourths with cool water, sprinkled in a few drops of bleach (in lieu of commercial floral preservative -- which I didn’t have), then stripped the foliage and flowers of any leaves that might be submerged below the waterline. (Submerged greenery rots and contaminates the water.) We separated each type of cutting into its own pile and were ready to assemble the arrangement.
- Stripped greens make for great mulch fodder.
- If your vessel is opaque like this one, but is less sturdy, place clean pebbles or rocks at the bottom before adding water to weigh it down.
Step Three: Create a natural lattice of stems or branches.
The ligustrum was the showiest, most abundant, and most voluminous of what we had gathered, so Heather started with it. She placed each branch around the edge of the vase that sat atop a Lazy Susan, spinning it until she made a complete circle and used up the greens.
- A Lazy Susan allows you to view your bouquet from every side and fashion a balanced arrangement.
- You can skip floral foam, tape, and frogs when you let the stems anchor each other in a lattice.
- Don’t sweat the lattice idea. It’s nothing more than layering the stems naturally in a circle.
Step Four: Add remaining greens and flowers in a loose, mound-like silhouette.
I don’t call Heather “The Flower Whisperer” for nothing. She’s got an organic approach to pairing arranging elements that makes these backyard bouquets sing. To get her signature fresh, non-stuffy look, she added spiderworts next (the purple blooms); then the ferns; then the trailing sprigs of confederate jasmine. After spinning the bouquet around to find and fill in holes, we normally spritz a finished bouquet with cool water. Of course, I forgot to shoot that part, but I think you can envision it.
- Spin the vessel as you add each new type of bloom, spacing them out as singles or in clustered groupings.
- To curve ferns or other fronds as seen here, gently run your thumb down the stem-spines and lightly bend.
- If you’ve created a super-compact bouquet, step away from it, take a deep breath, and then go back and loosen select elements here and there for a slightly random, airy look.
- Add water if any stems are at risk of not being submerged at least four inches. (Lilies do best in shallow water, say, no more than three inches of stem submerged.)
Step Five: Display your masterpiece!
Heather left the bouquet for me to enjoy in my living room. Her instructions? Change the water daily, if I remember, or every other day if I forget. Clip the stem and branch bases -- on an angle -- every other day. Spritz overall when I cut anew. But most? Enjoy.
North Carolina native Melissa Bigner is editor of Charleston Weddings magazine and senior editor at its sister titles, Charleston and Charleston Home. She has written for Southern Living, Southern Accents, Better Homes & Gardens Decorating, Coastal Living, and Cottage Living magazines, among others, and also authored home and decor books for Better Homes & Gardens, HGTV, and TLC. She lives in a small cottage in downtown Charleston, South Carolina, where confederate jasmine takes over her picket fence and porch.
Charleston, South Carolina-based Heather Barrie, owner of gathering: floral + event design is known for her earthy, elegant bouquets and floral arrangements, and clean, unspoiled style. An A-lister in the bridal world (Charleston’s the number two choice for destination weddings in the country), she’s in demand year-round. Ask her where she gets her ideas and she’ll tell you they come from walks through the city’s famed parks and neighborhoods. That’s the feel that her work has, Southern by nature. Expect pretty, organic, simple but stunning things from any project to which she’s connected. Her work has appeared in Charleston Weddings, Elegant Bride, Inside Weddings, Modern Bride, and Wedding Style magazines.