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Aspects of Design: Closed Forms Versus Open Forms

"Fiery Red Topiary" Closed Form Flowers

To florists and floral designers, “form” is the word used synonymously with “shape” and refers to either the outline or three-dimensional shape of a flower arrangement. There are two key forms in floral design terms. These are “closed forms” and “open forms.” Both are key elements of floral design and are essential to creating beautiful flower arrangements appropriate for any space or occasion.

Closed-Form Flower Designs

Closed form flower designs can best be described as “dense” because these forms lack negative space. That is to say, the floral materials used to create the designs are tightly packed allowing little to no room for light to pass through, thus it is one seemingly continuous piece and consistent shape throughout.

An example of commonly used flowers with closed form designs are Beidermeyer style bouquets and centerpieces. These are very compact rings that together form a small dome shaped arrangement. Because there is little negative space (none) in a Beidermeyer style flower arrangement, these and other flower arrangements with similar styles are referred to as closed form flower designs.

Open-Form Flower Desigsn

"Fiery Red Topiary" Open Form Flowers

Open form flower designs are the opposite. These are considered light and airy. They have more negative space which may prevent the outline from being fully defined. Not defining the outline allows the design to merely imply a geometric shape.

An example of commonly used flowers with open form flower designs are contemporary arrangements. While there are many closed form contemporary flower arrangements, most contemporary styles focus on the idea of the shape. Rather than present a shape, they present lines (linear flowers) that form unique angles, shapes, and appearances.

Consider placing a light behind both designs and looking at their shadow on the wall. Like mass flowers, closed form flower designs will reveal an easily defined shape. Open form flower designs will produce a shadow that looks like no particular shape, but rather a series of overlapping lines and patterns.

Hydrangea and Floral Foam

Ask the Expert: hydrangea in foam arrangement
Hydrangea does better in water but there is a time when you need to use foam for a design, I have been  putting them in tubes and then in foam should i be putting them directly into the foam, the few times that we used them in my design school they were put in tubes. Did a wedding shower very pretty hat box design nice brown and blue grogain ribbon on a inverted clear cylinder bride loved them look great for the  occassion but I am worried about them when the guest took them home please advise me
thank you jeanne

Expert Reply:

On the whole it is best not to use hydrangeas in floral foam.  However if you have no other choice, initial preparation of the hydrangea is essential.

Since hydrangeas are susceptible to water deprivation, you want to make sure you prep them carefully when they arrive.  Most commercial growers will send hydrangeas with a water source.  Carefully remove the water source.  Submerge the hydrangea heads under tepid water for 2 minutes and gently shake before you cut them.  Cut them about 2″ from the tip at a 45degree angle – because of the thickness of the stem you may need to make two cut on opposite sides.  You will now have a end that looks like an arrow.  Take your knife and gently make a cut up the center of this arrow –  this will create more area for hydration.  Now dip the stem in quick dip and then place in a vase with warm water and flower food.  You can also spray the heads with crown and glory. This will give the hydrangeas the best start for any type of design use.

For foam go through the same process of dipping the head in water, dipping the stem in quick dip and then you can place them in the floral foam.  FYI: you can soak your floral foam in a water and flower food solution – this will help extend the life of the flowers.  Try not to move the hydrangea stem once you have placed it in the foam.  If the hydrangea is not properly placed, take it out of the foam and repeat the process before you reinsert the stem into the foam.

Be sure to you send packets of flower food with the arrangements and encourage the recipients to use it when adding water to the arrangements.

Please keep me posted and let me know how these suggestion work for you.

Elements of Design: Preparing Bird of Paradise

It’s the time of the year when tropical flower arrangements are hot, hot items in the flower shop. Birds of paradise, orchids, protea, anthuriums, dendrobium and other exotic tropical flowers are big ticket flowers used in a wide variety of tropical arrangements. One of my favorite tropical flowers is the bird of paradise. It’s a stunning beauty that brings so much to any tropical arrangement. For this reason, I recently asked Regina Berryman (AIFD, AAF) to show me some of her design techniques for creating beautiful tropical flower arrangements using bird of paradise. Here is her technique for opening bird of paradise to reveal its finest qualities.

Bird of Paradise Tropical Flowers Arrangement

Bird of Paradise Tropical Flowers Arrangement

Opening Bird of Paradise To Reveal High Quality

Regina has worked with tropical flowers for many years now. Being less experienced with tropical flowers, Regina decided to show me how to open bird of paradise in a way that reveals its best quality and eliminates any flaws from shipping or packaging. First, place the stem of the bird of paradise firmly between your legs. Place both thumbs on the crease (the opening) and gently pry the crease open. Next place your thumbs together under the “heart” and raise your thumbs at the same time. This allows you to raise the beautiful part of the flower out of its shell and strip it of the lower quality flowers.

Next, oddly enough, strip the lower quality flowers. These are the light orange to white colored flowers that are next to or against the more brightly colored orange/red flowers. Since the vibrantly colored flowers give bird of paradise its appeal, strip the less colorful ones by taking a firm hold, gently pulling straight back toward the stem, then pulling the flower straight out once you have loosened it enough to be removed all at once. If you do not pull toward the stem, you run the risk of ripping the flower toward the tightly clustered base instead of removing it.

To open bird of paradise, place both thumbs on the crease (opening).

To open bird of paradise, place both thumbs on the crease (opening).

Place thumbs together under the flowers and pull up.

Place thumbs together under the flowers and pull up.

Unfold and separate each piece.

Unfold and separate each piece.

Loosen and strip by pulling toward stem then straight out.

Loosen and strip by pulling toward stem then straight out.

Now you're ready to create a beautiful tropical flower arrangement!

Now you're ready to create a beautiful tropical flower arrangement!

Important Tips for Arranging Flowers at Home

Start with a clean vase:

One of the first mistakes people make when they arrange their flowers at home is to start the process with a dirty vase. If you haven’t cleaned the vase from the last time there were flowers in it, there could be bacteria or fungi in the vase that will cause your flowers to go down early.

A clean vase from your cupboard could also be a source of house dust. We all know that house dust contains all things that could be harmful to you, which are also potentially harmful to your flowers.

Be sure to start with a freshly washed vase every time and your flowers will last a lot longer!

Use lukewarm water and flower food:

Once you have a sparkling clean vase, the next step is to add water and flower food. Dragonfly Flowers On McPhillps should provides customers with one or two small packages of flower food with their bouquet purchase. When the flower was cut, it lost it’s source of water and nutrients. The flower food provided by your local florist replaces these carbohydrates and sugars typically used by the flowers and stabilizes and lowers the pH of the water. Some contain microorganism inhibitors to stop fungi and bacteria from growing on the stems and some formulas even contain un-blockers for the stems.

Simply pour the flower food into the container and add water. Swirl the container to mix it up a bit and you are done!

Your flowers are hopefully still fresh and perky when you get them, but they have certainly been through the mill. Most flowers have traveled thousands of miles, been tossed around during shipping, handled 5-10 times and cut 2 or 3 times before they even get to you. You don’t want to shock them even more with cold water when you get them, they have been through enough. Your flowers have likely been out of water for 30 minutes to a couple of hours by this time as well. Using warmer water allows them to drink much more efficiently as it slowly cools to room temperature. During this time, they are also sucking up valuable nutrients from your flower food.

Re-cut the stems – again:

You florist likely gave your flowers a fresh cut before they sent them to you, which allows them to drink more readily. Even though your flowers have been cut from their roots, where they typically get their nourishment and water, they still have the ability to draw water up the stems, which will keep their heads moist and nourished. It’s always a good idea to re-cut your flowers when you get them home to make sure that the tubes in the stems are free and clear to draw as much water as possible.

You have probably heard that you should cut the flowers on an angle. This cutting the stems on an angle provides a greater area of the stem to contact the water, and allows it to drink more freely.

Try not to use scissors to cut the stems. Cutting the stems with scissors typically compresses the stem to some extent and in doing so, will limit it’s ability to drink efficiently. A good sharp knife, like your florist uses, will do the trick!

Remove excess greens:

Your florist may or may not have removed the excess greens or leaves from the stems of your flowers. It’s a good idea to strip away these greens and make sure they are not below the water line. The flowers don’t drink through the leaves, and the large surface area of the greens provides ample space for bacteria and fungi to hitch a ride into the water and subsequently into the stems.

Display in the right area:

In order to keep your flowers looking their best for the longest period of time there are a few rules to follow for where you display them. The main points are, keep them away from excessive heat and in areas with little air movement. Heat and air movement both speed the evaporation of water from the flowers and make it more difficult for them to survive for longer periods of time.

Flower Display rules:

  • Keep flowers away from drafts
  • Don’t display arrangements on the TV (Or any other warm place, such as close to a register)
  • – Don’t display fresh flowers in direct sunlight.
  • – Don’t display flower arrangements on top of the fridge or microwave.

These few simple tips can significantly lengthen the life of your arrangement and keep your flowers looking lovely for several weeks.

Keeping Flowers Fresh For Wedding Rehearsal

Ask the Expert: keeping cut flowers fresh for a rehearsal dinner
We are planning a rehearsal dinner. I will use a candle-holding lantern on each table with a small grouping of maybe 2 roses, baby’s breath and something blue tied with wired ribbon lying on two sides of the lantern. How might I prepare the little grouping of flowers early in the day and keep them fresh while on the tables?

Thank you so much for your help and advice. Jane Scobey


The easiest way to keep those flowers fresh is to use water picks. Water picks are small tubes with a rubber cap in which you can insert the flower stems. Fill the water picks with water and stick the flower stems into the rubber cap push all the way into the tube. This can be done before or after you arrange your stems. Then you can either wrap the water picks with the ribbon to hide them or remove then a little bit before the wedding rehearsal dinner.

Floral Water Pick Floral Water Pick.

Consumers can buy these from their florist when they purchase their flowers. Florists purchase water picks from wholesale floral product suppliers.