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  • Writer's pictureLindsay Lanier

floral design basics

Thanks for stopping by. I so appreciate you spending time here - my last post had over 200 views! After two years of silence in this journal, it has been such a positive outlet for me to revisit this process, so again, thank you.

If you have been following Southern Sky Design on social media for awhile then you already know, but Southern Sky started as a floral design business. I moved to Indy in October of 2016 and had 12 weddings my first year, in addition to other events and reoccurring deliveries. My Mom is a gardener and my Meme also grew, but I found my love for the design and presentation through my work in NYC. I took a few floral design workshops, but pretty much started this business with zero knowledge of mechanics. That's the good news about floral design - no matter how trained you are, it is a lot of trial and error and I would say most designers these days are not formally trained. It is also a true art medium, so there really are no bad pieces. Beauty is subjective. People often tell me they love to buy flowers, but don't know what to do with them. I hope this helps!

All of flowers (except the tulips!) used were purchased from Whole Foods. I typically buy my flowers from a wholesaler, but Trader Joe's is the best option for everyday use. They were my first stop, but had a line around the block because of social distancing. Honestly, I don't find Whole Foods flower selection to be the best and they are pretty pricey, but they did have a lot of American grown options so that is a win. Moral of the story is you CAN find great options at grocery stores - just look for the special varieties. One trick I use in a pinch is a monochromatic group. If I'm having a dinner party and don't love the flower options available - I'll just buy all white. You can almost always find lilies and alstroemeria at a grocery store. The monochromatic grouping is chic, but effortless. Oh, and the BEAUTIFUL tulips are from my friend, Ally. She owns Willow + Star and should be your first call for flower needs in Indy. She brought these seeds back from Amsterdam and kindly shared a few of the blooms with me. I just love her and appreciate her talents so much - as a friend and a flower guru.


Set yourself up for success! Once you purchase these basic items, you'll be prepared forever.

  • Floral Scissors - don't use regular/kitchen scissors if you can help it. They can damage the stem and really shorten the vase life, especially on a delicate flower like ranunculus. Caring for flowers is meticulous and even though it seems like a small thing - this isthe type of detail that matters. Some people refer to these as snips or shears, and you can buy them at most craft stores. There are tons of handles and types, but I linked a set that includes the proper scissors for most flower stems and the proper ones for hard stems, like branches - great for foraging.

  • Waterproof floral tape in clear or green - I usually prefer the clear, but do feel the green is more sturdy for larger arrangements or heavier steams. I'll explain how you use this below.

  • Vases - make sure you have a few different sizes that you love. I always find the best bud vases (small vases that hold 1-2 stems) in the dollar spot at Target and I love using ginger jars. There are so many places to find vases you love so just make sure you have a few at home. Forest Flower is a great place to find them in Indy and they are doing deliveries during the rona!

  • Lazy Susan: This is such a helpful tool whether you do this for fun or professionally. It allows you to navigate the arrangement and see if from all sides.

  • Apron.: Ok, fine - this is not essential, but I do recommend wearing one because it gets messy and is helpful to have a pocket to hold supplies. If this becomes a hobby for you, the ceremonial part becomes part of the experience. Putting on your favorite apron, getting your little toolkit out, selecting a favorite vase. - it's part of the fun.


How you care for your flowers greatly affects the vase life (how long they will last).

This is the first step of the design process.

  • Fresh Cut: You picked up some pretty flowers from the store, but now what? Think of flower stems kind of like strands of hair, they have a seal which can keep them from being hydrated so a fresh cut means fresh stems.

  1. Important: you want to cut the stems at an angle - not a straight cut. If the stem is flat against the bottom of a vase it can't drink the water.

  2. If I have had the flowers in the car while running errands or if they were shipped to me, I'll cut the stems under room-temp, running water. It's tedious, but allows for a delicate cut.

  • Processing: term you will hear florists use that refers to removing foliage from the stems and in some cases, petals.

  1. Leaves, or foliage, soak up a lot of the water which can make the actual bloom dehydrated and wilt.

  2. Remove all foliage that will be below the water line. If you don't know how short your stems will be, just remove enough so that there are a few under the bloom - you can always remove more later. This is an important step because leaves cause bacteria to grow and thats when you see that nasty, smelly, murky water.

  3. Flowers like hydrangea require a ton of water, so you'll want to go ahead and remove all of the leaves, except the one or two right under the head of the flower.

  4. For roses specifically, you have what are called guard petals. Those are the petals on the outside of the bloom that might have a little discoloration and look a little wonky - these are there to protect the delicate, interior petals of the rose. You want to gently remove these by pulling them out. Be careful not to pull too many, usually it is just the immediate, exterior ones.


Floral foam, chicken wire, tape grid, oh my! This is where we get a bit more technical as the shape and height you want for your arrangement will decide what type of foundation to use.

  • Tape Grid: this can be done on any vessel/vase. You simply make a tic-tac-toe skeleton by layering the waterproof tape your purchased over the top of the vase. This creates a structure that the flowers rest on, giving your arrangement shape and height.

  1. Make sure the vase is dry and the tape goes over the lip or the edge. Sometimes, for a small vase, I might just use two pieces of tape to make a cross. The width of the holes is the space you have for stems, so keep that in mind.

  2. I usually wrap a piece of tape around the outside of the vase, securing the grid pieces. I have used scotch tape and electrical tape in a pinch, but don't recommend it! This is why I mentioned I prefer the clear usually - you don't have to worry about hiding it.

Tissue paper used so you can see the tape grid .

  • Chicken Wire: This is my favorite and in my opinion, the easiest. Yes, you use actual chicken wire to create your grid. You can use your branch clippers to cut it and you simply make a loose shape and stick it in your vase. I reuse mine, just keep an eye out for rust over time. This is one of the methods used to create the compote arrangements that are all the rage. Keep in mind this is not ideal for a clear, glass vase as you will see the chicken wire, but if you are feeling brave you can camouflage it with stems.

  • Flower Frog: This method dates back to the 14th century and is most commonly known for use in the method of Ikebana. I love finding them in antique stores to add to my collection. There are so many different types; spike ones that sit on the bottom on the vase and ones with holes built in that stand alone or sit on top of a vase. This allows you to have negative space between stems to create lines and rigid focal points. It is a bit more advanced, but a beautiful art. The type that lays over a vase is actually easy to use and my current favorite is from Shine Design Home.

  • Wet Floral Foam: Personally, I try to stay away from floral foam because of the chemicals. I used it when I had large events like weddings, and needed to make 20+ centerpieces, but I never use it now. It's helpful for floral installations on structures and really large arrangements. You set it in water and let it fully submerge itself over time. You can cut it to fit your vessel and then you just stick flowers in it like you would styrofoam. You can also buy it from most craft stores, but this is my least favorite method.


This seems to be the most intimidating part for people.

Once you have step three in place, I promise this part is so much easier!

  • Greenery: I was taught to do this step first. Doing so will cover your chicken wire or or tape and create more grid lines/sturdiness. Keep in mind you will add or take some away at the end so this is just a first step.

  • Line Flowers: taller spikes of blossoms with florets blooming along the stem that will create angles and shape. They create the outline for an arrangement and establish the height and width of the design. Try placing them in a triangle. I used hyacinth as my line flowers in this piece. Snap dragons and delphinium are some good examples of line flowers. This is the second step.

  • Focal Flowers: easily the most important component of any arrangement. Blooms such as peonies, roses, lilies, football mums, carnations, or dahlias all qualify as focal flowers. These are the focal point of any arrangement and should stand out in comparison to their counterparts. Because of the colors I used, the hyacinth is also acting as a focal flower, in addition to the tulips. That is why you see the tulips a bit taller.

  • Filler Flowers: these are stems with a series of tiny blooms on them. They are the final step as they are used to fill space and holes - think of it as marrying your arrangement together. Hypericum berries, spray roses and alstroemeria are a few examples of filler. Greenery can also be filler.

I broke my own rules and did a few filler flowers before I did focal flowers because I knew I was shooting this for the blog and only designed one side. I knew I wanted that pop of white in front. Think of these as suggestions, more then rules.

As you add flowers, it is important to have different heights for dimension. Have fun, get funky, and leave some airy space for cadence. Flowers have their own movement and are most beautiful when you can see that movement, like in the curve of a tulip.

Once I got to the end of the arrangement, I felt the greenery overpowered the flowers so I ending up just cutting the pieces down. I did not remove them because I did not want to mess with the structure, I just cut them at the vase. Arrangements are ever-changing, even once completed because as flowers die you pull them and shift remaining ones. I hope this was helpful and inspired you to pick up some flowers next time you venture to the grocery store. If you do, post a pic and tag me on Instagram!

Did it surprise you how many steps there were to consider and complete before putting the flowers in the vase? Maybe you already knew! All designers are different and have different methods of creating an arrangement so there is no right or wrong. Below are a few more helpful tips to consider.

  • Centerpieces: Try to keep the long and low instead of tall - you want your guests to be able to easily see each other across the table!

  • Cluster vases: Don't feel comfortable having an arrangement on display for guests? Use different bud vases or small vessels (even shot glasses!) with a stem or two each and either cluster them or space them out to add a floral touch.

  • Some vases will drink your water! Porous vessels like terracotta and cement can leave your flowers dry, so snag some plastic liners or make sure you replenish water daily.

  • Traditional composition says your flower height should equal the height of your vessel or a bit taller. You don't have to stick to that, just keep in mind the juxtaposition of the dimensions. A really tall vase with really short flowers would like off, for example.

  • Work smarter not harder. If this is going to sit on a console table or somewhere that you will only see one side - only design one side!!

  • Hydrangea: I get this text from friends the most. These pretty plants wilt quickly because they require so much water! If yours are looking sad submerge the flower heads in warm water for 30 minutes to an hour and they will usually come back to life.

  • Flower food does have chemicals in it, but it also helps the flowers live longer, so depending on how natural you prefer to be, this option is up to you and usually comes with grocery store flowers. I recently learned you can also use a teaspoon of sprite in your water.

  • Sad tulips that are too curvy or open: wive's tale suggests using a penny or teaspoon of vodka can perk them right up.

  • I learned the hard way, but don't put foam, leaves or stems in the disposal. Trust me.

Well, if you made it this far you ROCK. Thank you for stopping by and drop me a comment on the 'gram to let me know! Happy flowering, friends.



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