When I throw a dinner party, I love to collaborate with my friend Jenn Elliott Blake, a Seattle-based prop stylist, event curator, and blogger. Everything she creates is beautiful, but I'm especially enamored by her seasonally inspired flower arrangements.
We recently threw a dinner together in Seattle, and she was up at 5 a.m., scouring the wholesale flower markets for the prettiest local blooms. "When it comes to flower arranging, seasonality is so important," says Jenn. "This is such an amazing time of year, as all of the foliage seems to change color almost overnight." Through my time with Jenn, I've learned that selecting and presenting flowers is actually a lot like creating a menu. You start with the freshest materials and build a concept from there, taking into account elements like color, texture, scale and budget.
I recently asked Jenn to share a few of her best tips for creating simple, seasonal bouquets for dinner parties.
To start, think color, and texture and height. "Color is important—you want to work within a cohesive palette," explains Jenn. For fall, deep reds, purples, oranges and golden yellows are good starting points; accent with a pop of green or more muted whites or creams. Then add texture: "I love incorporating foliage like berries and greens for extra dimension," she says. Last but not least, don't make your arrangements taller than anybody's head when seated. "Flowers should be enjoyed without distracting you from the conversation during the meal," says Jenn.
Jenn also has some tips on building the arrangements themselves. "Try not to use more than five to seven varieties of flowers," she says, "and use a mix of floral bud sizes to create dimension and visual intrigue." She likes to start with "filler florals" (smaller, textured pieces) like yarrow or solidago, then gradually add in larger buds, which in the fall means things like dahlias, chrysanthemums, spider mums, amaranths or zinnias. A few nonfloral elements, like stalks of wheat, green hypericum berries, crab apples, fig leaves or branches are a beautiful and unexpected way to vary the height and shape of the finished product.
If you're trying to save money, consider using a single, inexpensive variety like zinnias, dahlias or hydrangeas. "It can actually be a very dramatic and beautiful visual statement to use just a single stem in a small bud vase," says Jenn. But regardless of whether you're using one flower or seven, Jenn likes to create several small bouquets to spread across the table, as opposed to one large centerpiece, so that everyone can enjoy the flowers no matter where they're sitting.
Last, but not least, even after you've cleared away the dinner plates, take good care of your flowers! Here are a few tips I've learned from trial and error: When buying fresh flowers, always cut the stems (on the angle, so they absorb water more easily) as soon as you get them home and place them in fresh water. Remove any leaves beneath the water, as they will create bacteria and cause the flowers to die sooner. Plan on buying your flowers a day or two in advance so that the buds have time to open.
And lastly, don't feel like you have to put the flowers in vases: I've used everything from old perfume bottles and mason jars to glass bowls and wine bottles. Basically anything that can hold water can become a vessel for flowers.
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