When searching for a bouquet to brighten a room or a friend’s spirits, Minnesotans increasingly are looking no farther than their own yards.
Do-it-yourself flower arranging using materials close to home is growing in popularity, said Reba Berge, who owns A Precious Petals Florist in St. Paul. Berge recently taught a Minnesota Horticultural Society class on growing your own flowers for bouquets after the society noticed an uptick in people interested in the subject.
There’s no need to look to the tropics to make arrangements that are colorful and creative, she said.
“People are opening their eyes to what’s around them, foraging and pulling from nature instead of spending on tropical flowers and orchids that grow elsewhere,” she said.
Some of the interest in homegrown bouquets stems from environmental concerns.
“People know that exotics cost money to ship here, and they’re interested in a lower carbon footprint,” Berge said. “They’re more concerned about where their money is going and focusing more attention on locally grown products.”
Berge’s business and other local commercial florists already get some of their plant material from Minnesota greenhouses that have long produced roses and other flowers for the commercial trade. But while perfect tea roses and exotics like bird of paradise and ginger remain enduring elements of professional flower arrangements, Berge said there’s plenty of material in Minnesota yards and gardens to make beautiful bouquets.
Although popular garden annuals like snapdragons and lisianthus are staples in flower bouquets, Berge said gardeners can get just as beautiful a display from perennials that return year after year, creating bouquets without decimating their gardens.
Perennials are “realistic for people to invest in, and the return is so much more,” she said. “Annuals provide a pop of color and the exotic, but perennials are a sustainable option, as far as the yard goes.”
One of her favorites is curly willow, also known as corkscrew willow. Varieties like Golden Curls, which will grow into a large tree, are hardy here and have twisted and sometimes colorful branches that provide an accent and structure in flower arrangements.
“Curly willow comes back year after year and is beautiful year-round,” Berge said. “It’s useful during wedding season, when longer, curlier tendrils are growing, and in fall you can use just the branches. In winter it’s useful in spruce pots.”
Liatris is another perennial that provides structure in bouquets, adding a linear element to arrangements. Fall-blooming asters are one of Berge’s favorites. She especially likes the dark purple varieties. The blocky shapes of sedums are useful in summer and fall, she said, even when they’re not in bloom. Just snap off any leaves that will be underwater in a vase, and they’ll be just fine.
Lilacs are popular for spring bouquets but Berge said many people cut them too late. They will bloom longer in a vase if they’re cut when the flowers are still in bud, she said.
Among annuals, snapdragons, zinnias, marigolds, celosia and old-fashioned bells of Ireland make good cut flowers. But Berge’s favorite cutting annual is the sunflower.
“It’s hard to beat them,” she said. “They’re so happy and bold and beautiful. They have hollow stems and drink a lot of water, and they last for a long time. And there are neat variations in color and size.”
Bouquets need focal flowers, upright features and fillers to complete the look, Berge said. Roses, zinnias, dahlias and gerbera daisies all make flashy focal points, as do hydrangeas. Linear elements can be provided by plants that have spikes of flowers, like liatris and gladiolus. Baby’s breath, goldenrod, lady’s mantle and variegated dogwood all make interesting filler or accents.
Harvesting and treating plant material properly will help bouquets last. Berge recommends cutting flowers early in the morning with clean, sharp shears, immediately plunging the stems into a bucket of water. Let the cut flowers rest and hydrate in a cool place for an hour or so, then work with them in an arrangement.
Folklore advises that adding a bit of bleach or a penny to a vase will make flowers last longer, but Berge said a better technique is buying “flower food.” The commercially produced powder contains sugars that will feed cut flowers, as well as a solution to kill bacteria in the water. Florist shops, including hers, are usually willing to sell a cup of the powder to people over the counter, she said.
Another technique to extend the life of a bouquet is to put it in a cool place overnight or even in the fridge. Never place a vase in the sunshine, which will make the arrangement age more quickly.
Though some gardeners worry about ruining their garden by cutting flowers, Berge said the payoff is bigger than any pain.
“I challenge people to try it,” she said. “They may be amazed at how good it feels to see a bouquet on the dining-room table, and amazed at what it does to your senses. Deliver them to a neighbor, or someone in the hospital, or give them to a friend when you go over for dinner. It really means a lot.”
Mary Jane Smetanka is a Minneapolis freelance writer and a Hennepin County Master Gardener.