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How to: arrange flowers

If I could print Constance Spry's 1953 book How to Do the Flowers here in full, I would.

It is not a big book, but it is a thoughtful one, and full of very good information. It is this book that first got me thinking about ‘arranging’ flowers, as opposed to simply plonking them in a vase.

Words and Pictures: Annabelle Hickson



Ms Spry, in between singing the praises of chicken wire, wrote – very usefully – about the line of an arrangement: the shape of the outline of the arrangement as a whole, including the vase, and the visual lines of movement within it. I had not consciously thought about this before, but now it is all I can do when I look at a flower arrangement. I put an imaginary frame around the arrangement and seek out diagonally cascading lines, from top left to right bottom or vice versa. I look for different heights and depths, I search for little undulations of light and shadow. And if you keep this in mind while arranging, it can feel like painting. I was never any good at painting, but always wanted to be. Now, instead of worrying about paint on a canvas, the flowers are my brush strokes. It is the most instantly gratifying form of art that I know.



When Annabelle Hickson fell in love with a handsome farmer she swapped life as city-based news journalist for life in the country. There she discovered the joy of playing with flowers. She now lives on a pecan farm on the NSW-Queensland border with her husband and three children and creates floral installations and teaches classes on how to do flowers all over the world. (Follow her adventures on Instagram @annabellehickson.) Her first book is called A Tree in the House: Flowers for your home, special occasion ands every day, published by Hardie Grant, $50, available where all good books are sold.


Flower to Vase proportions

For some, this piece of advice will be completely obvious, while for others, it may be the single most important thing to keep in mind when arranging anything in a vase.


When you look at an arrangement as a whole, from the bottom of the vase to the top of the leaves, you want to see two-thirds plant material and one-third vase. Or, at the very least, half and half. I very much like arrangements that take these proportions even further, say four-fifths plant material, one fifth-vase. But almost always, when there is more vase than plant material, I am disappointed. It’s like microwaved bacon. There’s just no need for it.



Here we have the same glass cylindrical vase and plant material - basil - but two very different looks. Above you have two-thirds basil, one -third vase, where the basil flows from the top left to the bottom right, cascading over the vase’s lip. There is an airiess that feels very natural. Your eye is taken from left to right, top to bottom, down a visual river.



Look at this depressing blob that is two-thirds vase, one-third basil. There is no movement or air in the way the basil stems have been arranged - just a stagnant lump in a vase that is way too big for it, like a small foot in an oversized sandal.




Here we have a tiny vase of cosmos flower. The proportions are great and the cosmos sit naturally in the vase.



In this arrangement we have more vase than cosmos, leaving us with an unnatural, uninspiring lump.




This arrangement of a single rose works well - the flower head and foliage are beautifully in proportion to the vase.


This rose is cut way too short. Instead of gracefully emerging up and out of the vase, it looks stunted.


About this article

Author: Annabelle Hickson