This spring's "Bouquets to Art" festival at the Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco offered gallery after gallery of memorable table decorations and flower arrangements. Throughout the museum, Bay Area flower arrangers strutted their stuff with grand, witty, and sometimes weird creations, each one inspired by a work of art in the museum's permanent collection.
One of the festival speakers, Scotsman Ian Prosser, is now a floral designer in Florida who specializes in grand party decorations. His tablescapes usually include touches of flowers and color at each place setting, as well as on dining room chairs. Working in both contemporary and traditional styles, he shared many original flower arranging ideas:
For something different in the middle of the table, cover a damp Oasis (floral foam)-filled wreath shape with moss and then insert individual flower stems and succulent flowers, so that they stand straight up in the wreath and look as if they are growing out of it. Then, in the center of the wreath, place a bowl of green apples or other summer fruit. Prosser used spring flowers in pastel colors, but for Christmas decor, he suggested using all-white flowers and a silver bowl of red apples. (Purchase wreath-shaped foam at craft or floral supply stores.)
Cut limes, lemons, or any citrus fruit in half, and insert them into a flower arrangement with floral picks or toothpicks. Cut limes are especially dramatic with blue and purple flowers.
Attach a small garland of ferns, ivy or jasmine to the back side of each guest chair, perhaps adding a large bouquet to the center of the garland on the guest of honor's chair.
Pull one strong color from the centerpiece arrangement and spread it to the outer reaches of the table by pinning one flower in that color on the back of each chair. Or place one flower on each place card - again, spreading the color scheme more widely around the table, not isolating the colors of the centerpiece only in the middle.
Tie individual napkins with raffia, bear grass or organza ribbon and insert a flower beneath the tie. (Prosser created one table where each setting had an entire wreath of flowers around each place plate - flower overkill, in my opinion.)
For a very dramatic arrangement on a buffet or side table, insert a controlled tangle of bare branches in a block of Oasis, placed in a large urn. Then tape a second block of damp Oasis about two-thirds of the way up into the branches with green floral tape. Arrange flowers in a starburst pattern from all sides of the upper Oasis. Finally, cover the Oasis in which the branches are standing with damp green moss.
To revive roses whose blossoms have collapsed downward on their stems, make a clean cut at the bottom of the rose stems and then place the stems in boiling water for 20 seconds. Then plunge them immediately into ice water. Within minutes, Prosser claims, the flowers will be perky again.
In general, conditioning beforehand is the only way you can be sure arrangements will last. Soak or condition most flowers in warm water for a minimum of several hours before arranging them. Cut your garden flowers the day before you plan to arrange them.
For the longest-lasting fresh flower arrangements, cut stems as short as possible and remove all leaves - thus eliminating the two major sources of wilting and drooping. Instead of arranging with the flowers' own leaves, use stems of long-lasting ferns, citrus or camellia.