Create a Fall Bouquet

bouqetOn these crisp, chilly mornings with a cup of steaming coffee in hand and daylight just beginning to break, I love taking a slow walk in my garden to observe the colors, shapes and movements of the fall season.

What do I notice first? The leaves on some of my favorite bushes such as Virginia sweetspire and Disanthus cercidifolius are beginning their transition from a deep lustrous green to glorious hues of orange, yellow and red. When I stop and gaze at my tropical garden filled with banana plants, Ricinus and deep red dahlias, I sadly realize that soon a major frost will force them into a deep slumber.

It is when I enter the rear of my garden where perennial grasses grow (they have practically taken over all of my other specimens) that I fully realize the effects of cooler weather. But I see it mostly with my Miscanthus sinensis. Turning deep brown in the fall, this perennial grass with its huge stalks and cottonlike flower heads sways in even the mildest breeze.

This time of year I take full advantage of the vibrant colors and textures of the autumn garden by creating beautiful floral arrangements. Here are some thoughts on how to easily go about creating your own.

1. The best time to cut plant material is first thing in the morning. Prepare a basket, pail or other container and a sharp pair of pruners.

2. As you meander around your garden, look for interesting bushes that offer unusual shapes, textures or colors -- then start snipping stalks. Cut at least three of each species. My favorite shrub for fall arrangements is the smokebush (Cotinus coggygria). I love its maroon, burgundy color and its elliptical shaped leaves.

3. If you have any grasses in your garden, they are an absolute must for these arrangements. It is their inflorescence that are a real stand-out. Some of the grasses I use are Miscanthus, Molinia, Panicum Chasmanthium. Again, cut at least three of each species and up to seven or nine depending on the size of the grass and your arrangement.

4. In selecting flowers for this bouquet, let your eye lead the way. I always go straight for deep red dahlias, light violet asters, deep blue, red and purple salvias. There is absolutely no right or wrong way of doing this. Part of the fun is to go wild and cut as much plant material as your horticultural heart desires. Other great fall flowers are sunflowers, tithonias, zinnias, nicotiana and even some roses.

5. Bring your flower collection to your kitchen sink and fill basin about one-third full with cool tap water. I just plop all of my newly picked beauties right into the sink while I go searching for some vases or containers.

6. Because fall flowers tend to be so rich and vibrant, I try to select vases that are a bit more muted so as not to compete with the flowers' intensity, unless I happen to have a vase that is the exact hue of one of the species I have selected.

7. Fill your vase about one inch from the top with tepid water. Add a dash of bleach or a teaspoon of sugar to the water to help maintain the flowers' freshness.

8. Begin arranging with the structural or largest pieces first. Start with the shrub material and greenery, then the grasses followed by large flowers such as sunflowers, joe pye weed and plume poppies. Then add in the smaller flowers such as zinnias, cosmos, asters anemones and salvias last. Keep turning the vase as you're arranging so that you can see your creation from all angles. Don't be afraid to experiment, to add, to pull out or to cut shorter. The more practice you have at arranging flowers, the easier it gets. Just have fun.

Enjoy the abundance of this fall floral harvest!

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