My good friend and fellow horticulturist, Scott Kunst of Old House Gardens1 in Ann Arbor, Michigan, came to my rescue when he addressed this hesitation with an idea he calls "invisible picking."2 Just pick of few of each variety here and there and no one, including you, will notice the difference. What a concept! Needless to say, his approach provided me with one of those humbling "Duh!" moments.
Scott's first rule of thumb is "small is beautiful." It's not necessary to ravage your garden for a big bouquet of flowers. Small bouquets have a charm all their own. Why not sort through your knickknacks for a small container, perhaps a decorated shot glass or wine glass, a miniature vase, a teacup, a small bottle, or even an interesting salt shaker with a lid that comes off. To set off your little bouquet, get out one of those doilies that have been whiling away the years in some almost-forgotten drawer and set your mini-arrangement on that. Better yet, buy one of those inexpensive small plastic doilies with a solid center to protect the surface underneath from stray drops of water.
Scott's second rule is "one is plenty." Just snip one small sample from everything that happens to be blooming at the moment. Take your treasures inside and begin arranging. You may want to make more than one bouquet, depending on how much material you end up with. Chances are, you'll also discover different color combinations that you may not have thought of before. In fact, if a particular combination really delights you, why not try planting that combination together in your garden next year. Another side benefit of your little garden safari is that it tunes you in to your garden more completely. You may find blooms that you hadn't noticed before, when you viewed the flowers from indoors or scurried past them in your haste to go somewhere else.
Scott's third and final rule is "pick the unexpected." Perhaps you've never made a hyacinth-only arrangement. Bringing just one bloom indoors and displaying it in a vase by itself lets you enjoy both its beauty and its fragrance up close. The "unexpected" doesn't have to be limited to traditional flowers. A small maple twig with its early spring clusters of red sparks can enliven any bouquet. In a vase, you can enjoy these tiny blossoms, which normally are insignificant when perched up high in a tree.
Want a larger bouquet? Select your material from large plants. By that I mean trees and shrubs. Picking one twig or even a smaller branch from a large tree will not make a discernible difference in its appearance. Below is a photo of an arrangement I made recently from maple, pussy willow, and cedar twigs. As with the small arrangements above, off-beat containers add interest. When the arrangement was finished, I tucked in several small Witch Hazel twigs so that I could enjoy their wonderful fragrance up close.
This spring I've dared to venture even further into the unexpected, and I did it without using a vase or water. For our extended family's Easter dinner, my wife, Wilma, had tied the napkins at each place setting with a piece of pastel ribbon. I ventured outdoors to see what might be available to tuck in under the ribbons. To my delight, I found some Roman Hyacinths that had braved this spring's onslaught of unseasonably cold temperatures, high winds, and snow showers. These are very delicate blooms, only five or six to a gently-curved stem, unlike the chunky, ram-rod straight varieties we're used to seeing. Their fragrance is intoxicating but not overpowering. It provided just the right amount of aroma to announce that spring had, indeed, arrived despite the blustery weather outdoors. I also found a few crocus blossoms that had remained unscathed, but it was late in the day and they had already closed for the night. I decided to bring a few indoors anyway and, much to my surprise, once they warmed up, they opened up wide with recurved petals--a perfect complement to the pure white hyacinths.
And with that I'd better stop. I just realized that I'm beginning to sound way too much like Martha Stewart! (Not that that's necessarily a bad thing!)
Have you tried your hand at early spring arrangements? Do you have photos to share? You may respond in the space provided below. Any questions or comments are welcome. I enjoy hearing from my readers.
© Larry Rettig 2008
1Scott and his friendly staff have many rare garden treasures waiting for you at Old House Gardens. You may sample them at http://www.oldhousegardens.com/. You may read reviews of Old House Gardens here.
2Horticulture, "Invisible Picking," by Scott Kunst, April 2006, pages 4-6.
Note: Tulip variety in the top photo is Tulipa vvedenskyi, a Russian species tulip It's striking color is only one of its great attributes. Here at Cottage-in-the-Meadow Gardens (Zone 5a) it has formed small colonies and has bloomed reliably for at least the past decade.