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Nothing is more inspiring than selecting beautiful, fresh flowers right from an outdoor market or floral shop. However, standing over dozens of buckets tightly packed with many different varieties of flowers as well as an entire spectrum of colors can be an overwhelming sight. Some of us know exactly what we want, grab a bulging armload of flowers and rush home to dig out our best vase to begin creating, while others find themselves unsure of where to even begin. The one thing we must keep in mind is a simple formula that will assist you in selection of product and the creation of the perfect flower arrangement.

This "formula", isn't really a formula at all, but just a few needed materials and techniques. The first of these materials is the vase that you plan to use. I believe that the vase you select is the most important part of arranging. For the inexperienced floral designer, it can make or break your creation. Choose a vase which has an hour glass appearance, preferably larger at the base, narrow in the middle and fluted or sloped at the top. The larger bottom enables you to extend some your flowers horizontally or even to drape them along the side of the vase creating a "skirted" effect.

The next item that is of great importance is tape. Taping the top of your vase in a cross hatch pattern with clear scotch tape or even thinner floral tape will allow you to more precisely place your stems in the vase and keep them from moving as you put more and more flowers into your arrangement. Floral tape can be purchased at any hobby or design store very inexpensively (less than a dollar), and just one roll will last through dozens of projects. Once you know you have these two things plus a sharp pairing knife (NOT SCISSORS) waiting for you at home, you can confidently go out to your nearest flower market and use the next part of the "formula" to select the perfect flowers for your designs.

The third step of the "formula" is accomplished easily once you understand what the arrangement should consist of structurally. I think of the different structures as levels (stages) of height. There are three of these levels in each arrangement and each level has its own type of flowers that are most suitable for its position. I refer to these levels the Tallest, Middle and Bottom or "Skirt".

For the tallest part of the arrangement, which I prefer to be the first stage which I put together, you want to select varieties of flowers that are tall and less bulky such as hybrid delphinium, tuberose, larkspur, bells of Ireland, gladiolus, snap dragons, forsythia, fruit branches, ect. This stage is most dramatically accomplished when the height of the arrangement is about 1 1/2 to 2 times the size of the vase that is used. The tallest flowers are best utilized when they are used in odd numbers such as three or five. This prevents the arrangement from looking as if it has "rabbit ears" or a "t.v. antenna" sticking out of the top.

For the Middle stage of the arrangement you want to use bulky and showy flowers such as peonies, roses, spider mums, all species of lilies, sunflowers, gerbera daisies, lisianthus, daffodil, hydrangea etc. During this stage you want to postition the flowers so that they blend into the top stage and come out away from the center of the arrangement as a softly rounded shape. This is also the stage in which you would add fillers like solidago, Queen Anne's lace, monte casino, trichelium, wax flower and anything else that is full and "lacey" in appearance.

The final "skirt" stage is where you can cover up the mechanics of your taping and add drama to the arrangement by using greens like salal (lemon leaves), seeded eucalyptus, wood fern and anything else that will drape and add an elegant softness to the finished design. This is also a great place to add delicate flowers like tulips, orchids, sweet peas, amaranthus and pepper berry.

Now you have finished! Great! I bet you have a work of art sitting in front of you that looks like you ordered it directly from Martha Stewart herself but, you havent finished yet. Now that you have spent all of this time designing the perfect arrangement we need to think about how to keep it fresh for as long as possible. This actually begins before you ever put the first stem into the vase.

The quality of the water is the key to the long life of any cut flower. Many of you have probably heard of putting aspirin or "Seven Up" into the water to increase the longevity of your flowers. All of these so-called preserving potions, are nothing more than useless old wives' tales. If you wish you can purchase little packets of floral preservatives from any local floral shop. However, the only effect this has on your cuttings is that it keeps bacterial levels in the water from developing as quickly.

The best way to get the most out of your flowers is to perform these following tips:

1) Always cut at least 1 inch off of the bottoms of your stems before putting them into your arrangement.

2) Remember that many flowers produce a sap-like substance that seal their stems once cut. It is best to place them under water within ten to twenty seconds after cutting. With roses you want to wait no longer than five seconds.

3) Never use scissors to cut your flowers. These can crush or crimp the veins that carry water to the bloom.

4) Sitting your vase of flowers in a sink and flushing it with fresh water until it runs clear on a daily basis will keep bacteria levels down in the water and keep you blooms looking happier longer.