I wondered if anyone has a problem setting up a bouquet or an arrangement of flowers in a vase after receiving them - mine always looked ‘plonked’ in a vase, and never look as nice as when received, beautifully arranged with matching tissue paper.

To set up your display, I have now read that the best way to preserve the look of a bouquet is firstly to lay the whole thing flat, remove the paper, then separate the flowers – you need to see what you’re working with and work out how many you have for your vase, then decide which ones will be your stars (bigger, prettier flowers) and which are the fillers (smaller, fluffier bunches).

Food for flowers

Trim the leaves off of the stems, as any that sit below the waterline of the vase will rot. Check petals and remove any damaged ones, and finally, trim stems by cutting them all at an angle, which will help them absorb water. Put the stems into a vase or bucket of water (this doesn't have to be your final vessel) and add some ‘cut flower food’ to the water. If you can’t get hold of this, you can make a substitute yourself – add 2 tbsp. apple cider vinegar or a crushed aspirin to the water, which will inhibit bacteria from growing in the water, then mix in 2 tbsp. of sugar, which replaces the food that feeds the flowers, or alternatively substitute 1/4 cup of soda.

Flower arrangement techniques are all about the vessel you put them in. If the flowers don't have a sturdy foundation, they won't stay in place and your arrangement will end up falling apart. To make sure flowers stay in place, create a grid of floral tape over the mouth of the vase. Stick the stems through the holes of the grid to keep them in place. You can also purchase a floral frog, which is a vessel insert with pins for stems to be stuck into. You can even DIY with a small section of chicken wire bent into a ball – something I have done in the past.

Picking a vase

Pick a vase that is suitable for the flowers if you can - one tall enough to take tall blooms or wide enough to take the whole bouquet. It may be that you might need to split the arrangement into two separate vases or shorten the stems a little if the vessel isn’t tall enough to support the display. Tulips typically require the support of a straight-sided vase, for example, while tall or top-heavy flowers might need a weighted vessel.

Start filling with the foundational flowers — the fuller ones that take up more space. If they are in tight bunches, cut off the sprigs to arrange them at different levels. Once you’ve got these in place, add the larger flowers. Group them loosely by colour and trim the stems as you place them so the blooms are at different levels. If you can, pick any flowers with a curved stem to angle out of the arrangement, to give a fluid shape. Finally, add your showstopper flowers, then fill in any blank spots with remaining filler flowers – and ‘floaters’ or delicate blooms like baby's breath, sedum, or yarrow. Put these in last so they don't get squished or buried by heavier blooms. Think of the shape of the arrangement like a dome, and fill in all angles of that dome for it to look complete. Combine smaller flowers together in groups of three or five to create clustering, similar to what happens in nature.

Colour scheme

If you fancy having a go yourself with flowers straight from a florist - or even artificial ones - decide on a colour scheme first, then you know you're picking up colours that work well together. Monochromatic schemes, which show off a variety of different hues of the same colour, can be striking too.

If you go with the fresh flower option, select flowers based on what's currently blooming in your garden or what you can find locally. Be open-minded too, as being too specific in your search can prevent you from looking at other beautiful options.


Marilyn writes regularly for The Portugal News, and has lived in the Algarve for some years. A dog-lover, she has lived in Ireland, UK, Bermuda and the Isle of Man. 

Marilyn Sheridan