Mt Cuba Center
Mt Cuba Center
Back to News In The News – October 24, 2017

In The News

This Fall, Bring the Garden Inside

Flower arrangements offer a new appreciation for the season


Fall Flower Arrangement

A finished arrangement stands on display in Mt. Cuba Center’s Conservatory. It will look fresh and presentable for visitors to the garden for up to a week.

The cold weather signals the end of the growing season, but before the ground freezes, autumn has some stunning jewels to show off. Late blooming plants like asters and goldenrod pair with sweeps of golden grasses and the turning leaves on the trees to send off the season in a blaze of color. We are fortunate to be surrounded by the Brandywine Valley’s landscapes, which are a sight to behold in autumn. So why not try to bring a little of it inside?

An autumn-inspired arrangement can do just that. Take a pair of shears into the garden to gain a new appreciation for the colorful foliage, flowers and fruits that autumn has to offer.

Materials for a Native Flower Arrangement

Cut a variety of plant material from the garden. Highlight the season by selecting fruiting branches, turning foliage, and late-blooming flowers. Take care not to completely denude a plant! Featured here are Stokes’ aster (Stokesia laevis) and Winter Gold winterberry (Ilex verticillata ‘Winter Gold’).

An Inspired Arrangement –How-To

Start with any container that will retain water – no drainage holes on the bottom – and add material that will hold an arrangement in place inside the container—called “mechanics”—this can be anything from balled-up chicken wire, soaked floral foam, a specialty frog, or simply tape stretched across the top of the container in a grid.

“Choose a container that’s appropriate for the space – I’m not going to use a magenta container in a formal room,” said Bonnie Beck, a docent and volunteer florist at Mt. Cuba Center. “I like to use containers that are more neutral so they don’t distract from the beauty of the flowers.” Beck holds a Certificate of Merit in Floral Design from Longwood Gardens, and has arranged flowers her whole life.

Ultimately, choice of container is a matter of personal taste, but it should be able to physically hold the plant material without toppling over.

Next, gather the cut material – all sorts of foliage, flowers, seedheads, and fruiting branches will do. Take the longest pieces that catch your eye to use first. Be sure to trim each piece as you insert them in the mechanics, taking care to remove any foliage that would sit below the water line. “That’s what makes an arrangement smell bad,” Beck said.

Flower Arrangement Process

Use sturdy greenery to establish the dimensions of the arrangement. Make sure not to make the arrangement so tall that it can easily topple over. Tiny Wine® Atlantic ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius ‘SMPOTW’), Henry’s Garnet Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica‘Henry’s Garnet’), and sour gum (Nyssa sylvatica) are the backbone of this arrangement. When adding plant material to the arrangement, remove leaves from the parts that will be in contact with the water – it can go putrid quickly.

“I usually start with something tall,” said Beck. “It establishes the parameters of the arrangement. I’m careful not to choose anything too heavy.” These pieces will guide the height, depth and breadth of the rest of the arrangement. Next it is a matter of filling in the arrangement with foliage and other plant material to cover up the mechanics.

Adding plant material to the arrangement piece by piece helps deepen an appreciation for the natural world, especially its colors. Florists consider the color and shape of each piece before adding them into the arrangement, which casual observers of plants may not notice.

As you add material, make sure to drape foliage down over the side of the container, Beck says. “It’s something that a lot of amateurs don’t get into, but it adds depth and dimension to the arrangement.” While adding material, keep enough space in the arrangement to promote airflow, which helps extend the life of the arrangement.

Flower Arrangement Process

Pop in eye catching plant material, usually large flowers which are called “face flowers.” Keep the balance of the arrangement in mind as you place them. Remember that flower buds can also add interest and lengthen the enjoyment of your arrangement.

Once the mechanics are covered, you can begin to add in face flowers, or the big, eye-catching flowers that provide a pop of color. In an autumn arrangement, however, there can also be “face fruits” – the colorful berries that abound in the autumn months, like Winter Gold winterberry (Ilex verticillata ‘Winter Gold’) and American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana).

“I try to repeat things throughout the arrangement,” Beck said. “That way everything looks like it’s supposed to be there.” Give the arrangement a couple turns as you add material just to make sure plant material is balanced visually and physically.

As with many art forms, the trick is knowing when to stop. “Sometimes you can spoil it if you add too much,” Beck said.

What to Plant

Many species of native plants produce beautiful fruits, flowers and foliage which look as beautiful in an arrangement as they do in the garden. Sturdy and long lasting stems with bright flowers and colorful foliage are a boon in arrangements and garden beds.

In autumn, Stokes’ aster (Stokesia laevis) produces large, blue-purple flowers that last much longer than other plants bearing the aster name. These perennials grow 1’ to 2’ tall and wide and bloom from late summer to October, and resist the nibbles of rabbits.

It’s also the time of year to appreciate the turning leaves, fruiting branches, and seed pods of plants. Henry’s Garnet Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica ‘Henry’s Garnet’) ranges from deep orange to red, while Hubricht’s bluestar (Amsonia hubrichtii) produces long spikes of quill-like, chartreuse foliage. Fruiting branches, like the jet black drupes that dangle off sour gum (Nyssa sylvatica) or the electric purple clusters of berry-like drupes on American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) make an arrangement unique.

Grasses put on a show in autumn as they turn from green to fiery orange, red and gold, and last extra-long in arrangements. Wild oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) produce seedheads that look intricately woven.

By planting a variety of plants which sustain interest throughout the seasons with blooms, foliage and fruits, there will always be something to cut for an arrangement.

Nature’s Landscapes is a monthly column by Mt. Cuba Center, a premier native plant garden, which strives to inspire an appreciation for the beauty and value of native plants and commitment to protect the habitats that sustain them. Mt. Cuba Center’s gardens are open for general admission Wednesday through Sunday, 10 am to 4 pm, April through November 19th. Today’s article is written Katie Bohri, Mt. Cuba Center’s marketing and communications specialist.

This article originally appeared in the October 21, 2017 edition of the News Journal