Garden Foliage for Flower Arrangements
Foliage plays a quiet yet important role in most cut flower arrangements. When a floral designer arranges a bouquet of flowers, at least 25% of it will usually be greenery. Though it’s true that foliage is typically less expensive than flowers, that’s not the only reason it’s used. Just as a lawn creates the perfect frame for a flower garden, greenery has a way of making flowers look their very best.
Adding foliage to your home-grown flower arrangements is an easy way to make them look more professional. Here’s why:
Fullness – Sometimes a single stem, alone in a vase is just right. But if you want to create arrangements that are lush and naturalistic, you need foliage. Foliage provides mass and helps to weave various elements into a cohesive whole.
Style – The type of foliage you use and the balance of foliage to flowers helps define the style of your arrangement. Some floral designers use very few greens. Their arrangements are entirely about flowers and evoke the flower-focused compositions of the Dutch Masters. Other designers prefer a look that features almost as much foliage as flowers. These arrangements tend to be softer, looser and more informal.
Structure – When making large arrangement or working with heavy blossoms such as peonies and dahlias, foliage can provide some critical structural support. Shrubs are especially useful for this job, and most home garden offer lots of options.
Foliage is also used to define the overall size and shape of an arrangement. Most floral designers begin with foliage and then fill in with flowers.
Color – The plant world offers infinite variations of green; from dark forest green to lime, blue-green, grey and silver. To make the most of these variations, think about the color wheel. Pair complementary colors such as purple flowers and lime foliage. Or use analogous colors such as white flowers with grey foliage.
Texture – Texture can be almost as exciting as color. In most cases, you’ll want to vary the textures. Include fine (ferns, grasses, asparagus), medium (mint, cornus, baptisia) and coarse (hosta, magnolia, geranium). Also think about the surface texture. Options range from smooth and glossy (astilbe or hosta) to soft and fuzzy (lamb’s ears or alchemilla).
Best Foliage for Flower Arrangements
Home gardeners have many more foliage options than most florists. But sometimes it takes a pro to help you see what’s available. We asked cut flower expert and home gardener Debra Prinzing of slowflowers.com, and floral designer and home gardener Alicia Schwede from flirtyfleurs.com to give us their go-to list of home-grown foliage. You probably have many of these favorites in your garden already:
Akebia, Astilbe, Baptisia, Bells of Ireland, Burnet (Sanguisorba), Burpleurum, Caladium, Camelia, Cerinthe, Cornus mas ‘Variegata’, Cotinus, Dusty Miller, Euonymus, Euphorbia, Ferns (fresh or dried), Fringetree (Chionanthus), Forsythia, Hellebore, Heuchera, Honeysuckle, Hosta, Hydrangea, Ivy, Lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis), Lamb’s Ears, Lavender, Leucothoe, Magnolia, Mint, Nandina, Nasturtium, Ninebark (Physocarpus), Olive (Olea europaea), Ornamental grasses, Peony, Perennial geranium, Pieris japonica, Raspberry, Rosemary, Salvia, Sage, Scented geraniums, Sedum, Snowberry (Symphoricarpos), Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum odoratum), Staghorn sumac, Viburnum
For longest vase life, cut flowers and foliage in the morning or evening when they are well hydrated. You may find that some types of foliage need to be conditioned to prevent wilting. This usually means cutting in the evening and storing the stems in cool water overnight. Do some testing at home to see how different plants hold up.
For expert advice about conditioning foliage, consider investing in the go-to guide for flower farmers: Postharvest Handling of Cut Flowers and Greens by the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers.
A special thank you to Alicia Schwede for providing the photos for this article.