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So when you’re picking flowers for bouquets, take a pair of sharp pruning shears with you out into the garden. You may have it in mind to just nip pick a few daffodils, but you’re often surprised by what you can find once you start looking around.
Spring is a great time to prune shrubs like forsythia, viburnum, and boxwood or yew, just to name a few, and these woody plants all give visual structure to a bouquet and help support other, more delicate flowers. A nice-sized twig from a spring-blooming pear or magnolia tree, full of blooms or buds, makes an arrangement of flowers look more like a real garden. With some good, sturdy pruners in hand (I have been enjoying using the new Fiskars Quantum pruners), the cuts you make will be sharp and clean, which is just what you need for bouquets, and for the health of the plants you trim: ragged pruning cuts look terrible and do not heal neatly.
My friend Lisa, a professional cut-flower gardener, taught me to take a bucket of water when I’m picking flowers for bouquets. Plunging stems into water as soon as they’re cut gives them a quick drink at a crucial moment and helps the flowers last longer. A bucket also supports and protects everything you cut until you make your arrangements. You only need a few inches of water in the bottom of the bucket: sometimes I just carry a big Mason jar, and set it down in the flower bed as I cut flowers and sprigs and twigs.
Some people like to cut flower and twig stems at an angle, thinking that the increased surface area helps the stems take up more water. Libbey Oliver, an expert flower arranger, debunked this myth for me in her book Flowers are (Almost) Forever. Angle-cut stems are easier to poke into green floral foam (Oasis is one brand name) without their breaking, Libbey says, but if you’re not using foam, it really doesn’t matter.
Crushing woody stems with a hammer is another practice often recommended, for the same reason, but smashing the stems gives bacteria a good place to grow, Libbey says, and may shorten the life of your arrangement. I find that stems of lilac, magnolia, and other woody plants last just as long as my flowers, or even longer, so I never crush them.
The greatest part of the pleasure of any bouquet is the experience of your flowers up close. I clip the stems of flowers in a vase every day or so, and replace the water to keep arrangements fresh. I often slip in some fresh flowers, too, remaking arrangements as other plants come into bloom out in the garden. Once the season gets started, there’s always something new to add.