spring flower arrangements
In early spring our yearning for those intense green, newly emergent leaves on the trees – and the carpets of primroses, wood anemones and celandines covering the ground below them – grows by the day.
So, to cheer myself up and bring spring into reality, at least in the house, I have forced some twigs into leaf, cutting them as the sap began to rise in February and bringing them into the warm. The large-leafed trees – horse chestnut, sweet chestnut, ash, apple and oak – are the slowest to emerge, so you can pick those in March to look lovely in two to three weeks’ time, but if you want vases for the first part of April, you need to choose small-leafed species: hazel, hornbeam, dogwood, willow or silver birch. Beech follows close behind, and the unfurling flowers of the magnolia brigade.
Forcing tree branches into leaf
Whichever tree branches you’re forcing, cut them and put them straight into deep water and leave them in a place that is consistently warm with some light, but out of direct sun. It’s no good in a freezing potting shed or garage — they’ll emerge only a week before they would on the tree.
Don’t worry if you don’t have anywhere to store them out of the way. Have your bare branches in a jug on a table as a skeletal winter arrangement, or a line of them on a shelf or mantelpiece, so you can watch each species develop at a slightly different pace. As long as they’re warm, they should erupt into leaf three to four weeks earlier than they would if left outside.
Arranging branches with flowers
In a small space, use cut flowers mixed with twigs of forced leaves for simple early spring arrangements. The more delicate things, such as the clean, sharp blue Anemone blanda 'Blue Shades’, work well with the very fresh green new leaves of silver birch, hornbeam and hazel. Rather than mixing them together in a vase, arrange the anemones in one and the leaves in another, so that the colours remain clear and pristine. This looks fresher all around. Have a trio of these on your kitchen table or, for a party, line up five or seven vases, alternating flowers and leaves down the length of the table.
You can dress this up more by making a willow and dogwood “boat”. Simply bind some forced stems at both ends and splay the branches out in the middle to enclose the line of vases. This looks effective and takes only 10 minutes or so to do.
Hellebores with stems
Dogwood, or cornus, is invaluable. For another simple arrangement, try it with the crimson-edged Helleborus foetidus, which many of us grow in the shade in our gardens. I like the perky uprightness of the cornus, with its sticks and tiny leaves, in contrast to the slightly floppy curves of the hellebore. The colours of the two work perfectly, particularly when highlighted by a crimson-black splash of the odd oriental hybrid hellebore.
When you’re selecting which hellebore to pick, look for stems with at least one seed pod beginning to form. These have a little more lignin in the cell walls than those newly emerged and are likely to last better in a vase. Once cut, all hellebores should have their stem ends seared in boiling water for 20 seconds to help them last. Sear each stem, then put into cold water and store in the cold and dark for an hour or two before arranging them.
Arrangements for parties
If you’re having any sort of spring party (Mother’s Day, for example?), try making a larger arrangement using forced leaves. Branches can be woven into ovals or circles and hung on the wall for a few days. Better still, make them into wreaths with some moss – the moisture will keep the stems alive for longer.
Forced spring leaves together with their natural companions – sweet violets, primroses or cowslips – make a great table centre, especially if you use whole plants — straight from their pots — not cut flowers. This creates a fantastic impact for minimum cost (you can get all these plants from an average garden centre in the next few weeks), and the whole thing will last at least a month.
Primroses and violets are woodland dwellers, so they love their roots to be kept moist and cool. Remove the plants from their bed of moss in the arrangement every three or four days and leave them to drink in a sink of shallow water for 15 minutes: the flowers and leaves will just keep on coming.
Making a centrepiece
To make such an arrangement, find the biggest tray – a round one for choice – that you can fit on your table.
- You’ll need two wire wreath bases that will fit inside the tray (I used 14in ones).
- Cover both these with moss, binding it on to the base with reel wire.
- Poke in some silver birch twigs to create a woody circle and loosely bind these on with more wire (don’t bind it in too tightly - you want a messy nest). You could use your leftover Christmas moss wreath base, as I did, giving it a good soak first.
- Lay the first of your moss and silver birch wreaths on the tray and place the second on top.
- Add some forced spring leaves into the top twiggy silver birch circle, all going in a similar direction like a Catherine wheel.
- Add moss all around the wreaths, up to the edge of the tray.
- Finally scatter primroses or cowslips into the whole arrangement, padding around them with more moss. It’s like making a cake and it is worth every minute of effort