How to build a flower arrangement like the pros

There is a science behind the elegantly arranged hydrangea bouquet, or the bushel of roses with an ivy trail that a bride grabs as she walks down the aisle.

Like many beautiful things, it takes work.

About 150 gardening enthusiasts learned from one of the experts this week at an event hosted by the Naples Garden Club at the Botanical Garden in Naples. Michael Gaffney, director of the American School for Floral Design and world-renowned floral designer, led a workshop on the patterns and formulas of floral design on Monday.

“It’s a science more than anything,” he said.

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About 30 years ago, Gaffney was working on Wall Street in New York. While on vacation, he returned home to Milwaukee and found himself driving a local florist‘s truck. He fell in love with the company and made a major career change.

“I started to see the patterns and formulas of all the great designs,” he said. “And it’s very simple once you get the hang of it.”

He spent six years learning the trade, and now Gaffney runs 14 floral design schools across the country. He has published two books, “Design Star” and “Flower Power”, and has appeared on QVC, Hallmark Channel and NBC’s “TODAY” show.

Attendees take notes from floral designer Michael Gaffney, who gave a demonstration sharing personal tips and tricks for arranging flowers at Kapnick Hall inside the Naples Botanical Garden on Monday, December 4, 2017.

On Monday, Gaffney showed how to create 10 different flower arrangements influenced by traditional design and current trends today. Using elements of math, science, and architecture, Gaffney said anyone can do what they do for a living.

He began his talk on the topic of the longevity of flowers. It’s a common misconception, he said, that flowers last three to five days in a vase. But using his five-step process, Gaffney says they can last up to a month:

  1. Buy good flowers
  2. Immerse the flower under water for 30 to 45 minutes to hydrate the petals
  3. Add a few drops of bleach to the water to stop the growth of bacteria
  4. Spray flower sealant wax for lasting freshness; Gaffney uses Crowning Glory, which is available on
  5. Cut a few inches off the stem every two to three days

Floral design is a science, Gaffney said, because the most attractive floral designs follow the laws of nature. For example, a large flower in the middle serves as a focal point in most arrangements, much like new shoots surround old shoots in nature.

Gaffney also applies basic math with flower ratios. His first arrangement was a bunch of shiny white hydrangeas, which he sprinkled with alum powder (found in the grocery store’s bakery aisle) to promote water absorption and keep the flower from wilting. He built a bottom layer of seven flowers, then added four in a middle layer and one on top to complete the set.

Floral designer Michael Gaffney demonstrates, sharing personal tips and tricks for arranging flowers at Kapnick Hall inside the Botanical Garden in Naples on Monday, December 4, 2017.

The floral design also incorporates architecture, Gaffney said. It is organized in the shape of a pentagon, with a lower deck, an intermediate deck and a “penthouse”.

There are also more random, unplanned arrangements – the “hot mess of Napa Valley,” as Gaffney called it, which is all the rage right now. Another was a European style drawing, one you might find in a Dutch painting. For these arrangements, he used crotons with touches of red and dark orange, kale, dusty sucker and even linden branches, fruit and all.

But even in the wildest arrangements, Gaffney applies his techniques of using guidelines to create movement.

“I am models and rules,” he told the audience. “I am a craftsman, that’s what I do.”

Attendees inspect an arrangement made by designer Michael Gaffney, who gave a demonstration sharing personal tips and tricks for arranging flowers at Kapnick Hall inside the Naples Botanical Garden on Monday, December 4, 2017.

Other tips and tricks from Michael Gaffney:

  • Buy an already opened rose.
  • If you remove thorns from a rose, it creates air holes and it will wither faster.
  • When adding a flower to a bundle, use a closing, wrapping, and twisting motion. Aim the rod like a sword in a wizard’s box, Gaffney said, then twist it in formation.
  • Use the “area and cluster” technique to achieve the wild and grassy look.
  • All things in nature have a charge, he said. Add greenery to fill in the holes between the flowers in an arrangement.

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