the top part of a decorative image showing garden flowers.

The Times-Union

Saturday, February 3, 2001

A successful flower arrangement starts with the right conditions

By Judy Wells
Times-Union staff writer

Conditioning is the key to successful arrangements.

"A lot of time when you're just starting out, you cut things and don't know how to condition them," said floral artist Pauline Runkle. "It's like a foundation: You can't build a house without one. Conditioning and mechanics -- what you use to structure the arrangement, Oasis [floral foam], chicken wire, pin holders -- those have to be really well organized, otherwise the arrangement won't stay together and will fight you as you're putting it together. It won't be fun.

"The whole reason for doing an arrangement, beyond a flower show, is to create something, whether for yourself or for people you care about. It's a caring effort. You may as well get the foundation in place or the expression won't be something you're satisfied with."

The foundation's foundation, Runkle said, is the vase.

"The most important part is a container that's been pre-cleaned with Clorox and water. In your vases, don't just take out the old water and put in new. You really have to sterilize that vase. I'm always sterilizing containers. I keep a small bottle of Clorox under my kitchen sink just for that purpose."

Conditioning the flowers and foliage ensures quality materials.

"When we have time, we do try to cut everything under water. We actually put the clippers under water. I know it's controversial now, but we have very good luck with it. Any woody stems need to be cut up the stem [several splits made with very sharp clippers].

"Euphorbias [poinsettias are the most common] have to be conditioned by themselves. They exude a white milky substance that will kill anything else in the bucket."

Daffodils exude a poison, too. "They can be conditioned together but not with others. Once they're conditioned, when the stems are sealed, it's OK to combine them with other flowers."

Next comes the water for the vase.

"Clean water and a little bit of Floralife. And enough water so flowers get a good drink, but you can't have any of the leaves underwater."

Conditioning continues after an arrangement is completed.

"Change the water," Runkle said. "It's really helpful to do that."

Cloudy water isn't merely aesthetically undesirable; it's a sign that bacteria has dirtied your carefully conditioned foundation.

"When you see cloudy water, you have to get rid of it. Flowers can't take up that water. The cleaner the water is, the better condition the stems are in, the better able they are to take up water."