Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Flower Power: DIY festive flora without the usual poinsettias

This holiday season we are attending a couple of gatherings, and had talked about bringing something hostess-y to give. We watched a TV segment on poinsettias, and for the 29th Christmas in a row, I thought, yuk. I am not a fan of this traditional yuletide plant, and I know I’m not the only one. There are those of you reading this right now that feel the exact same way.

In an effort to find a more updated festive floral concept, I chatted with our friend Christina Oullet, owner of the Flower Factory in Renfrew. Christina was the florist for our wedding (formerly from a shop called Flower & Flour), and she opened her new shop this past year. We met up with Christina, talked with her about her flower power, and learned some tips while trying out a simple DIY arrangement.


Christina has been in the floral business for quite some time, but opening her own shop has allowed her to really run with her crazy ideas. Why is the Flower Factory such a popular florist’s shop? Because Christina will turn anything into an arrangement. For our wedding, I requested that Christina make us bouquets that had absolutely no petals in them—with the exception of calla lilies, which are really just one petal. Without a moment’s hesitation, she agreed…and wow, did she deliver. The bouquets were made up of Scottish thistle, peacock feathers, silver sage, weird green berries, and the middle parts of echinacea flowers with all the petals pulled off. They were gorgeous, and without a doubt I can say that Christina is the only florist I know who can captivate my interest.

And this is exactly why the Flower Factory has a devoted following of customers and brides: if you want an arrangement that will be unlike any other, this is the place to go. I’ve seen Christina use limes, moss, even broccoli to make her magic happen. Inevitably, like a good improv team, Christina manages to combine the most absurd elements into a perfectly logical, playful finished product. 


Christina had some great suggestions for the florist-wannabe who is looking for clever ways to keep costs down and DIY their own home arrangements:
See what’s growing near and around your house. A short walk can provide you with dogwood, evergreen branches, pinecones, and sumac. Those who live in the Pontiac region can also seek out ilex berries, which Christina swears would be a lovely addition.

Clever arrangements can be done in dollar store vases, or better yet, repurposed tin cans and mason jars. Buy or gather some river rocks and fill the container for support and pizazz.

Something larger, heavier, or with more substance can be used to ‘ground’ the piece, says Christina. Some Christmas balls, a snowman or plaster creature may sit comfortably in the basket or pot, and you can build your whacky sprays of branches, twigs, and asparagus off of that. (I’m absolutely certain that Christina has used asparagus many times.)

Choosing a colour palette can be tricky. Easy and sure-fire palettes for the yule season are all-white or all-red arrangements. So how do you make it interesting when it’s all one colour? Christina tells us that texture is key. A shiny leaf with a velvety moss and some spiky blossoms can say a lot without flashing different colours.

Christina recommends that ‘less is more’ when you’re arranging your flora. Step back once in a while, look at something else for a few moments, then look back. The great thing is, if you’ve gone too far, it’s not hard to pull stuff out. Also recommended: search the dollar store for your ‘staple’ items, like vases, cheap Christmas balls, and river rocks…but skip the dollar store when it comes to metallic-painted snowmen, glitter-coated reindeer, or Styrofoam menorahs. A suggestion from Jordan here: consider using an favourite treasure like a snowglobe, or big antique brooch—something that is kitschy in an authentic way. Or pop into a florist’s like Christina’s shop; she has tons of tasteful Santas and snowmen that won’t diminish the beauty of your plants.

So you’ve gathered your cedar branches, pine cones, an antique angel tree topper, and…you’re stumped. Not a problem. This may be the time to head into the actual flower shop and pick out something special. Christina recommended cymbidium orchids as an example of a long-lasting bloom: these babies last for 3-4 weeks, and there’s lots of blooms on a stem, so if you want to you can buy an entire stem. It’ll set you back by $100-and-some dollars, but if you’re doing ten arrangements with them that were otherwise free from the forest, that’s a fabulous price. Or opt to just buy a couple blooms for that special centrepiece.

1. Keep things in water to avoid brittleness. This includes branches.
2. Flower food is important, and can’t really be replaced by any of the homemade potions you’ve heard of…but if you’re stuck, a few drops of bleach is probably the best.
3. Fill your vase with warm-almost-hot water. There’s less oxygen in hot water, and the plant will suck it up better.

EASIEST TUTORIAL EVER: Orchid with a halo

Christina wanted to show us how easy it is to make a stunning arrangement, so she walked us through this simple one. I’ll tell you right now, Brian does a better job on his than I do. I almost lost an eye several times. I turned my back for two seconds, and Brian had created this glorious Ikebana-like thing. Sometimes it's so easy to hate him.

-willow branches (or other bendy, well-watered branches)
-wire—coloured, plain, or wool-covered, it’s up to you!
-a small glass vase, wide and low
-1 cymbidium orchid
-decorations as desired

1. Grab the willow branches and twist them into a halo that will fit snuggly around the vase. Use wire to keep everything together. If you’re Jordan: fail at this and instead jam the halo, which you made too small for the vase, right into the vase.

2. Place some river rocks or plastic ‘gems’ into the vase. If you’re Jordan: realize your willow is in the way, pull your willow out, place the gems in, then put your willow back in.

Jordan's finished product.
3. Add some Christmas balls or other decorations if so desired. If you’re Jordan: get carried away with bright green wool-covered wire while you’re adding your Christmas balls. TIP: Christina says odd numbers always look more natural, so use an odd number of decorations.

4. Pour warm-almost-hot water into the vase, then add your orchid after you carefully use a very sharp knife to remove it from the stem on a diagonal. If you’re Jordan: leave the cutting to someone who won’t cut off their fingers.

5. Your arrangement is done; just wrap it in cellophane if you’re taking it outside, and add another plastic bag if it’s really cold out. If you’re Jordan: surprise a friend with the arrangement and pass it off like it’s no big deal and you just whipped it up without breaking a sweat.
Brian's perfect creation!


You can find the Flower Factory at 180 Plaunt Street, Unit 4, in Renfrew, Ontario. Check out the Flower Factory Facebook, and follow Christina on twitter.

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