floral design: DIY, tips & tricks

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that I would be taking a floral design class in early April. Well, today I’m here to give you a complete recap along with some tips and tricks that I learned earlier this week!

I had reached out to Helen Olivia Flowers and their owner, Rachel, a few months ago about setting up a private workshop for my colleagues (fellow event planners) and I. Well, we could not have been more pleased with her custom evening workshop that she put together for us.

When we walked into Helen Olivia’s shop, tucked away in the quaint neighborhood of Old Town Alexandria, I was immediately in love. Big sunny open windows, floral arrangements galore, a natural “air freshner” of blooms, a “bud bar” and the most darling little numbered workshop space I’ve ever seen. I could not get enough. They even had a little bike on display (read: delivery truck). If you are ever in the area, you must stop in for a visit – you can purchase single flowers for DIY projects as well as soaps and other gifts. Helen Olivia is also known for their ribbon wrapped vases (which I learned how to do properly too).

We started off the evening (after consuming far too much cheese and sparkling orange blood soda) with a few easy and quick DIY arrangements that event planners and hostesses alike could put together at home or before a big event. They look professional and polished but easy to complete for any skill level!

1. Hydrangeas + Hand Tying Technique

Hydrangeas can be a pain to arrange (I know, I put them together for my End of Summer Shrimp Boil last year). They are also so top heavy that they often end up falling over in a variety of vases. Well, Rachel taught us to to arrange these beauties (who’s name comes from the word “hydrate”, duh) with a hand tying technique. The key is to tie them together with bindwire or floral tape BEFORE you put them in the vase. This allows them to stand up. They were also wrapped in a leaf ribbon to cover up the floating stems in the water.

2. Tall Centerpieces

The next type of DIY arrangement we learned about was assembled with curly willow (yes, those long swirly-looking sticks have a name) and orchids. These were put into a 24 inch glass vase and are perfect for a food station or bar at an event especially when you’re on a budget. You could even add tealight candles to them for a special effect!

3. Pave-Style Roses

A pave-style arrangement is French for “one level”. These are my favorite item to add to cocktail tables and always look very delicate. They are also adorable to use when hosting events such as bridal and baby showers (think pink!). The roses were cut to the same level and then delicately placed in floral foam along with cigar rolled leaves for a finishing touch (and leaf polish = doesn’t hurt the leaves but makes them look super shiny!).

We finished the evening styling our own arrangements from large buckets of fresh blooms (my own personal dream come true). We used 5 inch cylinder vases with floral foam and water. Carefully, we placed a variety of hydrangeas, roses, greenery and the most beautiful orchid I’ve seen into our vases. We used all of Rachel’s tips and tricks for a professional-like look. One of my favorite parts of the workshop was learning how to “ribbon wrap” – which I will most certainly use in events to come. My finished product is below – not too bad, huh? It’s currently serving as a centerpiece at home to brighten up my dining room.



You can see how it slowly but surely came together below after much snipping, rearranging and criticizing.

Finally, I wanted to share with you a few flower myths and tips that I learned from the evening after much Q&A with Rachel (I came with lots of questions – those that know me won’t be surprised by this at all..).

  • You do NOT need to cut your flowers in running water. This is a compete MYTH.
  • Room temperature water is ideal for flowers. It makes no difference if it’s filtered or tap water.
  • You must cut stems at an angle and regularly. The white part that shows is call the pit and this is where the flowers drink up!
  • Do not use regular scissors to cut your stems. Ideally, it’s best to use shear spring-loaded tools.
  • The more leaves you cut off, the more water goes to your actual blooms. This is something to keep in mind to make them last longer.
  • When you buy flowers from a grocery store, they are already dehydrated  – a good tip with hydrangeas is to submerge the head under luke warm water for 30 minutes after purchasing to re-hydrate them. If you ever have part of a hydrangea that “dies” before the other, it’s likely you hit a “nerve” (literally) when cutting the stems.
  • Your flowers should be around the same height as your vase.
  • Invest in floral tape – it’s super cheap!
  • You can use a tape grid to arrange stubborn flowers (yes, scotch tape). All you have to do is tape a design over your vase and hide it with a little greenery here and there.
  • Most roses come with an outer layer on that are not petals but look like them. Peel those off!
  • Also, and this might be the best tip ever – BLOW on your roses. They open up right away and look much more pleasing to the eye for arrangements.

If you live in the DC area, Helen Olivia comes highly recommended by yours truly for both arrangements and workshops.They offer numerous classes throughout the year (I want to attend the peonies one!) and also do baby showers, hands-on bridal shower parties and even an adult summer camp for those of you that really love florals! I am already looking forward to the next class I can attend. You can find a complete list of their upcoming classes HERE.

P.S. I often mention that I think red roses are cheesy. Well, the truth is, after much chatting that evening, I realized it’s not red roses I don’t enjoy (I still prefer pink), it’s red roses + baby’s breath.

No, thank you.

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