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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, March 21, 2001

Get creative with supermarket flowers

By Kaui Philpotts

If you don't like the color or arrangement of the flowers you buy in a supermarket, you can change them to your liking.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

I used to be an outright snob when it came to supermarket flowers. Boring, I thought. Ready-made bouquets bundled for people with no imagination. A hasty, last-minute thought. You may have had these thoughts, too.

But then I fondly remembered a friend of mine, passionate about flower arranging, who used to dismantle florists' work almost the minute they were delivered. Off came the silly neon bows and the mylar balloons. Usually the baby's breath was next, and within minutes the overly structured pyramid became a loose, lovely country arrangement worthy of Martha Stewart.

So, with her sensibilities in mind, if not her impeccable taste, I recently approached the supermarket flower section again. To my delight (and that of my pocketbook), I found much that was admirable and useful.

Certain flowers seem always to be available: sprays of purple and white orchids, pink and red carnations, various types of mums, sometimes yellow and white daisies (unless you are 16 and it's springtime, forget these), red and pink ginger and bird of paradise, and, of course, red roses.

There are other flowers whose names I've never learned, and there are small potted ones, too. If you are in a real last-minute rush, you can plop these in prettier cache pots you already have at home, adding a little moss, or pick up some of those inexpensive terra-cotta ones you can find in the garden section of Star Market.

Remember the motto - decant! decant!

Containers and supplies

Stop thinking only of vases as receptacles for flowers. Anything that holds water, even barely, can be considered a container. This includes water glasses, copper pots, teapots, old mixing bowls, coffee cups and even shallow serving platters. The more unlikely, the better.

Become a saver and a scavenger. Keep those small baskets that come with other gifts. The bottoms of plastic food containers can line vessels that don't hold water well. Plastic kitchen bags make good liners to protect baskets and other leaky containers.

Sharpened chopsticks and cocktail toothpicks can anchor fruit and vegetables in your arrangements. Collect the oasis, or florist foam, from other arrangements that have been sent to you, or purchase it from variety stores. It will allow you to stretch the range of your arrangements with flowers that "drip" onto the table.

Save wrapping bows and raffia, or purchase inexpensive ties from places such as Pier 1 Imports. Other good fillers and camouflage to have on hand include lump moss (which you soak first in water and then stuff into the bottom of potted plants) and Spanish moss, or hinahina, which does the same thing. Those plentiful and inexpensive pebbles so popular now in bowls of curly bamboo are another good thing to have on hand.

Remember that table arrangements should be low enough to allow your guests to converse with the person sitting across the table. There is nothing that says that you must have just one arrangement, either.

Handling flowers

Common sense says that you should purchase flowers right before you head home, and not when you have other chores along the way. Stick them into a glass or pot of water in your sink immediately, even before you start putting perishables away. (You could place a bucket of cool water in the car before you leave, to help keep the flowers fresh on the way home.)

If you're not going to work on your arrangement right away, cut the stems on the diagonal with a sharp knife and hold the flowers in a cool spot in water. If the flowers are fragile, such as gardenias, place them in the refrigerator. Roses can be forced to open more by placing the stems in warm, or even hot, water.

When you are arranging your flowers, remember to remove the leaves toward the bottom that will go into the water. They cause decay and smell, and your arrangement will not last as long.

Change your water often if you want your arrangement to last more than a few days. Every other day is best. You also might want to recut the stems to allow more water into the flower.

Unless you've been living under a rock for the past decade, you will know that unstructured flowers are the fashion. That, and tightly cropped domes of the same flower. There is also a bit of sacrilege going on with the cropping of flowers. If you think that red ginger, mums or calla lilies have to remain on long, slender stems because they came that way, think again.

Stems that are chopped to within an inch of their lives and clustered into a shallow glass bowl look fresher and newer.

And who said that orchids have to stay on a spray just because they came that way. Disassemble them and scatter then on the table or float them in a shallow glass bowl of water with those rocks we mentioned and a floating candle or two. Instant centerpiece.

Changing colors

Just because someone you never met thinks that certain colors and flowers belong together in a bouquet doesn't mean you have to listen. Pull out the colors you find offensive and do something else with them, such as grouping them in a tight little bundle and vertical vase and placing them in the bathroom or on a bedside table.

Mums, cut to the quick and floated in a shallow bowl, can be very pretty. Or cut low and arranged in small containers or teacups and strewn down a long table.

Pay attention to color. What color china are you using, what food are you serving, and is there a theme? Do you have a strong color going on in the container? Can you do a dramatic contrast, say, a pea green container with orange flowers?

While you are in the supermarket, also think of fresh herbs like basil and parsley as fillers in your arrangements. Remember that oasis (the green foam stuff)? Cut it to fit your container with a few inches peaking above the opening of the vase. Fill the sink and float the oasis in water for a couple of minutes, or until it's saturated. Place it snugly into the opening of your container. Now you can start building your arrangement. Having the oasis material rise above the lip of the container allows you to aim stems downward or out to the sides. Cover any oasis that shows with moss or clusters of leaves.

Grapes that have been wired with florist's wire, red potatoes speared with chopsticks and other vegetables can be added for an amusing change and to further a theme.

So start looking closer at the things you have on hand. Pay attention to ordinary flowers that you can purchase for the price of a rump roast, and begin having fun with your table.