If your garden was battered by recent high winds and flooding, making cut flowers for centerpieces nothing but a spring dream, here’s a radical idea: Fake it.
Faux flowers deserve a second look. Silks and synthetic flowers are rising up out of their dark, funky, dusty, “mauve-y” past. Even big-box discount stores are carrying nice fake flowers that are perfectly suited for dramatic centerpieces in a pinch.
The trick to success is selecting the flowers. The result can grow on you, no matter the quality of the synthetic bloom.
Artificial flowers can be constructed of synthetic or natural fabrics such as polyester, cotton and silk, and there are many grades of quality.
Some flowers, often called “real-touch” or “natural-touch,” are realistic, detailed and made from complex blends of materials that offer optimal shaping qualities. They are more elastic and flexible for fine-tuning arrangements.
There are high-end, expensive options (at $75 or more per stem) and lower-grade faux flowers, branches, vines and greenery; plenty are to be found at discount stores like Wal-Mart and Target and craft shops like Michaels.
Here are 10 rules and tips for making faux-flower arrangements beautiful.
1. Work with flowers that look like they were cultivated in dirt.
Yes, it’s just that simple. Pick flowers that really look real. It seems like a basic concept, but you’d be surprised at how a turquoise rose or a poorly variegated carnation can botch the look of an otherwise beautiful arrangement.
Hydrangeas are an exception. Sometimes you can find unique colors that you would not commonly see growing outside, but those can still work. I have a brown velvety hydrangea and it looks lovely with lighter white and tan blooms.
Light pastels and soft colors create a natural, cottage-garden look. Bright, vivid colors command attention. However, when you’re working with silks, sometimes a muted, quieter version can blend better into your environment.
Also, look for stems that have a little bend or a wire embedded inside.
2. Don’t try to color-match artificial flowers to your decor.
This goes hand in hand with rule No. 1. Stay natural. You don’t want to match the blue and yellow ribbons and bluebirds in your wallpaper with the flowers you pick for your synthetic arrangement. That is sensory overload.
Don’t try to make your flowers a decorating project or challenge.
Keep thinking that the fake blooms you buy are supposed to appear as if they came from the earth, not an interior paint color palette or fashion runway. If you stick to this plan in the artificial-flower aisle, you’ll end up with something much more beautiful.
3. Don’t be chintzy with quantity. Pick a big, healthy batch.
When you shop, fill your basket with stems. Don’t walk out of there with three sprays.
Most stores will accept returns, but I doubt you will return them once you see how many you need to make a full vase or container.
Do be sure to look at the prices. Stems get moved around by shoppers, and you can think you are holding a $2 stem that is actually $15.
If you are watching every penny, go with larger, blooming flowers. Hydrangeas and larger clusters of peonies can fill a lot of space. While they might cost a little more, they take up a lot of real estate in your vase or container.
4. Keep the stems in scale with the container.
Stems that are too tall can appear “leggy” — like legs sticking out of pants that are too short — and make your arrangement turn into a huge fail.
You’ll need floral wire cutters to cut thick stems to fit the vase. Trim stems so that the flowers can sit at the right height — about 1-4 inches from the top of the vase for an average container. Too much stem and not enough flowers makes an arrangement look sparse.
Keep the blooms close to the top of the vase with a few varieties “growing outward” just a little farther than the shorter ones. Bend some blooms down to allow them to spill over the container’s lip, as you would see a real floral arrangement.
Taller vases allow you to let the stems remain at their original height. Keep lots of fullness at the mouth of the vase so the stems are not glaring.
5. Choose containers wisely.
It’s nice to display new flowers in a container that shows a little age. It doesn’t have to look shabby, just more established.
Use an old porcelain vase or one with a crackled, weathered look. For a lake vacation home, try filling an old minnow bucket with flowers. Leave the top open for interest.
Steer away from anything glass or transparent, because you don’t want to show off those plastic or rubber stems inside. Higher-end stems sometimes are so well made that you can use a glass vase to show their stems, but lower-priced flowers often have a less desirable look.
6. Stabilize the faux flowers: Just add marbles.
You will need to stabilize the silks so that they will not tip over easily. The material you use to fill the bottom of the vase can hold the floral stems, much like floral foam would in a vase with fresh flowers. Floral foams can hold smaller-stemmed flowers, but the foam doesn’t give you much weight to anchor the vase or container.
Add marbles, filler stones, clear pebbles or glass beads to the base of the container. Hobby and craft stores carry an assortment of them. Another, cheaper stabilizing solution: Use small pebbles found outside.
7. Bend the branches (slightly).
Since synthetic flowers didn’t have wind and sun to bend the stems into a natural shape, you’ll have to do it yourself. The floral stems come straight and lifeless, so use your hands to work and shape the direction of the floral stems to make them look more natural.
Don’t bend them all at the same arc or angle. Vary them and keep one or two stems straight. This variance in the slight bend of the stems makes them look much more like something Mother Nature made.
Create a slight curve, especially, in some of the taller branches and vines.
8. Use berries, buds and branches for tall centerpieces.
For hall entry tables and foyer arrangements, you might long for something with height. Craft stores have a large selections of berry-laden branches, and synthetic dogwood and cherry blossom branches can make stunning centerpieces by themselves.
Once again, use the colors of nature as your guide. Use branches and vines with deep red, white and light green berries. Glittered, shimmering branches are pretty to look at but are best saved for the holidays. Flower buds are unique to mix into floral designs.
9. Add unique floral picks to the mix.
An old wooden sea bird stake stuck into a mosaic black and white vase filled with light green hydrangeas, peonies, roses, buds and foliage creates a floral arrangement perfect for a seaside setting.
You can make any small object into a floral pick by using dowels, chopsticks or even barbecue grill skewers. A little hot glue can secure most small items to the wooden stick of choice.
Sentimental objects can become floral picks to insert into an arrangement. A sand dollar glued onto a small dowel or stick and nestled into blooms is a nice touch. Less is more in this add-on, though. Keep the inserted object small.
Faux lemons or limes can be used as floral picks to make a kitchen arrangement look more colorful. Fake fruits can be found at craft stores, too, usually near the dried-herb aisle. A mix of fruits with soft, muted flowers can be lovely.
Moss-covered spheres, nuts, acorns, wooden spheres or even unique pieces of driftwood can ground your arrangement and provide contrast to light and airy florals.
10. Maintain the blooms.
You won’t have to water them every day, but you will have to keep the dust off of them now and again. Faux flowers work well in vacation homes or even boats with cabins, but keep them clean so that they don’t start looking tired and worn.
Dusting followed by a light wipedown with diluted dish soap and water on a cotton towel can do the trick on most synthetic flowers.
Compressed air in a can will help you dust the flowers. Caked-on dust might require a light spritz of equal parts vinegar and water, followed by a light wiping.
Miracle Coatings Silk’n Splendor is a favorite silk flower cleaner. It’s available through craft stores and on Amazon.com. Design Master also makes a silk flower cleaner that you spray on, no wiping necessary. It has a light fragrance.
Some people place silks and artificial flowers in a paper bag of salt to shake off the dust, though that method might best suit smaller stems.