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I’m a huge nerd for flowers. Flowers are funny and elegant and romantic, and they make people so happy; they bring the natural world indoors, exemplifying the best of what our otherwise-garbage planet has to offer. I don’t trust a human who doesn’t smile at a nice flower. I mean, flowers are great. Everybody loves flowers. Thing is, not many people buy flowers for themselves, so whenever I find myself in a situation that merits a gift (which for me is like, any day of the week ending in Y), I bring a bouquet or flower arrangement! I wish I was flossy enough to gift everyone I know with the Renaissance arrangements of world-renowned florists like Sarah Ryhanen at Saipua, Nicolette Camille, and Amy Merrick, but homemade arrangements are for sure the next best thing.

Once you get the hang of a few simple tricks, arranging flowers yourself, at home, is extremely fun. The trick to making (admittedly semi-) professional-looking arrangements is in the nuanced intersection of proportion and budget. You drop some cash on a few “face flowers” (large, standout blooms meant to hold court in the center of the arrangement) at a real-deal flower shop, and spend the rest on “filler flowers” and greens at the supermarket or bodega. For about $30, you can buy enough flowers to make a large tabletop arrangement and two cute bouquets! The rest is creative intuition—and repurposing household objects, naturellement.

What you’ll need:

  • A vase, a jar, or any other watertight container you have around the house
  • Floral scissors or pruning shears. (Be very, very careful when you use these tools—they’re meant to cut branches and you don’t want to accidentally take someone’s toe off.)
  • Butcher paper, or any other kind of paper that comes in big sheets
  • Flowers and greens! You’ll be buying (or picking!) four types…

1. Face flowers

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Pullin’ out the big guns over here. Face flowers are the special dudes you drop a mint on to make a bouquet look extra special. You’ll probably have to go to a flower shop for these, but many supermarkets sell individual blooms in their floral departments. These two giant, goofy hydrangeas were $4 each.

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This single garden rose was $5, which is rich for my blood but, you know, anything for you guys. I asked nicely and the people who worked at World of Flowers took the hydrangeas and the rose and wrapped them up with some fern fronds in brown butcher paper and twine.

Tip: When you’re picking out your face flowers, it helps to start thinking about what colors you want to use in your arrangement. There are no rules when it comes to color schemes—you can let your imagination run amok. If you’re totally lost, try this handy guide to choosing colors for arrangements, or make things even simpler with a one-color arrangement.

2. Second-tier flowers

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Second-tier flowers are super-cool-but-not-distracting flowers meant to enhance and highlight the big guys. I like tulips in arrangements because they have those great big leaves, and right now they’re in season. Plus, you can get them in multicolored bunches—invaluable if you’re breaking up the bouquet to use in several different arrangements. Bitchin’.

3. Filler flowers

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Filler flowers are small, sort of anonymous flowers that are meant to fill in space and support the big guys. Baby’s breath is often used for this purpose, but I like the flowers pictured above better because they’re purple, which works with the color scheme I’m going for and seems more interesting than white baby’s breath, a flower that reminds me of corsages. (Also, I don’t know the technical names of all the flowers I use, so I’m gonna call these “the purple guys.” Sorry.)

If you live in a woodsy or rural area, there might be pussy willow, wild grasses, twigs, vines, or wildflowers growing near you, all of which make great filler, too. Don’t be afraid to scavenge for additions to your arrangement! In the winter, I’ve used pine tree branches as (awesome-smelling) filler for arrangements, and in the summer, I’ve used mint leaves from gardens and ivy cuttings from overgrown walls—with permission, of course.

4. Greens and foliage

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These spindly, delicate ferns (in the front of the pitcher) came with those hydrangeas and that super-fancy rose I bought at the flower shop. The large, stiff branches (in the back of the pitcher) were a few bucks for a bundle at the corner store.

So how much did all of this stuff cost? I spent $14.50 at the flower shop on my face flowers, $8 for the tulips. and $7.50 on filler flowers and weird branches. Now I’ve got more flowers than I know what to do with for 30 bucks. Let’s get to work!

How to make a tabletop arrangement:

Step One:

Pick a vase, any vase. Maybe you have a real-deal vase lying around your house, maybe you need to repurpose a water pitcher like I did—point is, lots of things can be vases.

Step Two:

Start by building up your greens in the vase layer by layer, imagining the rough shape you want your final arrangement to be. Since I’m totally inspired by the florists I linked to above, I always try for woodsy, unkempt, “wild” looking arrangements. Hence, crooked ferns:

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Step Three:

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Trim the ends of your flowers and greens at different heights, which will create greater variety and depth once they’re placed in the container. Cut each stem at an angle—the angled cut helps the flower soak up more water by increasing the end of the stem’s surface area. Keep your hand very far away from the scissors, whether you’re cutting delicate stems like the ferns in the above step or something dense like the branches I’m cutting here.

Step Four:

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Now you’re going to add the bulkier greens to your vase to give the arrangement stability and texture. The branches I used smell really good, like cedar—they’re not cedar, though, I googled it. I still don’t know what they are. (The only downside to buying flowers at the corner store is that you can’t always tell what you’re getting.)