Monday, March 3, 2008


I thought it might be time to insert a post helping new time readers navigate this sites. While we may offer new posts in the future, we are -- at the moment -- collecting posts from various bloggers who contributed to the original "Online Finishing School for Ladies" project.

So far, I've transferred three of the original "courses" to this central blog:

Elizabeth's (another Elizabeth) classes on Flower Arranging.
Emma's posts about Personal Presentation
Meredith's posts about Living Well on Less.

I will continue to put up more topics as I have time to transfer them here.


This begins a series on flower arranging written by Elizabeth of Elizabeth's flowers (Note: There were two "teachers" named Elizabeth in the original line up of Finishing School bloggers). Please visit her blog for more wonderful ideas about flowers, handmade stationery, etc.

Finishing school coming to a blog near you...

Elizabeth (a different Elizabeth), of the Merry Rose, and Emma of Charming the Birds from the Trees, are running a Finishing School in blogdom this summer. They have recruited various guest “instructors” who are expected to write five blog entries during their assigned week in their area of expertise. Subjects include personal presentation, French and Asian culture, baking, needlework/sewing, gift giving, home keeping, and flowers. Guess who was asked to cover flowers?

Coming up with five consecutive entries in one week certainly will be challenging for me, given my past blogging track record. However, I'm hoping that this opportunity will help me become a lot more consistent.

So, come back each day next week, and learn about simple flower arranging, growing a cutting garden, flowers in the home, creating centerpieces, and herbal arrangements. And, feel free to leave comments or questions. I’d appreciate your input!

Simple Flower Arranging

Please note that this series on flower arranging was originally written by Elizabeth of Elizabeth's flowers. Please visit her blog for more ideas.

I’d like to extend a warm welcome to our visitors from the online Finishing School today.

I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to cover the topic of Flowers in the Home, and today we’ll begin with simple flower arranging.

In all honesty, I believe flower arranging is something you are already good at. Even children are amazingly good at it, but I want to remind you of the basics and give you a few good tips along the way. And, remember that God has already made flowers incredibly beautiful.
All we have to do is gently place them in a different setting.

Types of Flowers: Tending toward the frugal side, I tend to use what I have readily available. Tomorrow I’ll cover cutting gardens, but use what is in abundance in your garden, in a nearby meadow, or whatever seems to be a good deal at the florist or supermarket. It’s also nice to have some greens of filler flowers to accent your primary flowers.

Vases and accessories: Anything that holds water is fair game. In addition to standard vases, I love using green Perrier water bottles, old lab ware, interesting votive holders, and mismatched china pieces such as sugar bowls or gravy boats. Use a clear vase or vessel when you are using flowers with beautiful, graceful stems, like calla lilies or tulips (see picture below).

Other tools: A knife, scissors, or shears that are really sharp (a sharp, even cut allows the flowers to absorb water and nutrients more efficiently). Also, floral foam and floral frogs are very useful for holding stems in just the right place. Personally, I usually prefer informal arrangements and rarely use them, but they are available from any good craft store. To keep stems in place when I’m in a hurry, I sometimes tie them together loosely with saran wrap.

Making your arrangement: After obtaining your flowers and selecting your vessel, remove any leaves that will fall below the waterline. This keeps the water and flowers fresher, longer. Also, re-cut the bottom of each flower stem on a diagonal just prior to placing them in the vase. I use floral food when I have it, and always pour a capful of hydrogen peroxide or a few drops of bleach into the water to help inhibit bacterial growth.

Next, think about what shape you would like your arrangement to be. Most arrangements tend to by pyramid shaped, especially for bouquets of more that one type of flower. Ball shaped arrangements are also common, especially for a uniformly shaped flower, such as roses or chrysanthemums.

Shorten the stems as needed to fit the general shape you have decided on. Make sure the flowers face outward, and at a pleasing angle for your shape. Use the largest flower along the bottom of your arrangement, and then work with one flower at a time, spreading each type of flower through out the arrangement. However, you may want to bunch together very small flowers of the same color, so that they can make more of an impact.

As you use up all of your flowers, fill up any remaining holes with greens. Make sure the greens don’t stick out; they should come to rest where the shape of your flowers ends.

Later in the week we will cover even simpler arrangements – arrangements with just a single flower, and arrangements made up entirely of foliage.

Tomorrow: Suggestions for growing a cutting garden and choosing color combinations for your arrangements.

Growing a Cutting Garden

Please note that this wonderful series about using flowers in the home was written by Elizabeth of Elizabeth's Flowers. Visit her blog and web site for more great ideas.

Many gardeners grow flowers to create fresh bouquets for their homes, or to give away to friends, but they also want to be able to enjoy the beauty of their garden itself. In my case, I need to be able to harvest many of my flowers for my pressed flower business. Can one have it both ways?

Well, yes and no. The ideal solution is to have a cutting garden – a utilitarian flower garden dedicated solely to the production of flowers.

A cutting garden is ideally placed in a side yard or someplace generally out of site. Because this is a production garden, design correctness isn’t as important as making sure flowers are placed as close together as they can tolerate, and that they receive an optimal amount of daily sunshine.

Set up your cutting garden as you would any garden, in a well drained location with plenty of peat moss and soil amendments as. I use my vegetable garden as my primary cutting and pressed flower garden. Some of the flowers weave in and out of the vegetables, and the flowers end up beautifying the vegetable garden, yet they aren’t missed when I’ve cut them. If you have a separate dedicated space, plant your flowers in long narrow rows, for easy harvesting. It’s also a good ideas to plant annuals in succession, with early season, mid-season, and late season bloomers each grouped together – just read your seed packets to determine what blooms when. To encourage flower production, pick blossoms regularly. Remove faded blossoms (called deadheading) as this prevents them from forming seeds, which slows down flower production.

Your choice of what to plant is almost limitless, but as a rule, long-stemmed annuals and perennials make the best cut flowers. Include some foliage plants for texture and color in arrangements and floral bouquets.

Your local university extension office can give you a list tailored for your location, but here’s a brief list of flowers that I have found to work well here in Wisconsin.

Annuals: zinnia, cosmos, small sunflower, larkspur, calendula, pansies, statice, sweet pea, scabiosa, baby’s breath, strawflower, celosia, dianthus

Perennials: black-eyed Susan, yarrow, coneflower, huechera, delphinium, Russian sage, Shasta daily, foxglove, asters, and mums.

Foliage: hostas, artemisia (silver-leafed varieties), coleus, lavender, dusty miller, and lamb's ears.

In case you might be interested, here's a list of flowers that press well.

Flowers in the Home: Centerpieces and Place Settings

Note: This series on flower arranging was originally posted by Elizabeth of Elizabeth's flowers. See her blog and web site for more great ideas!

Today’s “Flowers in the Home” Installment features a random list of centerpiece and place setting ideas. If you have an idea of your own, please feel free to share it with us!

Table Centerpieces

- should basically be fragrance free
- relatively short: below each person’s eye level
- should not to be too expansive – to avoid overcrowding the table.

A few ideas:

- Seasonal fruit or vegetables, or even large seed pods, in a decorative bowl: there can be a colorful variety of items, or a monochromatic look (i.e. a bowlful of lemons) is even more dramatic. For something really different, try some of the new and interesting winter squash varieties seen at your local farmer’s market.

- A series of small bouquets in unusual containers, going down the middle of the table, such as cans (see above picture) or tea cups.

- a basket of dried flowers, arranged as a bouquet, or with long stems tied together, lying in the basket.

- a clear glass bowl, with several flower blossoms floating on top.

- a large handful of dried grasses or grains, cut the same length, about 8”-10”and tied together with a decorative ribbon. If you twist the stems in the same direction before tying them, they kind of flare out like a fan and should stand up on their own.

Individual Place Setting Embellishments:

By placing individual vases or place cards at every plate, you help each person feel welcome and valued.

- Pick up some inexpensive glass votive candle holders from the dollar store, and place a single elegant flower in each “personal vase”. Or, an ivy sprig, or several colorful hosta or heuchera leaves.

- Create individual place cards. For each person, fold a small white index card in half, write their name on the card, and embellish with a pressed flower . If you need a really good flower press, you can find one here, or here. (Shameless plug).

- In the fall, press large, colorful leaves in a phone book about a week or so before you need them (or use the flower press mentioned above). Once pressed, write each person’s name on the leave with a good quality gold, bronze, or copper metallic marker, and place a leaf on each person’s plate. This was a big hit at our house last year at Thanksgiving. By the way, pressed leaves also look nice discreetly taped on a mirror in the entrance way, or on a front door window.

- Finally, browse through Better Homes and Gardens, or a similar women’s magazine. They are loaded with examples of centerpieces – even the advertisements!

Flowers in the Home

(Note: This series on Flower Arranging was originally written by Elizabeth of Elizabeth's flowers. Please note that there were two teachers in the original Finishing School lineup: myself and this author. Visit her wonderful blog for more ideas about flowers, homemade stationary, flower collages, etc. )

Yesterday we looked at making table centerpieces, and today in our “Flowers in the Home” series we will look at ways to bring flowers/plants into other areas of our home.

Although it’s not a flower, one of my favorite ways to bring “the outside in” is with ivy –it’s almost indispensable. I have a regular, common ivy plant, as well as a variegated type, and one with larger heart shaped leaves, and use them all through out my house. Since ivy cuttings can survive for months in water, I place cuttings in decorative glass bottles or small vases and place them anywhere a touch of green freshness is needed, such as in the bathroom, on my computer desk, in my studio, and even in a gloomy corner of a large bookshelf. Once a cutting develop a copious amount of roots, pot it up (and give it to a friend), toss it in the compost pile, or in the spring, they can be added to your container plantings.

Another beneficial plant (with flowers this time) is the scented geranium (see above picture). They can be somewhat difficult to find, and a little pricey, but worth every penny. There are many varieties, but the rose scented varieties are among the best. Place one on the front step, or anywhere someone can brush against it and release its wonderful scent as they pass by. The leaves can be dried and used in potpourri, or pressed and used to scent stationary.

This is kind of off today’s topic, but I also wanted to mention a few strategies to use when buying flowers from the florist, since many of us aren’t blessed with flowers in our gardens year round. The most important thing I’ve learned is this: make friends with your local florist! Florists often have to guess the needs of their customers at any given point in time, and often times they have too much of this, or that. Once your florist gets to know you, they likely will be willing to give you special deals on their extra flowers.

When buying flowers from the florist, carnations are always a smart buy. If the water is changed at least every other day, and you occasionally re-cut the bottom of their stems at an angle, they will last up to 3 weeks. Also, don’t overlook foliage. I bought some large pieces of “silver leaf” eucalyptus from my florist last winter, and it lasted well over two months – and it looked very dramatic in my entrance way.

Finally, edit your bouquets as needed. As one type of flower fades, replace them with other flowers, or remove them and place the remaining flowers in a smaller vase – it will look like you have a brand new bouquet!

Tomorrow: Fragrant Herbal Arrangements

Flower Arranging:

Here’s one last short but sweet entry today for the “Flowers in the Home” series: Herbal Arrangements.

I grew herbs in my garden for years, but rarely used them. Often times I would be just about done preparing a meal when I realized that I could have put some basil in this, or thyme in that, or chives on this. A few years ago, I came upon an article in a magazine which had pictures of small bowls of snipped herb bouquets – they were adorable, and I immediately made one of my own. The whole point of the article was that if you keep a fresh herb bouquet in your kitchen, not only does it look inviting, you will be much more likely to incorporate herbs into your cooking.

Here’s how to do it:

* Select a colorful variety of herbs: basil, oregano, a bit of sage, thyme, chives, and any other herb that’s that you might have. If you grow nasturtiums, their edible flowers would add a wonderful burst of color. If you don’t have your own herbs, fresh herbs from the produce department, or farmer’s market will do just fine.

* Wash the herbs well, and gently shake off the excess water.

* Select a small bowl, add cool water and place the herbs inside. A vase could also be used, but it is easier to gently tug a sprig or two of herbs from a loose arrangement in a bowl, than a tighter arrangement from a vase.

* Keep the bowl on your kitchen counter by day, and place it in the refrigerator at night. Change the water daily, and the herbs will stay fresh for days. Replace with new sprigs as needed. Don’t throw away old sprigs, put them in the garbage disposal enjoy their delightful scent.

Now, don’t forget to use them! I’m off to enjoy an omelet with fresh basil and chives.

It's been fun to be a part of the 2007 Finishing School this week. I'm grateful for the opportunity, and hope you've been inspired to bring more of God's beauty into your home.