Nothing brightens up a home like flowers, but a display can droop within days. Follow Ellie Tennant's tricks and techniques for keeping your blooms looking their best.
Keep your bouquets looking fresh and fantastic
Considering their perilous journey to the UAE, it's no wonder that fresh flowers tend to have a limited lifespan. Usually sourced in Ethiopia, China, Thailand or Kenya, most shop-bought flowers are transported here via large distribution companies in Holland.
Travelling thousands of miles in refrigerated containers can mean that they're often past their peak by the time they appear in your local florist's shop. But if you know how to choose the right blooms in the first place and how to care for them correctly once you get them home, you'll be able to enjoy your flowers for far longer than you might expect.
Flowers are generally expensive to buy, so it's well worth brushing up your knowledge so you won't need to replace them so frequently.
Before you buy
When choosing cut flowers for a long-lasting display, make sure that you don't buy flowers that are already at or just past their best. Don't be afraid to carefully study flowers before you buy them - as long as you are gentle, the florist won't mind and a close examination will ensure you select the best blooms with the longest lifespans.
Look at the petals to make sure they're not bruised or turning brown, and ensure that all leaves and stems are perky and not wilting.
The expert florist Rona Wheeldon advises: "If you're buying a bouquet or bunch of flowers and want it to last for a long time, don't choose flowers that are in full bloom, even though the ones that are out already might look lovely in the shop.
"Always make sure that at least one of the buds is opening up, so you know that the rest will follow suit."
When buying roses, she says, perform this test to make sure they're fresh: "Gently pinch the base of the rose, where the bloom meets the stem, with your finger and thumb. If it feels hard when you pinch it, the rose has been cut fairly recently. But if the base is soft, it's not so fresh and won't last long."
Look for flower varieties that are known for long lives. "Tropical flowers such as alstroemeria or anthuriums usually last a very long time," says Rona.
Don't dismiss long-lasting carnations and chrysanthemums: "They're coming back into fashion now, with gorgeous new colours widely available - and they last for ages."
Once you've bought fresh flowers, getting them home safely can be tricky.
Time your shopping that so picking up flowers is your last task of the day and you can take them straight home.
Always ask the florist to wrap them extra-carefully so that the fragile blooms are protected while you transport them.
Avoid direct sunlight at all times. Keep your flowers somewhere cool and shady if at all possible - ideally in a bucket of shallow water in an air-conditioned vehicle.
For larger bouquets and arrangements, use newspaper to wedge the base of the display in a bucket to prevent it from moving around. Flowers can bruise very easily.
Ensuring your flowers have the ideal conditions is the key to making them look lovely for longer.
First, make sure that your vase is spotlessly clean. "Imagine you're using the vase to drink water out of," says Rona. "Clean it with bleach to kill any bacteria, then rinse it thoroughly several times. You want a completely sterile container, since dirt and scum can clog plant cells. If they're blocked, the flowers can't drink water properly and will wilt sooner."
Cut the ends off stems with a very sharp pair of scissors or floristry secateurs. "Remove about an inch off the end of each stem and make sure you cut them at a slant. This not only increases the surface area for water absorption, but also prevents the stem from standing flat on the base of your vase, which would prevent it from drinking effectively," explains Rona. "Always split the ends of flowers that have woody stems such as hydrangeas or lilacs."
Pull off any leaves that would be below the water line in your vase, since they'll rot and encourage bacteria to grow.
"Some florists recommend dropping a Milton tablet in the vase, too," Rona says. "Usually used for sterilising baby feeding equipment, it can help to limit bacteria growth in the water and help to keep flowers fresh."
Fill the vase with clean, tepid water. "Put your finger in the water," advises Rona. "If you can't feel the water, it's the right temperature - not too hot and not too cold."
Place a sachet of flower food in the water and stir it vigorously to dissolve and disperse the particles. Packed with nutrients, flower food can increase the life of flowers by up to 50 per cent. It optimises water uptake, thus preventing "bent-neck" and keeping blooms looking healthier and more colourful for longer.
Putting sugar, aspirin or lemonade in vase water is rumoured to preserve flowers for longer. "A florist I worked with did use lemonade, but I'd stick to proper flower food for guaranteed results," Rona says.
Look after your flowers properly and they'll repay you with many more days of colour.
Make sure to position your display somewhere cool (but not too cold) and away from direct sunlight. Don't place flowers right next to a window or near a radiator. They won't stand a chance.
It sounds strange, but flowers are supersensitive to certain chemicals and you can easily harm them if you don't know what to be aware of. "Don't ever put your flowers near a bowl of fruit or vegetables," says Rona. "The ethylene produced can shorten their lifespans dramatically."
Change the water in your vase every two days and trim the stems again at the same time. "When you buy flowers, always ask your florist for extra sachets of flower food to use when you refresh the water."
Remove any fading blooms or foliage when you spot them and your display will instantly look revived.
Rona Wheeldon writes about flowers at http://flowerona.com/
Vase If you buy just one vase, make it a goldfish bowl shape. It’s the best type for holding a traditional -spiralled bouquet.
Grouping Collect plain glass bottles in various sizes and arrange them in a line. Trim your flower stems to different lengths, then place a single bloom in each bottle.
Odd numbers When buying flowers, always choose odd numbers of blooms – they look better than even arrangements.
Where to start When buying flowers individually, choose striking, show-stopper focal flowers first, such as roses, dahlias or hydrangeas. Next, mix in some accent flowers: smaller blooms like phlox or anemones. Finally, select some foliage to complement your arrangement.