Learn How to Arrange Flowers Like a Pro

Inspired by Fragonard's "The Progress of Love," at the Frick Collection, Chinese magnolias, anemones, amnesia, and mauve roses stand out in gold vessels.HC&G: How do you approach making bouquets for events?
Ron Wendt, principal, Ron Wendt Design: I try to figure out the story I want to tell. Is it a color story, or something more theme-based? Finding the essence to a party or an event is a necessary first step. For casual entertaining at home, I cut branches and flowers from the garden, like hydrangeas or Japanese andromeda. Even when I think I have nothing in the garden, I can find something. One time, for a Mexican dinner party, I clipped loads of red azaleas, which looked like Mexican paper flowers. Foliage and flowers cut from your garden will transcend anything you can buy from a florist or in a grocery store. And there is a lot to be said for using plant material that’s local.

Event planner Ron Wendt arranges the floral centerpiece for one of his parties.How do you begin making an arrangement?
I think in terms of shapes, textures, and color. Conifers or boxwood, for example, are surprisingly great in bouquets. And for one event last year, I paired some lavender-pink Yves Piaget roses with rhododendrons that have a blush-y bronze foliage. Only later did I realize that the roses were the same color as the blossoms on the rhododendrons. It was a beautiful combination that Mother Nature had already created.

What else is crucial?
Always have a wide variety of vases on hand, since every flower needs the right vessel to make it sing. A collection of bud vases or small spherical vases will show off single flowers well. My clivia just bloomed recently, so I floated the flowers in parfait cups, which highlighted the structure of the individual blossoms.

What can you do with a more common flower, like dahlias?
Well, I don’t think you can ever get enough of them—they’re incredible! Be sure to place them in weighty bud vases so that they don’t topple over. If you are filling a room with them, I suggest using tall vases in multiple sizes, positioned individually or clustered together for maximum effect. Dahlias have a velvety texture not typically found in late summer, and I love their light, astringent scent. My current favorite is called ‘Café au Lait’—it’s out of this world.

Instead of mixing red, white and blue blooms, Ron Wendt suggests using red flowers against a blue backdrop for a patriotic event.And sunflowers?
I love teddy-bear sunflowers—the double ones without the center eye. They’re like a sunflower wanting to be a dahlia! If you are going to do a big bunch and want to rein them in, use raffia to tie them together. If you aren’t happy with the direction they’re facing, then turn them to the sun and they’ll move in that direction, even though they have already been cut. Trust me, they’ll thank you for it.

A version of this article appeared in the July 15, 2016 issue of HC&G (Hamptons Cottages & Gardens) with the headline: Garden Party.