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Living art: Floral arrangements beautify indoor spaces

Tulips arranged by Abbey Malheim from Hornbacher's southwest add a pop of spring color to a room. (Carrie Snyder / The Forum)1 / 2
A spring floral arrangement made by Kimberly Hess of Prairie Petals adds a pop of color to a room. (Carrie Snyder / The Forum)2 / 2

FARGO -- Floral designer Abbey Malheim prefers living art for indoor spaces.

"Flowers are just that little added touch," she says. "When you see a well-done arrangement, it's got impact."

Floral arrangements add beauty to the spaces they occupy, oxygenate the air, help you think, appeal to the senses and create a focal point, says the Hornbacher's Village West floral designer.

With some guidelines from experts, anyone can create a simple floral arrangement to spruce up their space, Malheim says.

"I don't think of myself as creative, I just let the flowers do the work," she says.

She likes to incorporate less conventional flowers into arrangements to create an earthy, modern feel. While daisies and daffodils are common spring flower choices, and great ones at that, Malheim says that choosing other flowers can be exciting and look just as springy.

She favors solidago, a wild, bright yellow flower commonly called "goldenrod," chamelaucium (wax flower) for its lemony-herb scent, lawn-colored green trick dianthus, elegant peonies and fragrant lilacs, among others. She also likes a clean and simple arrangement of tulips for a quintessential spring look.

Floral designer Kimberly Hess of Prairie Petals always thinks outside the box when she's arranging flowers, greens and herbs. Her store's arrangements are known for their eclectic, no-rules, rustic look.

For spring, she likes to pair white daisies with "something green."

"The green makes daisies be all that they can be," Hess says.

She suggests red-orange pincushion protea, blue sea holly, an artful monstera leaf and Equisetum ("horsetail") for an unusual, colorful spring arrangement.

"Floral arrangements add depth, emotion and contrast to homes and spaces," Hess says. "You usually think of at least two of those things when you see an arrangement because it's not a solid, inanimate object."

While Hess says she breaks every rule when arranging flowers, she has suggestions for people who want to create pleasing arrangements for their homes. Malheim also shared her most useful tips for fashioning eye-catching arrangements that last.

The two women cover flower care tips, vase choice and guidelines for arranging.

Basic flower care tips

1. Transport safely.

Flowers need to be covered when temps are low, Hess says.

A plastic bag does the trick, but make sure the bag stays out of the sun and air flows freely.

Malheim adds that flowers and greens should also be kept away from extreme temperatures and smoky environments.

2. Cut smartly.

Malheim and Hess' No. 1 tip for healthy cut flowers is cutting them correctly.

Both women cut all flowers under water with sharp sheers. "You want the first breath that flower takes to be water, not air," Malheim says.

She recommends using a bowl of water in a sink and cutting off an inch to inch and a half using very sharp shears. "Dull tools shred the bottoms of the stems. You want a nice, clean cut so it takes up water," Malheim says.

3. Water should be acidified.

"All flowers like to drink acidified water," Hess says. "Vase life is all about encouraging flowers to take up water."

Use the flower food packets that come with the cut flowers or make your own. Hess combines one gallon of warm water with ¾ tablespoon of bleach, 2 tablespoons of sugar and ¼ teaspoon of citric acid.

Lukewarm water is best for flowers that have been out of water a long time, such as during a commute. "It's not such a shock to their system," Malheim says.

Colder water helps flowers stay tighter longer (think tulips), she says. She also fills vases about three-fourths full since properly cut flowers take up a lot of water.

Floral arrangement how-to

1. Choose an appropriate vase.

Hess is so passionate about vase choice that she once ordered gin and tonics on an airplane just so she could keep the pretty gin bottles for blooms.

She uses canning jars, old liquor bottles, tabasco bottles, bricks and other containers to house her arrangements.

Hess chooses vases that complement the shape of the stems she'll use.

It's also important to think of the height of flowers when choosing a vase, Malheim says.

Flowers should be about one and a half times the height of the vase. People often choose vases that are too large, either in height or width, she says.

2. Pick focal flowers and line flowers.

The focal flowers are the main attraction of an arrangement, Malheim says. Some common focal flowers are lilies, hydrangeas and roses. Line flowers are tall and make your eye move around, she says. Snap dragons are a common line flower.

Choosing flowers that will stabilize the focal flowers is a must, Hess says.

"You have to be able to hold the flower where it needs to be," she says. "After that, anything goes."

3. Keep it simple.

"Choose three or four flowers, and make the most of those," Hess says. "Otherwise, it becomes hard to see the beauty of each flower."

Malheim typically uses three to five different flowers.

4. Choose "filler" and greens wisely.

Whenever possible, Malheim and Hess steer clear of baby's breath, a common filler. Malheim leans toward Queen Anne's lace, solidago, wax flower and other "airy, garden-y type flowers."

Filler and greens shouldn't distract from the focal flowers, but rather complement them and stabilize the focal flowers, she says.

5. Remove foliage below water.

Hess and Malheim say that there should be no foliage below the water line. It can lead to bacteria buildup and mucky water, Malheim says.

6. Arrange the flowers in your hand, and gently place in the vase.

Some people may wish to bind the arrangement with garden string but simply dropping the flowers in the vase and filling in gaps with remaining flowers/greens is effective, Malheim says. She favors loose arrangements for spring.

7. Change the water once it looks murky.

Floral arrangements can last days or even weeks with proper care, Hess says.