Making the cut

Published 7:30 pm Thursday, August 5, 2010

Whether they’re wildflowers scooped up from the side of the road, a fistful of dandelions from a child or painstakingly arranged blooms in a heirloom vase, flowers bring a special touch to any room they’re in.

Whether its because a gardener doesn’t know to start in bringing the outdoor beauties inside or because the Virginia sun has wilted all the blooms this summer, there are some handy tips to be learned from the experts.

“It’s not for every occasion, but cutting and arranging your own flowers is a very affordable option — especially in a recession,” said Tim Johnson, owner of Johnson’s Gardens. “It’s the way things have been done for years. Flowers are beautiful outdoors, but you can enjoy them even more by bringing them indoors.”

Johnson’s Gardens, located off Route 58, has been a family-owned business since 1965. While Johnson acquired much of his skill from his parents, who opened the shop, and through reading, he also attended Virginia Tech University. Today, his wife, Helen, children and additional employees help maintain the nursery and assemble the flower arrangements.

“Putting arrangements together isn’t difficult, but you do have to have an eye for it,” Johnson said. “For some reason, people don’t often cut the flowers in their gardens — but there are probably people who haven’t done it and can.”

If you find yourself staring at your garden, but don’t know where to start, Johnson said not to rule anything out.

You can use almost anything in the garden, from branches to foliage to berries.

“They add dimension to an arrangement,” Helen Johnson said.

Favorites branches of theirs are river birch, corkscrew willow, contorted filbert and contorted mulberry branches.

“We use branches in a lot of our arrangements,” Johnson said. “Especially in this heat, they make a great addition. Putting a single hydrangea bloom at the base of a bunch of branches is a very simplistic arrangement that looks great.”

Some top foliage picks are ferns, fatsia, pittosporum and tropical plants.

Favorite flowers this summer that may have held up in the heat are hydrangeas, magnolias, sunflowers, camellias and zinnias.

When you decide to bring flowers indoors, there are a few things to keep in mind.

“You only want to cut the flowers in the morning or in the evening, otherwise the sun stresses them out too much, and they won’t last long,” Johnson said. “Also, don’t cut them when they look their best. You want them just a few days before they peak. They’ll last longer.”

Once cut, the flower is dead, but there are a few tricks of the trade to keep them blooming as long as possible.

Cutting stems under the water and at a severe angle to expose as much of the inside of the stem to the water as possible can help prolong the bloom, Johnson said.

If it has a woodier stem, however, grab a hammer and smash the bottom.

“It creates more of an area for the water to be absorbed,” Johnson said.

Arrangements can be made in any size and shape and in any container.

“Anything that holds water can be a vase,” Johnson said. “The shape really depends on what you’re using it for. If it’s on a table, you want it lower and longer. If it’s going by a mirror, you want it taller and more three-dimensional. But you can even just gather a bunch of wild flowers, group then on the bunch and they make a lovely arrangement. It doesn’t have to be complicated.”

Once you have the flowers in the water, one of the best things to help extended their life is to change their water.

“Change your water every two to three days to keep it free from bacteria,” Johnson said. “Even when you’re putting them in, you want to trim as much green off of the stems as possible because it’ll introduce bacteria to the water.”

Adding a few drops of bleach to the water can also help.

“Sometimes we add a few drops to kill the bacteria,” Johnson said. “But you want to be careful — you don’t want to fade the stems.”

Proper upkeep can keep your flowers alive for 10 days, Johnson said.

If the flowers start to wilt, Johnson said to take the flower out, submerge it in water for a few minutes and it may come back to life.

“It’s really not as hard as some people might think,” Johnson said. “Start simple.”

When in doubt, a fail-safe option to show off your blooms is to cut off the stem and set it in a container of water to float.

“We add glass marbles to the bottom of container, or a favorite is to submerge a hydrangea in the water and float a candle on the top of the water,” Johnson said.

“The options are endless. The more you work on it, the better you’ll get.”