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SUPER-EASY FLOWER ARRANGEMENTS: French Marigolds; Yellow Solidago; Olive Tree Trimmings

My Grandmother’s passion was flower arranging, and she was really good at it. Her particular interest was in ikebana, or Japanese flower arrangement. Ikebana is a disciplined art which emphasizes minimalism, structure and space, and incorporates seasonality and the symbolism of floral materials into the composition. Whew! Beautiful, but that is waaayy too much work for me!

As a kid, I loved digging through her cupboard of flower stuff: vases, plates, flower frogs and tape, pieces of wood, rocks, dried pods. She’d let me pick out a vase and a few stems from her garden and help me arrange them. Every summer she entered her own arrangements in the Santa Clara County Fair, and she won tons of ribbons—mostly blue.

My Grandmother passed her love of flowers on to me, but unfortunately, not her talent! While we always have vases of fresh flowers in our home, I take a more relaxed (lazier?) approach to arranging them. I prefer a mass of blooms or greenery, often of just one type, artlessly arranged. For me, the beauty and impact are in the simplicity of the arrangement: the color and shape of the flowers, the texture of the leaves, and the fragrance.

Around here, the best place to get flowers is at the Farmers’ Market. Every week I buy a couple bunches there. While my favorite vendor carries the usual standbys—roses, lilies, sunflowers, gladiolas, chrysanthemums, he also offers interesting, seasonal items and lots of filler greenery like eucalyptus and chamomile. This past spring and summer, he often had beautiful proteas, sweet peas, irises, unusual tulips, hydrangeas or peonies.

Last weekend I spotted the French Marigolds pictured above. These are so gorgeous! With their long stems, open, almost ferny foliage and fall colors, they coordinate perfectly with the orange throw pillows on our couch and make a dramatic arrangement in a big vase on the living room coffee table.

At the same time I also bought a bunch of Yellow Solidago. Florists often use spikes of this feathery plant as a filler in bouquets, but I just trimmed the stems and plopped them into a mustard-colored vase on the kitchen table. It’s simple, cheerful and seasonal.

In February we planted two new olive trees in our courtyard. They’re growing like gang-busters, and to keep them somewhat in check (without ruining the overall shape) I’ve been very lightly pruning them. Each time I take a few of the olive trimmings and put them into vases. The gray-green foliage, with its narrow leaves and open branch pattern looks especially cool in a round sculptural vase.


-There’s lots of places to get nice floral material without breaking the bank at the local florist. Try your garden, the grocery store, or ok, I’ve been known to help myself to a few small branches off my neighbor’s trees occasionally (oops, my bad!).

-Keep your eyes peeled for interesting containers. Find them at garden, specialty and antique stores, garage and estate sales.

-To make your flowers last longer, strip the bottom leaves off and trim each stem before arranging them. Every few days, re-trim the stems and refresh the water. If I do this I find many will last 1 ½ -2 weeks.

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