Flower Arranging in The French Style

I recently had the privilege of attending a presentation by Laura Dowling on arranging flowers in the French style. Laura was the Chief Floral Designer at the White House from 2009 to 2015. Her arrangements were inspiring, and the use of the materials was inventive and beautiful. She attended floral design schools in both Paris and Germany and has continued to pursue new techniques. She has also authored several books on flower arranging in the French style, featuring her design work at the White House. Laura shared her stories of working in the White House and other major events where she designed flower arrangements to create a magical background. Those two and a half hours encouraged me to think outside the box to create beautiful flower arrangements.

Laura Dowling was the Chief Floral Designer at the White House from 2009 to 2015

Laura Dowling was the Chief Floral Designer at the White House from 2009 to 2015
Barbara H. Smith, ©2022 HGIC, Clemson University

Laura recommended changing the water daily to make your arrangement last longer. The need for floral frogs or a huge chunk of oasis isn’t necessary as the French style uses the structure of the foliage and flowers to hold everything in place. She stated, “the key is to build element upon element, incorporating various layers of depth and meaning to create a cohesive concept.” Flowers should be conditioned by cutting the stems at a 45-degree angle and keeping the stems submerged in water for a couple of hours before arranging. Always strip off any leaves that would be below the water line to prevent bacteria buildup. Everything should be clean to make your arrangement last longer—the vase, clean water, and clean tools. Be sure to keep your arrangement out of direct sunlight and drafts. Depending on what you use in your arrangement, it should last around 5 to 7 days.

The French style of flowering arranging is a classic technique using round flowers accented by textural elements.

The French style of flowering arranging is a classic technique using round flowers accented by textural elements.
Barbara H. Smith, ©2022 HGIC, Clemson University

Laura’s demonstration inspired me to try some of the key elements of the French style of floral arranging by creating one-of-a-kind containers. For example, use a plastic floral bucket and wrap raffia covered floral wire around the middle of the bucket. Then insert leaves to cover the pot.

Ms. Dowling ran a floral wire around a plastic floral bucket, then inserted autumn leaf branches to cover the container. This created another textural element to her design.

Ms. Dowling ran a floral wire around a plastic floral bucket, then inserted autumn leaf branches to cover the container. This created another textural element to her design.
Barbara H. Smith, ©2022 HGIC, Clemson University

Another option is to hot glue craft paper to a container, then hot glue the moss to the pot to add a woodsy effect to the arrangement.

Another option is to hot glue craft paper to a container, then hot glue the moss to the pot to add a woodsy effect to the arrangement.
Barbara H. Smith, ©2022 HGIC, Clemson University

Create fascinating ‘moss balls’ by wiring a handful of moss onto a floral pick. This technique adds another texture layer to the arrangement.

Create fascinating ‘moss balls’ by wiring a handful of moss onto a floral pick.

Create fascinating ‘moss balls’ by wiring a handful of moss onto a floral pick.
Barbara H. Smith, ©2022 HGIC, Clemson University

Also, incorporating feathers, seed pods or heads, pinecones, berries, and other items found in the landscape will add another interesting layer to the design. Faux butterflies or insects will add a touch of whimsy. Your imagination can be limitless.

I realized that the way I’ve always arranged flowers has been similar to the French style, but on a much smaller scale, using botanicals from my landscape along with flowers purchased from my favorite grocery store. I call my technique “Down-home Southern French country style.” Anyone can do this by looking around the landscape to see what you can corporate into your design. After choosing your flowers and foliage, the next step is to decide what container to use. You may have your great-grandmother’s cutglass vase, a collection of handmade pottery, or simple vases you purchased at a craft store.

This is an arrangement I made from materials gathered from my own garden.

This is an arrangement I made from materials gathered from my own garden.
Barbara H. Smith, ©2022 HGIC, Clemson University

The holiday season is just around the corner. Take a look at what is in your garden or available at your local grocery store or farmer’s market. By designing a beautiful centerpiece, you will impress your family and friends. Plus, you’ll have a great time creating it.

In the coming weeks, I will share more information on making moss balls and how I created a fall arrangement using flowers and foliage from my garden.

If this document didn’t answer your questions, please contact HGIC at hgic@clemson.edu or 1-888-656-9988.

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