Is there anything that can transform a moment as instantly as a fresh flower arrangement? Their color and aliveness, their fragrance, their movement, their ability to attract the eye, and the pleasure they give make them nearly miraculous.
I return to some arrangements again and again, but use seasonal flowers and inspired accents to create something unique each time. One of those is a compote flower arrangement. A compote is a raised bowl that lends itself well to lush table decorations because the footed base lifts the flowers toward eye level without blocking a guest’s view. The wide bowl allows for fullness, letting the flowers relax into their natural postures, sometimes spilling onto the table. The wide opening also means you can build a complex arrangement that appears to float horizontally. Vines wrapped around the pedestal can add a touch of whimsy.
Our grandmothers used these footed bowls for fruit and nuts, but they’re actually the perfect vessels for holding flowers. On dining tables, branches can reach out horizontally, so even small compotes can make a large impact. Because the bowls are wide, compotes welcome bodacious flowers on short stems that drape over the edge of the bowl. In fact, the best compote arrangements let flowers and vines swoop down to — and even touch — the tabletop.
Ceramic, silver-plated, glass, pottery, and pewter footed bowls can be found in department and housewares stores as well as at flea markets and floral supply houses. Choose the material based on the style of your arrangement and where you plan to put it. Terra cotta fits a rustic outdoor setting, burnished silver glows at a formal occasion, and porcelain is so versatile it can work well in either.
Use these steps as guidelines to build your own compote floral arrangements.
1. Attach a pin frog to the center of the compote with floral putty. Fill the bowl 3/4 full with water. You can place your compote on a Lazy Susan so you can turn the arrangement and view it from every angle.
2. Remove the lower leaves from branches. Clip so they’re 1- 1/2 to 2 times the height of the compote. Cut an X in the bottom of each stem. If the compote will be displayed against a wall, one branch should stand upright and the others should be positioned to the right or left to form the base layer. If the compote will be on a dining table and viewable from both sides, the branches should be horizontal, arching outward over the compote.
3. If you have more than one type of branch, trim and clip the other branches and intersperse them among or on top of the first branches.
4. Trim and add the foliage, filling in between the branches.
5. Build the arrangement from the outside in, trimming and adding flowers, starting with the largest blooms.
6. A variety of stems should be trimmed short so they sink into the compote or hang over the edge. This is a horizontal arrangement so you don’t want much height.
7. Trim and add most of the vines, wrapping some through the flowers and winding others down and around the foot of the compote.
8. Trim and add the focal flowers. If this is a table arrangement, position them on both sides. Focal flowers should either hang over the compote or stand out from the arrangement.
9. Wrap more vines into and around the compote.
10. Step back and observe the compote. Look for spots that would benefit from a few more flowers.
You can use the following materials list and instructions to make a floral compote like the one pictured in the slideshow.
In autumn, shrubs harvested in spring for their blossoms deliver a different kind of beauty — leaves ranging from red-brown to purple to rusty orange. They find no better companions than a host of giant dahlias (Dahlia spp.) in sunset colors. Dahlias start blooming in late July and can be harvested through October if the frost doesn’t bite. They come in a variety of sizes and are easy to grow in the garden. Autumn also offers unusual flowers, none more interesting than the prehistoric-looking spiky blooms of the castor bean (Ricinus communis). Dogwood (Cornus florida) produces green-going-to-red fruits, and Russian olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia) delivers delightful red berries. Last but not least, the pods of love in a puff (Cardiospermum halicacabum), resembling little chartreuse lanterns, float throughout the arrangement.
Alternate flowers. In summer, you can substitute peonies or roses for dahlias, proteas or pink alliums for castor bean flowers, and use sweet pea vines to replace love in a puff. You can add copper beech branches.
If your ceramic compote is porous and can’t hold water, place a waterproof container inside. Anchor a pin frog in the waterproof container with floral putty. Fill the container ¾ full with water. Add balled-up newspaper between the waterproof container and the inner sides of the compote to hold the container steady. Cover the newspaper with moss.
Trim the hydrangea branches and cut an X in the bottom of each. Anchor them so they extend horizontally over the edge of the compote. Trim the castor bean flowers and place them next to the hydrangea, repeating the horizontal placement.
Trim the dogwood and Viburnum branches and cut an X in the bottom of each. Place them so they arch out on either side of the arrangement, creating a horizontal structure. Trim and add 8 olive branches, turning some so the backs of the leaves show. All of these branches act as a base layer for the flowers.
Trim and anchor the Clematis vines to the pin frog. Wind them through the branches and circle them below the compote. Trim the love in a puff stems. Anchor them to the frog and wind them through the branches. Arch them down in front of the compote so the green “puffs” dangle from the arrangement.
Trim all the dahlias and remove most of the leaves. Some of the blossoms should sit low in the compote. The stems of these can be cut as short as 3 to 4 inches. Some dahlias should be anchored to overhang the edge of the compote. Use dahlias with longer stems to fill the center of the compote.
Trim fruit from the remaining branches of Russian olive and intersperse them among the dahlias. Your floral compote is now complete!
This excerpt is reprinted with permission from Chezar’s The Flower Workshop with Julie Michaels, copyright 2016, published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.
Author Ariella Chezar has created designs for many events, including Christmas at the White House.
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