Easy and stylish Flower Arranging

10 do’s and don’ts to flowers.

Stylists aren’t florists.

Nay. So while i have arranged or styled 100′s and 100′s of flowers i don’t pretend to be amazing at it, and i certainly don’t know all the names of flowers that a florist does.

But i am pretty good and I do know the do’s and don’ts to easy, affordable and STYLISH flower arrangements. It’s actually WAY easier than you think it is and the more you try to look like a florist and stress over it, the less pretty it often is.

It’s like putting makeup and a Hannah Montana midrift on Joan Rivers – She ain’t getting any younger, so trying hard for perfection will only result in tackiness.

#flower arrangement

1.  If you wouldn’t wear the colors together then don’t arrange them together.  Stick to a consistent color palette that is in fashion and they will most likely look great together. Choose 3 colors for an easy combination (think two main colors and 1 accent color).   Or do many shades of the same color and keep it tonal.

Because this is not working:

Chances are that you wouldn’t wear orange, yellow, dark green, chartreuse, purple, coral and red together, so don’t arrange them together.  Color trends actually last a lot longer than style trends, so don’t worry about it being out of fashion in a couple years – you have 10-12 years before your flower photos will look dated and at that point your fashion will possibly look dated anyway so don’t even worry about it.

peonies with a beautiful background

That’s in fashion. And that’s a great arrangement. Hot pink, white, small hits of yellow and green.

From a wedding i 'art directed'.  Garden roses, dahlias and berries. And yes, i said 'art directed' because i didn't actually do the labor, just conceptualized it and over saw it.

And that’s a wedding (my best friend’s) that i art directed (and Chelsea from Frolic did the flowers) while Lisa Waringer took the photos.

2. Do buy larger quantities of a 1-3 different flowers (or different colors of the same flowers, or the same color of different flowers) instead of a 5 stems of 10 different flowers UNLESS you know what you are doing.

A florist can arrange flowers (sometimes), but in general if you don’t know what you are doing it can look either super messy or really forced.

When in doubt think quantity, you can’t go wrong with multiples of the same thing.  Keep it simple.

3. Do mix textures, sizes and shapes WITHIN that color palette.  The less contrast you have the less natural it looks (think how cheesy bright red closed roses can look).  Flowers (like people) don’t grow all the same size and shape  so you need a variety of ‘finishes’ in order for it to look organic.


tonal pink colors


This is slightly more advanced, so when in doubt just stick to this next rule:

4. Do buy open AND closed flowers. Open flowers are more beautiful clearly, because they have more shape and texture, but an ‘only open’ arrangement can look fake.

As much as i love this room, those flowers don’t look real because there is no greenery, they are all the same shape and size and they are crammed in there.

Peonies, but all the same shape and size

I just want to grab them and shake them to mess them up a bit.

Apple Box Boutique Inc.: Well Arranged (styling by Selina Lake)

Instead mix in some closed flowers so it looks more natural.

via design sponge.  different sizes and variations of flowers together.

I had a client before (at the beginning of my career) that said ‘wow are those real? they are so beautiful’ and that’s not a good thing.

5. Do create an organic shape.

Flower arrangement

Don’t create a dome.

Flowers don’t grow in dome like shapes. A happy flower grows organically and wild so why would you then FORCE them into (robot voice) perfect shapes that have no variation or interest.  You want the whole arrangement to be balanced but not perfectly symmetrical.

Now on to the ‘what to buy that’s cheap and easy‘ section.

6. DO buy weeds/wildflowers:  Queen Annes Lace and, Bouganvillea for instance, are by far the cheapest and easiest things to buy – OR CLIP.

weedy and pretty


A bucket full of Queen annes lace can be around $10.  And its just so beautiful. Whereas a buck full of closed red roses (again never buy unless they are garden roses) can be $100.  Don’t be a snob – wild flowers are totally beautiful (although they don’t last long – just a few days at most) and so cheap so don’t forget about them just because they are everywhere.

7. DO clip branches from your back yard. Branches are even cheaper and easier than weeds and they last a lot longer.  Your trees need pruning anyway.  So go outside with your clippers and clip away. They can make massive impact on a very small budget.

magnolia branches

huge branches

statement branches

8. Do buy some deli/supermarket flowers but be careful.  When i’m in a pinch i have my go-to’s that i know i can ask assistants to buy at the closest store.  Bells of Ireland, Casablanca lilies, tulips and OPEN white or pink roses.

Bells of Ireland:


French pink tulips

via SFgirlbybay

Casablanca lilies:

Are they my favorite flowers? Nope. But for supermarket flowers they are good, cheap, easy to style and smell great.  So when you are desperate, get these instead of roses.

9. AVOID buying gerbera daisies unless its for a little girls party, or closed red roses unless you are ‘The most interesting man in America’, because i’m pretty sure he could pull it off, but no one else can. These two flowers have become so mass market and unnatural that it would be like catering your party with McDonalds Restaurant – could be fun in an ironic way but most likely its gonna look trashy.

10. Ask florists for their ‘discounted’ flowers. These are the ones they can’t sell at full price because they will only last a couple days because yes, they are old.  But for a  photo shoot or a day-of party? they are perfect.  They normally have them in the back, but be tactful how you ask for them. Tell them you were hoping for open flowers (for a party) and wondered if they had any – don’t ask for the cheap flowers they have behind the desk.

Other good secrets:

- if you want to open flowers faster (say, for a shoot) use a hair dryer on low and point at the buds, and then put them in warm water.

- if you love roses but don’t want them to look generic, then order ‘garden roses’ because they are way more ‘petal-y’ than normal long stem roses. I’m actually a fan of spray roses mixed in with garden roses (those are the really small roses, normally a few on each stem).  Garden roses can be more beautiful than even peonies or renunculus, but they are only in season a few months out of the year (spring in Oregon).

- Don’t cover up the stems in the vases with big leaves. This looks totally forced and weird. If you hate stems that much then don’t use glass vessels, but otherwise stems are part of the flowers, too. Just remove all leaves below the water level so they don’t rot and smell.

- Don’t put flowers in marbles, rocks or anything that acts like that UNLESS you can’t see them because the vase isn’t clear.

- Orchids are only pretty when they are blooming. I personally like them the best in a kitchen or bathroom. They can get super ubiquitous really fast so don’t go overboard.  (they are also mass manufactured so look for more unique ones).

- Baby’s breath is only cheesy when mixed with red roses (or other cheesy flowers). Have you seen baby’s breath up close? ITS MINIATURE ROSES!!!!! sooooo cute. Baby’s breath in huge quantities is beautiful and airy and chic.  A la:

babys breath

Baby Breath poufs.

I could go on and on and on.  But ultimately here’s what you should remember – flowers are like beautiful people – the more you try and make them perfect the less beautiful they actually are. You want them to look natural. You want them to look like they just came from a field and were all naturally just growing and kicking it together.

If you force perfection you risk the chance of ruining them.  If you take off their leaves, their shriveling edges and cover up their stems then you might as well airbrush Anna Paquin’s spaced front teeth together, tan Kate Winslet’s skin and straighten Katie Holmes crooked smile.

But that is so less interesting.


  1. Ok, LOVE this post. Insanely helpful!

  2. Love these tips!! Although I have never been good at arranging branches. They look so effortless, but when I do it, they are lopsided and messy. What is the trick?

  3. Lovely post. I love flowers.

  4. linda

    Fabulous post, better than most books on the subject. I also love mixing in herbs and seed pods. Love in the Mist's seed pod is one of the most beautiful, as well as rose hips.

  5. Ok – huge fan of this post. I want to puke whenever I see Gerber Daisies. Love the branches. Love the peonies. Love the baby's breath. Love it all. :)

  6. Thank you! I will be doing the flowers myself for our "garden party" wedding and I was looking for some guidelines. I had a general idea of what I was looking for, but it's helpful to have some rules to guide me.

  7. Thanks for the tips! I always end up using a bunch of the same flower type or same color. I don't know why, but I never mix up colors when it comes to flowers. I might give it a try now.

  8. Wow, I really learned a lot from this post. Thanks!

  9. Cassi

    THANK YOU so much for posting this, I got married in march and had to convince the florist to make the flowers less dome shaped and more natural. I love what you said about gerber daisies too.

  10. Loved these tips and your photos. I often tell my painting students the same thing, 'would you wear a pink dress and brown shoes?' Like all the lucscious paint tube colors and flowers available, it's hard to have the discipline to keep h a r m o n y in mind!

  11. Callie

    Super helpful tips, thank you! The people analogy really drove your point home. Okay I'm skipping ahead but I can't help it…….I'm on the edge of my seat to read your thoughts on tonight's DS episode! I'm shocked (okay maybe a little outraged too) they sent Hilari home. I was sure beyond a shadow of a doubt that she would be safe and ultimately take home the win next week. And what's this about not giving enough helpful info??! Can't that easily be learned or improved upon with practice, where as personality can't be bought?!! Her design style might differ from my tastes, but I guarantee you I would have watched her show for her personality and sense of humor alone! I thought her and Britani's room and camera challenges were head over heals Danielle's (I can't figure out what they see in her?? but I have a sinking feeling the judges will select her next week b/c they've been so critical of Britani's camera challenges). Oh well. What do I know. Anxious to hear what you think…..Do tell. Did you pause it and shout, WHAT???!! Or did you want to throw your remote across the room like me? haha

  12. Thank you for sharing your tips!

    p.s. I picked Danielle to win the first week, BUT, Hilary has clearly became the best person for the camera AND design. She is the only one who can do both so easily. I am super glad I am not the judge!!! I cannot wait for next Tuesday!! Watching last night reminded me of your glass room challenge…it was EXCEPTIONAL!!!

  13. Chana

    Emily, emily, emily…. you are beyond words. I just finished watching new episode of Secrets from a stylist, "Modern effortless romance" a bedroom for the star from drop dead diva. You bring tears to my eyes, you are so talented. The color combination was so serene and beautiful, I felt like a taking a deep breath every time I saw that room. I graduated from the Art Institute in December after studying Interior Design and in January had my first baby, girl :)
    Watching your show gives me so much joy and inspiration to start designing and creating. I love everything about your style you are the mos talented person on the earth,
    I would PAY YOU to work for you i would literally give you money to fetch you coffees. You should walk around feeling like a rockstar with this effortless talent oozing out of you because thats what you are, a total kick ass rock star
    i love watching your show.

  14. Cassy

    Who knew baby's breath could look so beautiful? Thanks for that! Haven't thought about those flowers since they were stuck inside my french braid in a wedding in 1990.

  15. Kari

    Love this post – you break down the how-to in such an easy to follow way. Happy day! We will all enjoy better floral displays because of your post. Thanks! :)

  16. Jessi

    If I see another clear vase full of rocks or with leaves stuffed in them…I'm gonna hurl. THANK YOU for calling those out! Great tips!

  17. Love this post of course! You are one of the few people I know who totally gets it! Thanks for the shout out, too.

    Not to be totally annoying but could you please credit photos 14 and 16. Those are both my flower arrangements that I photographed. http://www.frolic-blog.com/frolic/2010/06/summer-flowers.html http://www.frolic-blog.com/frolic/2011/11/fall-wildflower-bouquet.html Thanks!! If I somehow overlooked the credit, apologies! I couldn't find it in the post.

    Thanks, Emily! Hope all is well!

  18. Her design style might differ from my tastes, but I guarantee you I would have watched her show for her personality and sense of humor alone! I thought her and Britani's room and camera challenges were head over heals Danielle's (I can't figure out what they see in her?? but I have a sinking feeling the judges will select her next week b/c they've been so critical of Britani's camera challenges).

  19. Esto se ve absolutamente perfecto.Todos estos detalles débil están hechos con mucho conocimiento de fondo.Me gusta mucho.Este fue un post útil y creo que es bastante fácil ver desde los otros comentarios, así que este post está bien escrito y útil.

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