How to Design a Summer Floral Arrangement for the Patio Table

outdoor_floralTable design is not limited to the indoor environment but instead adds another element to incorporate into the outdoor landscape. In the past, the style of the interiorscape was carried over into the outdoor design.  Today, either living environments can be different or the same.

When designing an arrangement for an outdoor table, a few things need to be considered.  First, the size of the table and its function needs to be evaluated.  Is the table small, such as an end table, or is large, dining type table?  Another consideration is the function of the table?  Are people going to be dining on it or just sitting drinks on it?   Also, consider the health issues of those who may be around the patio furniture.  Cut flowers still attract bees and this could be an issue for any guests that are allergic to bees.

Before cutting the flowers, decide on the shape and height of the container.  The type of container can be very formal in shape, such as an urn, or more informal in nature.  Informal containers include clay pots or plastic containers.  Always keep in mind though that the arrangement is going into an outdoor environment, so avoid glass vases.  Next, consider the scale of the project and how it will work with your outdoor environment. Are people going to have to look over the project or is it going to be so large that it interferes with the natural flow around the furniture.  An easy gauge to use with thinking about the arrangement design is that the height of the arrangement will be 2 ½ times the height of the container.

Once the container is chosen, the next step involves cleaning all the equipment that may touch the flowers.  This includes pruners, scissors, bucket, and container in warm soapy water.  Rinse all the items in clear water and rinse again with a bleach solution (1 cup full of bleach per gallon of water).  Let dry completely before moving on to the next step.

Before going out in the garden to pick the flowers or making a trip to the floral shop, fill the bucket ½ with bottled or purified water and preservatives.  Try not to use water out of the tap.  This water has chemicals that prevent the cut flowers from taking up water.  Let the water set for at least ½ hour to warm before moving on to the next step.

Now it is time to prepare the flowers before they are put into an arrangement.  This is a step that many people forget to do.  This time allows the flowers to take up water and preservative.  To begin this process, go out into the garden and cut the flowers at an angle from the plant and place in a basket or an empty bucket.  If the flowers are from a floral shop, move on to the next step.  Bring the flowers into the house or garden bench and place each stem underwater and cut straight across the stem.  Place the cut flowers in the bucket with the preservative and water.  Let the flowers set for six hours or overnight.

Some flowers need special treatment before they can be used in a floral arrangement.  Plants that have semi-woody stems, such as hydrangeas, clematis, helleborous, poppies or anything that oozes sap when cut will need a special treatment.  This treatment consists of cauterizing the stem to seal in the sap. Placing the stems in boiling water for several minutes or burning the stem with a candle will be enough to cauterize the stem.  If the stem does not seep sap, this technique is not needed but instead another approach is in order.  This technique consists of smashing the stem with a hammer.

Other plants release a sap that when released kills other plants.  This includes daffodils, narcissus, crocus, and hyacinth.  To prevent this from happening, place flowers in a separate bucket while they are taking up the first amount of preservative.

Some flowers like to be completely submerged in water during this first process.  These include roses, lilies, peonies, wilted violets, wild flowers, and tropical flowers.  Bathe these flowers in tepid water before placing them in the preservative solution.

Once flowers are being prepared for their container, the next step is to prepare the container.  This preparation will help the flowers to stand up in the container instead of lying to the side.  Many different items can be used to create this support.  This includes a floral frog, waterproof tape, chicken wire, or floral foam (oasis).

The easiest approach for an outdoor arrangement is the use of floral foam.  This foam is cut to fit inside the container and then soaked in the water and preservative solution.  Once the floral foam is completely saturated with the water solution, place in the container and secure it down with floral tape.  One strip going one way and another strip going in the opposite direction is all that is needed.

After the container has been prepped, it is time to have fun.  Arranging the flowers can be free form or very formal.  Pick one flower up at a time, measure the height compared to the container heights and recut the stem.  Then remove any leaves that may touch the water or foam and place the stem in the arrangement immediately after being cut.  If the flower is removed from the foam to reposition it, always make a fresh cut on the stem.  Continue this process until the arrangement is completed.

If the patio table is a table with an umbrella, this can pose a problem.  This problem consists of how to make an arrangement that will go around the pole of the umbrella.  The solution to this problem is no farther than the kitchen and that is a simple tube pan.  This pan will allow the umbrella to remain while being the container for a lovely floral arrangement.

To complete this project, follow the steps as above.  When the floral foam is placed in the tube pan, sculpt it so that it fits snugly into the container.  Then arrange as described above.  Using this type of container will help keep the scale down, so that the umbrella table can also become a dining table without any problems.

A few pointers to keep in mind when using live flowers for a floral design.  Change the water daily if using a vase and add water if using floral foam.  Remove any spent flowers from the design.  If flowers begin to droop, try to submerge them in water if the flower species likes this treatment.  If the flowers are tulips, try placing them in a separate container with a few pennies until they perk up.  When the dinner party or outdoor activity is complete, bring the arrangement into a cool environment.  This will help to extend the life of the arrangement.


Mindy McIntosh-Shetter has been an Agricultural Science educator, and is a horticulture and/or environmental blogger who earned a degree from Purdue University in Agriculture Education with a minor in biology, and natural resources. Presently she is finishing up her Masters in Environmental Education and Urban Planning for the University of Louisville while working on her own agriculture/environmental blog.

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