In decorating for Christmas, nature makes it easy to stick with classic greens like smilax, holly, magnolia, and fir; everything else has turned muddy brown. But creating a tablescape for Easter dinner poses a different type of challenge as crazy spring weather patterns ensure that it’s hard to know what will be available to dress the table.
Floral designer Julianne Sojourner, who owns My Friend’s Garden, takes it all in stride. She learned this skill from her mother, Ann McConnell, who often created arrangements for friends using what she could gather from the woods, the farm, the roadside, and her yard.
“We didn’t have access to a place like Branham’s, which always has something beautiful, so she got creative,” says Julianne. “She taught me that if you look around, you can always find one thing to get you started. I always start outside, but I’ve had plenty of luck at the grocery store, too.”
She gets just as creative with vessels, utilizing everything from bottles to yogurt containers. That was precisely the case with the Easter tree arrangement that anchors Julianne’s sideboard vignette. “I had planned to use all bare gum tree branches, but then I noticed that the ornamental apricot was blooming,” she says. “I couldn’t resist it!” Although the piece looks artfully arbitrary, almost as if it fell into place, it is actually a carefully composed work of art.
The process starts with the mechanics, which in this case is a block of OASIS Floral Foam pushed (and taped with green floral tape) into a container substantial enough to hold what will become a large, fairly heavy centerpiece.
“This is a commercial-grade vase or wine cooler that was very inexpensive,” says Julianne. “If you’re using a clear glass container, either hold the branches in place with a heavy glass frog or use florist’s tape to create a grid. Since the branches won’t hide the tape, cover it with moss or some kind of greenery.”
To build the arrangement, Julianne started with the bare branches, which she clipped from a gum tree at her farm, and inserted them into the OASIS at an angle. “The heaviest, tallest branch goes in first to create the line, and then you fill with lighter, more delicate pieces,” she explains. “The angle actually keeps the finished piece from looking too stiff.” To make the most of the flower-studded boughs, Julianne clustered them on each side of the arrangement. “When the color isn’t evenly distributed, it looks more like it just happened.”
For the striking green base, Julianne turned to ‘Green Ball’ dianthus, which resembles moss but retains its vivid color even after it has dried out. “Any discoloration can be fixed with a quick spritz of green floral paint,” says Julianne. She added ornaments — silver napkin rings, rattles, baby cups, and bells — to tie the arrangement to the silver serving pieces that typically decorate a holiday table.
Like the flowering apricot branches, the camellia leaves that fill the silver basket and decorate the cheesecake were also unplanned additions to the tablescape. (Flowers used are lisianthus.) “I happened to be driving along the road just after a neighbor had finished cutting back some camellias,” Julianne says with a laugh. “They were gorgeous, so I gathered up the trimmings and here they are. You never know what you’ll find.”
Julianne also adds interest by varying the height of the elements. Not only is the cheesecake displayed on a pedestal cake plate (enlivened with a few camellia leaves, lisianthus, and apricot flowers), but the silver basket of macaroons has been set on an acrylic cube as well. “You don’t notice the differences, only that it’s interesting,” she notes.
Julianne does not limit “hunting and gathering” for arrangement elements to the great outdoors. The flowering pots of Lenten rose, mini daffodils, and large daffodils — which she used to create an arrangement perfect for a front hall — each came from the grocery store. All Julianne did was remove the plastic wrap, which originally covered each pot, and replaced it with burlap. The blooming quince came from her friend’s garden, the blue eggs from the grocery store.
“I had so many pretty things to work with in this case that I just loaded it up. Then, I stepped back to edit,” says Julianne. “This arrangement started out with more quince and another pot of daffodils, but I realized they were competing with the bunnies, which are the focal point, instead of enhancing them. Editing is definitely part of the process, so I pulled them out.”
Julianne says she has owned her oversized Easter bunnies for years, but a collection of Easter bonnets displayed on hat stands of unequal heights would be a good stand in. “Any hat can become an Easter bonnet — all you need is a bit of ribbon and some silk flowers,” she says.
To create the sculptural green centerpiece for this holiday table, Julianne went back to the market, where she purchased three heads of leafy lettuce and, after gently fluffing them up, piled them into a wire basket she had purchased some years ago at a garage sale. (Unless the lettuce has roots, heads of lettuce for arrangements must be purchased the day before or day of the arrangement presentation.) “At some point in my mind, this was going to be a two-tier arrangement, but then it would have been too high for conversation,” says Julianne.
To enhance the scene, she added clusters of votive candles in varying containers and a few whimsical ceramic figurines. The large placemat is actually two smaller mats pulled together under the plates only; plum-hued glasses pick up on the colors in the plates. “At one point I set the table with pink mats, but it was just too much,” says Julianne. “I always give myself time to look critically at what I’ve created and change it up as necessary. Coco Chanel always said that after she dressed, she’d look in the mirror and remove one thing. I’ve found that it works with flower arranging just as well.”
When creating a flower arrangement or table vignette, creativity is key. However, like most floral designers, Julianne also relies on this bag of tricks to keep things looking their best:
Florist’s spray — Whether used to camouflage a brown spot on an otherwise perfect leaf or add a subtle sheen, these sprays boost the “wow” factor.
OASIS Floral Foam — In opaque vessels, OASIS provides a sturdy foundation that also waters thirsty stems.
Clear glass frogs — When using a transparent vase, create the illusion of flowers that just fell into place with these invisible anchors. Don’t skimp and purchase plastic; the weight of the glass is crucial to keeping the arrangement steady.
Floral tape in varying widths — This workhorse, available in green and clear, can hold just about anything in place.
Floral wire — Another must-have that also, when strung down a stem and into the flower, can keep blooms from sagging.
Ribbon scissors — Reserve for cutting ribbon only so they stay sharp and clean.
Ribbon — A floral designer can never have enough ribbon in varying widths and colors. Wire-edged will hold a bow; real satin adds elegance. It is often available below retail prices at yard sales and fabric store closeouts.
Joyce Chen scissors — Julianne keeps a pair of these cut-through-anything shears in her kitchen, in her workroom, and in her car, where she will use them to trim usable flowers, twigs, and stems from trees and garden trash piles.
Acrylic blocks — Almost invisible, these clear slabs change the height of the elements of an arrangement without calling attention to themselves.
Wine corks — Sliced into even disks and placed under a vase, wine corks can protect surfaces like wood and marble from scratches and water damage.
Yoga mat — Julianne keeps a yoga mat in her car to grip arrangements she is transporting (or vases she has purchased) and to protect the car from drips and mud from greenery she has found.
Wine bottles with glass stoppers — Once the label has been removed, these bottles make stylish water carafes for seated dinners. Julianne fills them ahead of time and stores them in the fridge.
All About That Vase
Julianne’s vast collection of vessels includes a surprising number of found objects. “Almost anything can become a vase,” she says.
For camellias and other single stems, Julianne has repurposed several bottles that once held grocery store balsamic vinegar. “Cluster them together, one bloom per bottle,” she says. “The best bottles are heavy (so they won’t topple over) and don’t have screw tops, which make it obvious it’s a bottle.”
For pansies and other short-stemmed flowers, Julianne utilizes clear glass yogurt containers. Tall flowers often go into empty Patron tequila bottles, which have thick bases and narrow necks. “For an easy Easter arrangement, group three with three single Easter lilies cut at different heights,” suggests Julianne. “You can add interest to any arrangement or grouping by placing it on a tray.”
When shopping for vases, Julianne suggests always buying two, particularly if they’re large, so they can be used to flank a doorway or other entrance.