Debra Prinzing

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Fancy foliage in a vase – lessons from Better Homes & Gardens

June 25th, 2010

Here is my trio of vases inspired by my "Leaf it up" story in the June issue of Better Homes & Gardens. Each tiny arrangement features at least one cut succulent paired with foliage from a similarly-colored perennial.

Sometimes all you need are a few pretty leaves to conjure up a gorgeous tabletop arrangement or centerpiece. I have my talented friend Susan Appleget-Hurst, former senior associate garden editor for Better Homes & Gardens, to thank for producing a story that illustrates this idea (with several cool designs).

Susan, who now blogs at Cake in the Garden (check it out!) designed the lovely, leafy bouquets and co-produced the story with art director Scott Johnson. Then I was lucky enough to be asked to create the accompanying text. Pick up this month’s BH&G or click here for a peek at the story.

A turquoise vase gets the cool touch from lemon-lime and chartreuse ingredients.

The idea of using leaves as cut flower ingredients is nothing new. But it’s always nice to see someone else’s twist on the technique. One of the things I love about Susan’s designs is her use of white vases in several different sizes. The white really offsets the leaves and focuses the viewer’s interest on the form, texture and scale of the various cut foliage. I also loved the monochromatic and contrasting combinations of leaves.

After writing the text, I kind of forgot about this story until I opened up the June issue and saw how beautifully it turned out. I decided to try my own version of this floral design project (I can’t get more “seasonal, local and sustainable” than my own backyard!).

Looking around my landscape, I realized how many awesome succulent plants grow here. Even when a sedum, aeonium or crassula stem breaks off of the plant or gets bumped when someone pushes a chair out from the patio table, I try to “rescue” the severed piece and put it in water. Inevitably, a few roots will emerge and I can plant that cutting. So clipping a few succulent pieces for the designs you see above didn’t kill me. Once these pieces root, in water, they will be returned to the potting soil or garden bed.

My idea: To showcase the amazing color diversity of succulents. For each of three color schemes – silver-blue, maroon, and lime green – I looked for perennial foliage to match with the companion succulent. Unlike Susan’s white vases, I tried to pair the foliage hues with my slender colored-glass bud vases. I have owned this trio in green, tangerine and turquoise glass for several years. I think they came from IKEA.

These designs look sweet displayed on my block-printed cotton table cloth (it’s nice that each picks up on the botanical pattern and palette).

Here is what I included in each:

Orange vase with silver-blue ingredients.

Deep purple-maroon ingredients look dramatic against the vibrant green vase.

The Orange Glass contrasts beautifully with three silvery-blue ingredients. The succulent element is called Senecio mandraliscae. Here in Southern California, people grow this shrubby, South African succulent as a groundcover. I actually have some in a pot and I love its slightly curved blue-gray leaves. Softer textures come from my other fave silvery garden plants. First is Artemisia ‘Powis Castle’, which has lacy foliage. I clipped the taller stems from Westringia fruticosa, also called coast rosemary. It’s from Australia, has a rosemary-like texture, and looks just gorgeous growing at the base of my fruitless olive tree.  

The Green Glass is a perfect foil for the deep purple-maroon ingredients. My succulent starting point was to add two small Aeonium rosettes. Not sure of the cultivar because I inherited this plant when we moved here in 2006.  Almost like a touch of embroidery, the dark plum version of sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas) spills from the neck of the slender vase.

The Turquoise Glass gets a fresh accent from lime green and chartreuse stems. I started with an un-named lemon-lime sempervivum that has pretty pointed leaves. These bold forms have a fluffy collar of chartreuse dead nettle (Lamium galeobdolon).

My challenge to you is to walk outside, clippers in hand, and create a foliage bouquet with what you have growing in your garden. Don’t overlook the unexpected ingredients. Hey – maybe that awesome artichoke leaf in the vegetable patch is worthy of a starring role in a vase. Or perhaps the conifers could stand in for my succulent ingredients. Have some fun! The best part? It means you have a lovely centerpiece for free!

3 Responses to “Fancy foliage in a vase – lessons from Better Homes & Gardens”

  1. compostinmyshoe Says:

    Certainly love the green vase with it’s Aeonium rosettes. Using what I have garden wise for floral arrangements in the house tends to make me rethink what I grow out there.
    .-= compostinmyshoe´s last blog ..Fruity Madness =-.

  2. Drought Smart Plants Says:

    Boy, that chartreuse with the blue vase – that just about rips your eyeballs out! Fabulous…I’m going out with my pruners right now!

  3. Susan Says:

    I’m glad you were so inspired, Debra! that was a fun story to put together–it doesn’t take long to realize that the ‘limits’ of arranging only foliage offers tons of possibilities. In some ways I think it’s easier than working with blooms. And look what you did with succulents!
    For another take on the possibilities that foliage offers, take a look at the shade-loving hanging basket I assembled for page 128 of the June issue. That basket looked great all summer long hanging in the shade of my patio awning. It was used as a prop in another outdoor story in that issue. Can anyone find it?

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