Morning, Heather and other experts agree, is the ideal time for cutting, though early evening is a distant runner-up if you're in a pinch. At the beginning of the day, plants are "less stressed," says Heather, since they've had the night to rest. When you cut, no matter if it's a shrub, tree, or flower stem, cut just above the next joint or new growth spot so any budding portions can continue to thrive—roses should be lopped off above new buds or clusters of five leaves. And, advises Heather, never, never, never hack your way through a garden; in the best cases, "gathering" should be a service akin to pruning.
After harvesting, plunge cuttings into water and transport them to a shady, cool spot as soon as possible. Some flowers excel in coolers or refrigerators (hydrangeas, for example) but the stored shelf life of cut plants varies greatly, even when blooms come off the same bush. Thus, you've got to play a little game of risk to learn their longevity. In all cases, though, one thing's for certain: if you refrigerate flowers at home, keep blooms away from fruit and vegetables, as they expedite floral wilting with the gases they give off. Ideally, go from gathering to display vase within hours.
The ideal arranging arsenal includes floral foam, scissors, tape and wire, plus a knife and liners. Frogs—heavy spiked weights that sit at the bottom of a vase to fix flower stems—like the brass one here can also be a handy tool. "There's a whole lot of folklore out there about how to prepare plants for styling," says Heather, who operates with a no-nonsense approach. "I don't cut them under running water, and I don't singe the tips of flowers such as poppies or daffodils.
Instead, I simply take a stem from my gathering bucket, cut it about an inch up on a diagonal and then place it in a clean vase with clean, lukewarm water. If I don't have a commercial preservative, I'll add a couple of drops of bleach to the water. After I've finished arranging the flowers, if I'm being good, I'll trim them and change the water daily. When I'm not being so good, I do it every other day." Heather's dream team of styling tools includes:
- bleach or a clear liquid floral preservative
- clean vessels clean
- lukewarm tap water floral foam
plastic vessel liner (if needed)