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Arranging 101: Lilacs in a Vase

We only have a week or two left of lilac season, so now's the time to make the most of it. Pull out the garden clippers and bring some of that goodness inside.

Here are a few easy tips to help you arrange your lilacs.

First of all, lilacs are very thirsty branches and if you just brought them in from your garden or the market, those babies will need to take a long drink and rest in some clean water before you put them to work.

Fill up a clean bucket for them with tepid water, (lilacs don't like water too cold), and clean off any leaves or foliage that will fall below the waterline.

Then give them a fresh, diagonal cut followed by two cuts in an X up the stem. This allows them to drink in the water faster. Alternately, you can widdel the stem a bit at the end to expose more of the inner stem, as seen later in this post. Either method will do.

**Smashing the stem ends with a hammer used to be a common practice in helping lilacs drink, but it should be noted that is no longer a recommended method for lilacs.

Let your lilacs rest like this for at least two hours.

Lilacs are quite heavy. They have a heavy head of buds at the end of a heavy, woody stem; so unless you're wanting to let them droop down on top of each other, they will need quite a bit of support to maintain any placement you give them in a vase, and that's why you always start with your greens.

For this example I picked up some bupleurum, pittosporum, and mint.

Pittosporum have the strongest stems, so I started there. Crisscross your stems as they go in and keep in mind that you're setting the size of your arrangement by the size of your greens. After the pittosporum I added in the softer bupleurum to give further support to the web of stems needed to support the lilacs. I only put a stem or two of the mint into the armature of greens so as to not overpower the room with the scent.

When you're done you should have what looks like a full arrangement of greens-- almost like the greens are the completed piece. It should have shape, depth, and look full.

Cut your first stem of lilac, feed it through your greens down into the center of your vase. If it tilts very far off-center or falls you don't have enough greenery yet. (It can fall a little, knowing that your arrangement will get stronger when you add the rest of your flower stems as well.)

This one is falling too much.

Add a few more stems of green at a time until your center stem is almost perfectly straight. If you over-stuff on greens you won't have any room left in your vase for your flower stems, so there is such a thing as too much.

When your greens are strong enough, start adding in the rest of your lilacs. Be sure to widdel the ends again after you cut the stem to size so the lilacs can drink and live a long and happy life on display for you.

For this example I did a "symmetrical", round style- meaning you can look at it from all sides and the flowers look balanced. It's a very standard look. I find it helps to think of the shape broken into tiers, like a wedding cake. I first placed my straightest stem down into the center, making my top tier. It'll be the longest stem in the arrangement.

I then do my bottom tier, placing each stem into the vase almost horizontally so they're not sticking up. Rather, they look like they're leaning to the sides. The bottom tier will have more stems than any other tier, and generally shorter stems, depending on how wide you want the piece to reach.

Finish the lilacs by filling in the middle tier. They go in at an angle too: not as straight as your center stem, but not so far leaning as the bottom tier stems.

Helpful Hint: Cut off any stray sticks or leaves off the lilac stem that will be reaching down into the arrangement. This makes it possible to pull the stem back out again if you don't like where you put it or you decide it's too tall and needs to be cut down a bit. Otherwise it will pull out a chunk of greenery and flowers with it.

Keep adding flowers until you feel it's done. Fill in any holes that are glaring at you. I used various tulips in this one to fill in around the lilac. The bupleurum is also great at filling in space with its wispy leaves, so I added a bit more of that in a few places too.

And voix la!

So if you haven't yet worked up your courage to ask your neighbor about snipping a few branches from that beautiful shrub you've been eyeing in their front yard, now is the time, before the season ends! In exchange, bring them something from your own garden, maybe with a branch or two of the lilac. You'd be surprised how friendly people are in sharing flowers!

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