flowers a-z: o is for orchid

Welcome back, readers!  Although typically I struggle to decide which beautiful treasure to feature in the “a-z” posts, this week there was simply no dithering.  “O” is for orchid (in this case, the cymbidium orchid).  This flower has many wonderful, versatile properties – it can appear feminine or masculine, fragile or sturdy.  Designing with orchids is great fun, particularly because you can utilize the glorious long stem in a tall and dramatic arrangement, or snip the individual buds and create something compact and chic (as I will demonstrate in this post).

Here is a perfect cymbidium specimen in white.  Cymbidium orchids come in a variety of colors – white, yellow, magenta, brown and ice green.  Sometimes cymbidium are referred to as “boat orchids.”  They were first formally described in the botany world in 1799 by Olof Swartz (a Swedish botanist whose sub-specialty was the orchid family).  Cymbidium (and most other orchid species) are native to tropical and subtropical Asia, as well as Northern Australia.  They prefer warm, moist climates (although they can survive for limited periods of time at freezing temps) and the large cymbidium do best in more mountainous regions with some altitude.  At home, they do best in a cozy, steamy bathroom, which can provide the humidity and indirect light they require.

As with so many things, orchids were cultivated in China for thousands of years before the European world got hip to them.  They became very fashionable (especially for corsages and boutonnieres) in Europe during the Victorian Era.  Meanwhile, in Bhutan, cymbidium orchids are considered a delicacy and cooked into a spicy curry.  We will NOT be cooking them today, but I will be showing you a simple arrangement using only one, gorgeous cymbidium.  Stay with me after the jump to follow along, step-by-step… –Sarah

Today, we will be clipping individual blooms of a single orchid stem and using water tubes or “water piks” to keep them fresh and easy to plunk into an arrangement.  Water piks can be found at any local craft or floral supply store.  They generally come in a bag of 100 and are anywhere from $6-8.  They come in clear or green and in round ended or pointed.  I tend to prefer the green (they camouflage best this way) and the pointed end (easier to prop in with other stems). They are a wonderful trade secret of great florists.  Any time you have a bloom that doesn’t quite match the height of the others in your group, you can simply make a clean, angle cut, fill the water pik with fresh water and squeeze the stem into the opening.

Note the water pik cap is thick rubber.  It creates a tight seal so that the water cannot leak out the top, even when the stem is placed inside.  Ideally, the water pik-ed flower should remain upright, in any case.

The stem should be kept long enough to be submerged well in the water, but not too long so that it hits the bottom of the pik.  Continue snipping each bloom off the orchid and water pik-ing.  Generally, you can get between 10-12 great blooms on one cymbidium orchid stem!  If you start snipping from the bottom you may be able to use the top 2-3 blooms on the original stem…simply cut short and place in the arrangement with the other blooms.

Now, on to the arrangement!  I selected a sleek, silver metal square container for this modern design.  I filled the container with foliage – scented geranium and pittosporum – in a low, tight grouping.  The structure of this arrangement will be compact, so the greens will create the first layer for this look.

I added some vibrant heirloom carnations and peonies in clusters.  Already, you can start to see a framework or roadmap for the eventual orchid placement – all the green space you leave is a potential home for orchids.

Fill in with black scabiosa (love the surprise of dark color in with the brighter pinks) and some garden-y trifollium (in the clover family).  Most of the blooms in this arrangement are “face” flowers (round heads) but the trifollium has a tubular shape.  Despite its’ lean profile, I am using it low and tight in with the other flowers, a technique that is consistent with this modern style.

OH and THERE THEY ARE!  Those lovely cymbidium orchid blossoms are easily placed in and around the arrangement – you can literally simply balance them between stems in some places.  You might also find that tucking and re-tucking them is much easier than when you design with a full stem of a flower down in the arrangement.  A “do-over” is facilitated when using water piks.  I also added some fabulous “O”rnithogalum (the yellow, asparagus-looking things) just to bolster our “o” theme (and to match the yellow of the peony centers :)


While marveling at your amazing design skills and wowing friends and relatives with your sophisticated taste, remember to lean in and smell the orchids…most have a very subtle, fresh, sweet scent.  Please join me back here in 2 weeks when “p” will be for…

  1. rebekka says:

    Stunning. And helpful!

  2. These are breathtaking! What a beautiful post! As someone from Hawaii, I have a deep love for orchids. Then it seemed like they were considered “too cliche” in home decor. Well recently I decided hang it all, I am going to fill my house with orchids because they are lovely and last so long and I love them and they remind me of Hawaii!! So there, home decorator trend zealots!

  3. akpeony says:

    please do P for peonies – I would really love to see my favourite flower feature in the next a-z entry. pretty please?

  4. Heather says:

    This is so pretty!! The orchids are such an unexpected touch when combined with the other flowers and I’m loving it! I used scented geranium in my wedding bouquet, it smells so nice and I love the leafy texture. Lovely!


  5. Hi! I love these white Orquídeas. A room with this kind of flowers is much more chic! (Sorry my english! I’m brazylian.) Kiss: Carol Carneiro

  6. Janna says:

    Beautiful! I used the green cymbidium orchids with green tea roses for my wedding flowers a few years ago-they’re still my favorite!

  7. Susan Bowden says:

    greetings , when orchids [either on stem or cut off ] start to wilt ….. fill bucket with water , and dunk whole stem , so the flowers are submerged in water , leave overnight … hey presto they bounce back ! I even add a sachet of florists flower food , the petals drink it all in ! A tip a florist would NEVER tell you

  8. Yassir says:

    While you are correct in saying cymbidiums like humidity, they actually need very bright indirect light/dappled sunlight to grow and bloom, especially the standard cymbdiums as used in your lovely arrangement.

  9. Linda Landig says:

    I love & raise orchids. This is a fabulous post. Just viewing it makes me happy!!!!!

  10. I ADORE cymbidium orchids- they were the only flower I used for my wedding and couldn’t have been happier with them- they’re so elegant!! Your arrangement is divine!!

  11. I love this post! The peony flowers are fabulous, not to mention the orchids which I use frequently to create bridal bouquets.

  12. MissHeliotrope says:

    I love cymbidiums, and they grow quite well here in temperate Melbourne.
    I never see why one would put them with other flowers, however, they are so perfect on their own –

  13. Jessica says:

    Is there no more to this series? Absolutely loving it, just started working as a florist and found these so helpful in my learning!


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