flowers under $50: blooming branches tea party

by Mary Kathryn Paynter

[One of the things I love most is to help my clients throw a party, but in these economic times, flowers are often the first thing to get cut from a budget. In my new column, Flowers Under $50, I’ll show you how to create flower arrangements for your event that make a big impact but don’t break the bank. –Mary Kathryn ]

Spring is just around the corner and our unseasonably warm winter has been much talked about  in the plant nerd community. Personally, I love it and can tell you why in two words: blooming branches. The sooner I get ’em, the happier I am. The buds are the most wonderful blushing shades, elegantly spotted along the branches, signalling the sweet bounty that spring will provide.

One of the most gorgeous is Prunus mume, known in China as méi, in Japan as ume, in Vietnam as mai, in the US as Japanese Apricot or Chinese Plum, and in the (English-speaking) floral world as plum blossom. Distantly related to both the plum and the apricot, this blossoming fruit tree native to East Asia has inspired art, poetry, and even a spot on the national currency of Taiwan as a symbol of hope and renewal. Inspired by the flower’s cultural significance, I pulled together a tea party with a Vietnamese spin at the beautiful Elizabeth Street Cafe in Austin, where Prunus mume makes a statement on a small budget.

Whether you’re pruning branches from your own blooming fruit trees, or picking some up at a local flower market or grocery store, it doesn’t take a lot of branches to make a big impact, which is one reason why they’re great for entertaining on a dime. After the jump, I’ll teach you how to make a stunning centerpiece with blossoming branches and show you how inexpensive loveliness can be. — Mary Kathryn

[All images above and below by Jessica Pages]

Image by Jessica Pages

Image by Jessica Pages

Image by Jessica Pages

For our gathering, I paired the plum blossom with peach and apricot blossoms to add a little bit of depth and color. In order to keep the visual attention on the spots of pink climbing up the branches, I used slender, clear bottles bought inexpensively from a brewery supply store to hold each branch. Not only does this not detract from the flowers, but it allows guests to see and converse with each other across the table. Trim the base of the cut branch so that it will smoothly fit upright into the bottle. Be sure to fill the bottle up with water beforehand, so the branch is not too top-heavy. Group the bottles together on the tables, creating a forest of sorts in the center of the table. Carefully untangle any branches by hand, holding the base steady as you do so.
I set the table with mixed vintage demitasse cups, Singapore Bird china, white linens, and hotel silver. The hints of pink in the china play up the vibrant tones in the plum blossoms, while paring it down with muted blues and aquas, echoed in Elizabeth Street Cafe‘s Thonet chairs.


Image by Jessica Pages

Image by Jessica Pages

Because I live in Texas and our winters are about ten days long, I purchased my blossoming branches from a local gourmet grocer. If you want to harvest yours from a tree, right now is a great time to prune. Be sure to prune the branch cleanly, and always cut just above an intersection of two branches. This encourages fuller, bushier growth, helping the tree to process it’s energy more efficiently.

If your branches are slow to bloom, take a hammer to the end of the branch’s woody stem, pretty much smashing it altogether. This allows your branches to absorb more,  giving those suckers a shot of moisture that will help them open up gloriously.


Image by Jessica Pages

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