[Fireplaces and mantels are stunning focal points in the winter when they’re filled with a roaring fire, but what about spring and summer? Today, Anna Potter of Swallows & Damsons joins us for a clever centerpiece idea to make the most of your fireplace or decorative mantel in warmer weather. -Grace]
This spring garden mantelpiece is a great excuse to dig out my collection of pots, vases and bottles that I hoard behind every closed door in the house. It requires little technical floral skill; instead the focus here is color, tone, texture and the room that you’re working in. For this arrangement I asked to use my friend Camilla’s Victorian fireplace. She is an incredible textile designer and never shies away from using bright and bold color. I don’t actually have a fireplace at home, but this idea would also work nicely on any kind of sideboard or equally well down the center of a table.
I was inspired by Camilla to be bold with my choice. Instead of blending everything subtly into the background I would go for broke, it is spring, after all; sunshine, lollipops, rainbows, etc. After the jump I’ll walk you through creating your own version of this for everyday use or a special occasion! —Anna of Swallows & Damsons
All photos by India Hobson
I began with my large and obsessive collection of copper, amber glass and terracotta. I dotted them along the fireplace fairly close together, making sure I had a variety of shapes and sizes.
Choosing the Flowers
I am a firm believer in growing, foraging, and collecting. A lot of the more interesting textures in my work result from a walk through fields, a broken branch casualty, or were simply grown in my humble garden. For this project I tried to get an even balance of both grown/foraged and shop-bought. Make sure you gather together something tall and architectural to give height and structure, medium-height statement flowers, and low delicates. I chose oranges and apricots to be bold and stand out and a pale blue to subtlety complement the statement wall.
Preparing the Containers
The larger, wider containers require a support inside. For this I used a florist’s mesh, chicken wire works equally well. I cut a small piece and scrunched it slightly into the container. To secure, I used a strong waterproof tape in a cross over the top of the vase. For the terracotta I placed a secret jam jar inside. I then lined my vessels up on the mantelpiece, spreading out the different shapes and sizes randomly, and filled them with water.
Arranging the Layers
I started with the tallest flowers and branches, placing them in suitable taller vessels and getting the initial shape and structure. Most are placed towards the back, closest to the wall, to allow for the smaller flowers at the front to be seen. It’s helpful to think of it as layering up.
For the next layer, I added the medium-height statement flowers, roses, ranunculus and hellebores. I focused these across the middle band of the arrangement, but as in a garden, I kept some shorter/lower down and a rogue few springing up towards the taller flowers.
At this point I encountered a few problems. Firstly, the beautiful coral quince that I had earlier foraged (stolen) out of Camilla’s garden (sorry Camilla) was NOT working. I tried and tried but as soon as it was amongst the other flowers it was clearly throwing the tones of everything else. Color is so key here. So scrap that — just because something is beautiful, doesn’t mean it will complement your arrangement. Secondly, the ill-behaved magnolia branch was determined not to go in the same direction as the other flowers. I went along with this; I am not one to argue with magnolia. Sometimes you have to go with what the flowers are already doing, rather than fight to control them.
The last part of the process was filling out the lower section of the garden arrangement. For this I saved the muscari, primula, some of the roses and other bits that I had left. Here, I wanted to consider how spring flowers begin in the garden, trying not to have it looking too uniform and symmetrical.
Once the flowers are in place, I’m always a terror for finding color-coordinating objects to hide in amongst the arrangement. It’s often fruit, ornaments or in this case, a tiny plastic giraffe and a budgerigar.
There you have it, a little piece of the outdoors brought inside! Be bold and fun and creative. Or be subtle, serious and subdued. Work with your backdrop and don’t be afraid to try branches, weeds and other scraps that you might not traditionally find in a flower shop.