flowers a-zsarah from blossom and branch

flowers a-z: z is for zantedeschia (calla lily)

by SarahB

Welcome back, flower fans and alphabet zealots! We have arrived at our final installment of Flowers A–Z, which can only mean that “z” is for zantedeschia (more commonly known as the calla lily). Although there are a few other worthy “z” flowers (zinnia comes to mind), the calla is both in season and the most elegant example of a tubular bloom I can imagine.

The calla is native to South Africa, was cultivated next in Australia and has slowly been introduced around the world to other arid climates, such as Latin America and southern California. The calla comes in the traditional large, white, cup-shaped bloom (made popular in Mexican modern art) with a yellow stamen, as well as smaller “mini” versions. Mini callas come in several rich hues — from the two-toned “Picasso” pictured above and the deep burgundy “Schwarzwalder” (also pictured above) to other red, mango, peach and yellow shades. The classic white callas have been popularized as an Easter flower, particularly in Great Britain, and are sometimes called “Easter Lilies” in England and Ireland.

I thought the most appropriate way to wrap up the “A–Z” series would be to recap all the fundamentals of floral design in one final arrangement demonstration. No fancy tricks or special additions in this post; just a summary of design basics.

Follow me after the jump as I build an arrangement using zantedeschia and review the finer points of floral design. — Sarah

Read the full post after the jump!

My favorite calla is the Schwarzwalder pictured above. This calla incorporated into fall and winter arrangements yields the perfect amount of texture and drama.


Luckily, callas have essentially no foliage to clean. Simply cut the stems at a sharp angle (with clippers or a knife) and place them in fresh, cool water. IMPORTANT NOTE ABOUT CALLAS: If you are using callas alone in a simple bundle, place them in only 2 to 3 inches of water. The clean, blunted ends of callas begin to peel and curl up around the stem if they are immersed in too much water. If using them in a mix (as I will do below), throw caution to the wind. Those other blooms will need to drink!

Callas fall into the category of a “tubular” shaped bloom. We have previously discussed the two basic bloom shapes: tubular flowers and “face” flowers. Tubular blooms are long and lean, while face blooms are round. A basic design principle is to use a balanced mix of tubular and face flowers in any given arrangement. As always, we have broken this rule whenever necessary :) But it is helpful to note this concept as a foundation of floral design.

The easiest way to begin an arrangement is to create a structure of “greens” for yourself. Your greens will serve as the skeleton and scaffolding into which you will place the other florals. Clean off all the foliage that falls below the water line. You always want the vase to be comprised of clean stems and fresh water, exclusively. Lastly, the greens should sit just above the neck of the vase, obscuring the rim from view. Here, I am using olive branches. I love the pop of color and texture provided by the adorable olives.

Never fear texture! I have added some Privet Berry to my greens. Whatever seasonal greens or other elements you decide to use in an arrangement, be sure to experiment with color and texture. Often, I use up to 5 to 6 greens, pods, berries, etc. in an arrangement before even reaching for a traditional bloom.

The addition of Daucus (a relative of Queen Anne’s Lace) and French tulips add another layer of color and airy height. Because I already had a stable structure of greens in the vase, these taller elements are free to stand securely. You can also add the taller elements at the end, but I wanted to give myself a few stalks around which to design clusters of other blooms.

An autumn cornucopia! Feminine spray roses, soft ranunculus and, of course, our callas, fill in the spaces. In almost all my designs, I use some combination of distributing individual blooms throughout the container and clustering them together in bunches. I find this mix creates a visual feast and that certain blooms (callas, in particular) are much more interesting when clustered.

Even when utilizing a more pave design (a flower-on-flower look, where the blooms are mostly on the same plane) you can achieve great texture by integrating greens, tubular blooms and face blooms. Color also provides texture within the structure of your design.

Movement is achieved using tubular florals and greens that drape away from the vase.

If you want a specific bloom to really shine, try placing it within a patch of elements that have a completely different shape and hue, as I have done here with the Picasso callas. With this cluster of callas against a backdrop of Privet Berry, the eye is drawn directly to the gorgeous bell-shaped blooms.

PHEW! So those are my ultimate floral lessons in a nutshell. I truly believe that you don’t have to spend a lot of money or select really exotic flowers to create fabulous arrangements. The basic concepts of using only fresh flowers and greens, cleaning them well with proper technique and changing out the water every other day can go a long way. If you bear in mind shape, texture and color, you can use any seasonal blooms that you find at the supermarket, corner bodega, terrace or backyard. Finally, if you develop the confidence to test out new techniques and LOVE WHAT YOU ARE DOING while you are doing it, you absolutely cannot go wrong. This can be achieved with local carnations and baby’s breath as easily as with California garden roses and Dutch hydrangea. I promise.

Go forth and DESIGN and stay tuned for my future Design*Sponge floral adventures.

Love, Harmony and Floral Fabulosity . . .

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  • Very lovely! I’ve never seen olive branches used in an arrangement before, but the privet berries remind me of my mom’s go-to for wildflower arrangements, bittersweet. (My childhood was filled with adventures onto random scraps of land when we should happen to drive by a ditch of the stuff. :P) I’ll have to try this method out with what greenery I can find . . . the scarcity of living plants in November in Iowa should make for some creativity.

  • exquisite. inspiring. too bad the alphabet has only 26 letters.
    and you made it to Z!!!!
    looking forward to what you have up your sleeve next?!

  • @Bella, this is an excellent question. To change out the water, try and gather the vase arrangement in your hand (or the hands of a willing family member, friend, neighbor) as if holding a bouquet. This is easiest as a two-person job. Once you have your blooms gathered, dump the old water, rinse the vase clean (even use a touch of dish soap) and then fill with cool, clean water. If you are doing this yourself, you can even gently set the bouquet down on a table or the counter while you complete the change out. Since you are a pro at design, you can always rearrange the blooms a bit after plunking back in the vase.

  • My wedding flowers!!! I love these arrangements, thanks for featuring callas twice in your a-z (you guys cheated by having “callas” for c and zantedeschia for z… sneaky!) But anyway, we’re having burgundy callas for our wedding, berries, and ranunculus. I can’t wait, this is like a preview. I love what you folks do with your flowers!

  • Such a beautiful arrangement! Callas are my absolute favourite! Thank you so much for this series. I’ve loved every single post!

  • Such a beautiful flower to end on and such a beauiful arrangement. Privet is a noxious weed here in Australia but it looks so pretty here! I love the idea of incorporating olives too. The burgundy ones are my favourites – I used them at a party recently in yellow vases – they really popped!

    Happy weekend to you, Stephie x

  • These are gorgeous, but C was Calla… I think we should get a bonus post for doubling up!

  • Blown away by your virtuousity, and beautiful creativity.
    Please take my order for the book this is destined to be.
    Also, please disregard the carping calla cassandras (:-))

  • The white Calla have been used a lot in the past as a funeral flower here in Australia (and probably other places as well).

    Because of this, my Mother’s side of the family will not tolerate them in any garden of a house they live in, even though the form of them is quite lovely.

    Because of this association, I only really enjoy seeing the coloured ones , which are very lovely. My favourites are the peachy toned ones.

  • Beautiful! The whole series has been a pleasure, especially with the photos. As an earlier commenter remarked, Aussies think of privet as a weed and white lilies as funeral flowers, but it always comes down to the combinations of colours and textures. A new combination can completely change our perception of any item in the grouping. That’s an important thing to remember when decorating.

    Thank you for sharing this inspiration with us all.

  • Just a word of warning about these flowers if you have cats. Every part of them (including the water they are in) is deadly, deadly poisonous to cats. They need only brush against the flowers and then later lick the pollen off their coats to be fatally poisoned. In fact, any Lily is extremely dangerous. I learnt the hard way after my cat ate one and had to be on dialysis for 3 days to save his life. Not a nice experience!