I'm not sure quite when I first realised I'd missed out on the 'floral art' gene. Perhaps it was at my primary school spring show when my wilted sand saucer failed to receive even a commended certificate, or when my Brown Owl suggested I go for the shoe cleaning rather than the flower arranging badge. Suffice to say, by the time I reached adulthood I was thoroughly accustomed to being completely unable to put several flowers together in a vase without having them looking as through they'd been through a spin drier.
I didn't give up, though. I like flowers. I enjoy growing them and I especially like them in a vase so, after a few years of trial and error, I came up with a secret I'm happy to share: there are one or two types of flower that simply 'arrange themselves'. Not only that, no matter what you do to them, they are so forgiving that they even allow you to insert a few other spikes of colour between their florets without the end result looking like an upset haystack. I now grow these flowers in my own garden and pick them daily.
Gypsophila and alchemilla mollis (lady's mantle) are indispensible. Gypsophila's delicate tiny white flowers fill any vase and take no arranging at all. Once in place, it's a simple matter to poke a few sweet peas, a head or two of bergamot or a handful of colourful daisies between the stems and, just like that, you've an arrangement that looks good enough to go in a florist's window. Alchemilla mollis is exactly the same – its heads of dainty green flowers fill the vase and go with almost any other small flowers you have on hand. I especially like them teamed with red-flowering sage.
Because I'm always on the lookout for other plants which I can use to create fail-proof floral arrangements, I was bowled over when I arrived at a meeting this week and discovered a stunning vase of unknowns which I immediately recognised as perfectly suiting my level of floral art 'skills'. When no-one was looking, I snapped a shot and dashed back home to check out what it was I needed to order from the garden centre. It turns out that I'd been looking at acanthus mollis which had been popped into a wide vase alongside the flower heads of tussock and almost un-opened red hot pokers.
Described as having a 'strong architectural accent', acanthus mollis bears metre-long spires clasped by purple brackets. Before the brackets burst into flower, the spikes have the appearance of a flat green palm. So enamoured was I of my new discovery that I spent a long time looking at my garden trying to decide just where I could fit in a non-edible plant that was going to grow a metre high and a metre wide (after all, you could grow several cabbages in a space that size!). By the time I'd made up my mind that I simply had to have it, even if it meant taking out something else, I decided to check out my discovery a little further – and just as well.
It turns out that acanthus mollis is such a vigorous plant that it's almost but not quite on the 'wanted' list of NZ pest plants! Yikes, the last thing I wanted was to have an invasive on the property, no matter how much it aided my non-artistic floral skills. So instead of installing it in the garden, I tracked down the floral artist who'd arranged the flowers at my meeting, and she and I have come to an agreement. I'm to supply her with vegetables every now and then and, in return, she'll deliver to me a bunch of acanthus spires! Now that's what I call the perfect arrangement!