Floral Design Mechanics

Written by Christopher Grigas & Erik Witcraft

Aesthetics…We are stimulated by flowers

As floral designers, we have all seen incredible designs from the simplest boutonniere to the most lavish wedding extravaganza. Our industry is based on aesthetics…it’s all in what we and others see in our designs. We all love flowers and want to enjoy them every day…to be stimulated by them. The visual impact can be stunning…or a major disappointment. We all get turned on when we see beautiful designs…it’s lust at first sight…but sometimes the designs simplest element and basic infrastructure is ignored…the mechanics. Basic to advanced mechanics can be the most important element of your floral designs, because if you don’t have good mechanics, your flowers will not show to their greatest potential natural beauty. Bad mechanics are distracting and need to be addressed like a wire hanger in the Crawford household. There are several design styles that need special mechanical attention. Here are a few ideas to help prep floral designers and get a better grip on more advanced designs. After you decide the “what”…consider the “how”

Industrial Designing

How do you start the process of creating an industrial design? It’s time to head to the hardware store. Dramatic designs can be created through the use of hardware elements, and flowers that have an overall simplicity with high impact (usually in color or form). Though rather bold & raw, it is a good idea to let your mechanics show and highlight your techniques, as long as they are well executed. To approach this style effectively, you have to think like a builder or architect. Explore all the possibilities, good and bad. Example: What happens if the bind wire doesn’t hold the weight of the 10″ orchid orb I have suspended from the design? What would be a better choice of mechanics? As a designer, don’t feel confined to the floral industry’s product lines. Mechanical and construction items may come in handy for this look. Items ranging from duct tape, zip ties & bind wire to Aluminum wire, bullion, and barked-wire can be used for binding. Steel rods, threaded rods, nuts, bolts & washers can be combined to create stacked arrangements or suspended designs. Chicken wire may be needed to anchor floral materials in large vessels or welded wire mesh can be incorporated in a more exposed fashion as part of the visual design. Aluminum dryer vent, copper tubing, and flexible electrical tubing can be used to create fun swirling lines or a structural base for flowers. Plaster of Paris can be used to add weight & stability to a top heavy design. Planning will help you execute a design more effectively. A well oiled machine’s beauty is in its mechanical perfection…Show off your design skill with flawless mechanics.

Naturalistic Designing

Wander the garden center or take a walk in the woods. Using organic elements such as moss covered branches, creating moss covered orbs, incorporating terra cotta pots, groupings of plant and unusual elements such as bulbs, fruits and produce, eggs or feathers can create a relationship to nature while reflecting a whimsical feeling! To execute this style well, observe the basic and effortless beauty of nature. Observe the wild way things grow, adapt and respond in nature. The difficulty lies in the ability to recreate that effect. Many floral designers get stuck in a “design rut”, and have difficulty breaking from their recipe mentality. Using the natural curve of botanicals can make the difference between forced and fabulous design. Mechanical and accessory items that may come in handy for this look include heavy duty plastic bags for lining containers, terra cotta pots, live plants, wood picks & Hyacinth stakes for anchoring, raffia, Styrofoam, Bulbs, fruits and produce, lichen, reindeer moss, bark, artificial or hollowed out eggs & feathers.

Overscale Designing

One of the most effective ways to create drama in floral design is by creating large scale arrangements. Whether you are trying to capture an audience attention for a corporate event or perhaps the guests at a wedding, scale can play an important role in the process. Using giant trees or branches in pots with hanging candlelight, oversized containers (a must!) and large groupings of impact flowers create drama and excitement.
Mechanical items that may come in handy for this look include wide PVC pipe anchored in decorative containers with plaster of Paris (to support large tree branches) as well as armatures and structures created with Bamboo or Curly Willow for a natural and graphic look. Reindeer Moss and Water tubes can be used together to extend flowers that have shorter stems such as Dendrobium or Cymbidium orchids or Gloriosa Lily. River rock or sandbags can help by adding weight to light containers. Oasis cages, raquettes and orbs of all kinds can be used to extend floral material to create overall-scale.

Vegetative Designing

Creating the illusion that flowers and plants are growing in the containers that you place them is not easy but can be highly effective and elevate your designs to a new level of professionalism. The proper use of oasis foam is the key to this style and is adventageous to the lasting quality of the fresh flowers used. Without question, use the best quality flowers and most recent handling techniques (we can save that for another article). Always begin with soaking your foam in clean and preservative treated water. Never push the foam underwater! Let it sink slowly into the water or you will trap air bubbles that are deadly to fresh cut flowers. Choice of container is not as important as the proper placement of the foam. Fill the container to the top or just below the rim of the container with your soaked foam. Do not force it into place…pushing will make the foam dense and harder to work in and inhibit its ability to absorb water to capacity. Cut the foam into formfitting wedges for tapered sides. Remember, the flatter the surface, the more realistic the “ground level” will be. When you begin your flower placement, use hyacinth stakes or woodpicks to secure hollow or fragile stems. Vertical is the key to this look…since you are trying to create the illusion of growing flowers. Grouping the different flowers will also make the design more believable since most plants grow in clusters.

Trompe l’oeil Designing

Trompe l’oeil designs take floral design to a new level because the end effect is to fool the eye, or create an illusion that the flowers & foliage depict an item unique to itself. The mechanics of trompe l’oeil designs are crucial because the entire design is exposed visually so you have to have very clean finished and believable mechanics that tie in with your illusion. Foam sealing is a great way to do this kind of work, whether you wrap the soaked foam with leaves, or dip in hot glue, leaving openings for stem insertion. Let your imagination run where you can convince yourself that what you see is what your admirers will see. Using foliages and flower petals can give excellent textures and help create fabulous color combinations like natural wall paper on flat surfaces. Mastering this technique is difficult, but the end result is stunning if executed well. The key is in layering the leaves in one direction as to cover your mechanics with the next piece, as if they were roof shingles or fish scales. Using wire hairpins or floral glue will help secure the design. Even if you are securing leaves or grass blades, decorative pins can be great if you can color coordinate the pin head color with the design. Finishing spray is great to help seal the flowers and foliage for longer lasting designs.

Micro Designing

Sometimes we need to figure out how to make our flowers last the longest even when it seems like there is no way…enter the boutonniere. Most designers cringe at the thought of prom season, right? It is sometimes difficult to feel inspired when creating such a tiny design, but truly, the most accomplished designers of the world are masters of the beauty of the micro design. Whatever your design goal, the flowers must be fresh and of quality. We have all heard that “tight taping” is the key. This is true, but there is more to it than a clean finish. When creating these mini arrangements, think about how each botanical element can support the others in the design. Layering your individually wired blooms (24-28 gauge wire) properly can make or break the entire design. Begin your boutonnieres and corsages with the flower that you want to be at the top. Wiring and taping individual blooms will ensure a secure design and help seal the water into the stem and allow you to move them slightly to fill the gaps without snapping them off. Create little clusters of flowers and botanicals and add them to the first bloom, working your way down the original wired stem. Once the design looks complete, you can finish it with a mini organza bow or some coordinating foliage. In the end, the mechanics are what make the design secure and long lasting.

What Your Mechanics Reveal

The mechanics of all floral designs are as important as the flowers themselves. From the giant designs of a theatrical wedding to the boutonniere of a highschool prom, mechanics are an element that cannot be overlooked. Next time there is a flowers show in your town, visit it on the first day…then visit it on the last day. You will see how important mechanics are and who the master of mechanics is in your city.