No small part of the pleasure of growing flowers is cutting them so you can enjoy them inside of your home as well as outside in your garden.

A floral arrangement can be as simple as a preschooler breaking off a fistful of dandelion blossoms and putting them in a juice glass or as complex as an intricate display of color-coordinated blossoms, branches and foliage. Both displays will be enjoyed for different reasons.

There are some secrets gardeners use to make their bouquets look better and last longer.

Marilyn Traiser of Yarmouth, chairwoman of the Judges Council of the Garden Club Federation of Maine, says the most important steps involve timing.

“You should cut (flowers) early in the morning, before they have chance to transpire” or give off water vapor, Traiser said. Cutting late in the day will work, but won’t be as good as early morning, she thinks, and avoid cutting them in the middle of the day.

Once you get the flowers inside, re-cut the stems an inch or more from the bottom. And there’s a right way and a wrong way to cut: to begin with, you have to use sharp scissors or a sharp knife, Traiser said. The hand pruners used for yard work are not sharp enough and will crush the stem’s capillaries. The stems – including the flowers you buy at a farm stand or supermarket – should be re-cut at a 45 degree or greater angle, to increase the area of the cut that is in the water.

Right after Traiser cuts the stems, she puts them into a bucket of water that she described as “warmer than warm but not hot.” If it is uncomfortable for your hand, it is too hot. If she has them, she uses conditioning packets that sometimes come with bunches of cut flowers, but that isn’t necessary.

The Ikebana, or Japanese, school of flower arranging has you cut the stems under water, but Traiser does not go that far.

How she arranges the flowers depends on what she has. If she has a multitude of blooms, she will sometimes just mix them together and put them in a vase. If she has just a few, she do an artistic display of the sort she would do if she were entering a flower show.

Traiser always has flowers on her dining-room table, and she likes a small cube or bowl-type container, which sits low so that people on opposite sides of the table can still see each other when they talk. To keep the flowers standing straight, she sometimes will weave birch twigs into a grid on the top of the vase. If she doesn’t have twigs, she creates a grid with floral tape.

She believes foliage adds a lot to flower arrangements. She uses a lot of hosta with different leaf colors, and she likes spirea and ninebark foliage, too, which come in colors – gold, burgundy or chartreuse – other than the traditional green.

If, after the flowers have been inside for a few days they look limp, you sometimes can revive them by re-cutting the stems and changing the water – but that doesn’t always work.

Instead, Traiser has a few tricks to keep flowers fresh. Amazingly, tulips continue growing up to an inch a day even after they are put in a vase. To keep that from happening, you can make a pin prick right at the base of the flower head. Also, she said, a tablespoon of gin in the water makes tulips stand upright (and probably the rest of us, too!).

Other tricks include adding a teaspoon of sugar to the water for asters and removing all of the leaves from chrysanthemum stems before putting them in water.

Traiser has been gardening all of her life. Her mother was an avid gardener, and Traiser joined in from the start.

About 35 years ago, she attended garden club’s flower show school in Massachusetts so she could become a judge; she lived there at the time. The Garden Club Federation of Maine used to hold flower show schools regularly – my wife, Nancy, took the courses and became a judge in the 1980s – but it has not held them in recent years.

Traiser said with only nine accredited flower show judges in Maine, it’s difficult to schedule many courses or flower shows. The club is considering the idea of staging a full flower show in the coming year. Such a show is much different from the Maine Flower Show, put on by the Maine Landscape and Nursery Association. A garden club flower show involves judging of horticulture – flowers, vegetables and branches – and flower designs. It does not have display gardens.

Meanwhile, the council is holding flower-design classes that are simpler than those required to become a judge (see sidebar).

Traiser said the state would love to have more judges, but for now people interested in becoming one will have to take the required courses out of state.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer living and gardening in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at 767-2297 or at: [email protected]

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