flower arranging tools

Beauty is fleeting, as fresh-cut blooms from the farmer’s market like to remind us. Can’t we hold on to it just a little bit longer? For advice on creating sophisticated arrangements that extend the life of summer flowers, we turned to Laurie Dunphy, head floral designer at A New Leaf (1818 N. Wells St., 312-642-8553).

She showed us how to make the most of a cheerful handful of sunflowers by adjusting the arrangement as the days go by. Flowers with relatively big heads and long stems (open roses, lilies) give you the most options because you can trim the stems after a few days and create different looks, she says.

All you need to duplicate Dunphy’s modern looks are a pair of shears or a sharp knife, a bit of raffia, some pretty stones (smooth lake pebbles work very well), rubber bands, and a large leaf or two from a house plant (we like aspidistra). Use a short, wide-mouthed, clear glass vase (ours was five inches high and five inches in diameter). And enjoy.


  • For every eight ounces of water, add 1/2 teaspoon of bleach and a pinch of sugar to prolong freshness.
  • Hold stems under running water and cut their ends off at an angle immediately before putting the flowers in the vase.
  • Flush the water in the arrangement every day by holding the vase under a faucet until new water has replaced the old.
  • Add another helping of bleach and sugar.
Photography: Tyllie Barbosa
Flowers and Supplies: A New Leaf

arranged sunflowers
Using a quantity of a single kind and color of flower makes a bolder statement than assorted colors, sizes, and varieties.

STAGE ONE: Three to five days

  1. Use a vase that’s a quarter to one-third the height of the arrangement for maximum drama.
  2. Bind about ten medium-size sunflowers high up on the stems with rubber bands.
  3. Twist the stems until they fan out wider than the bottom of the vase. This forces the arrangement upright when you put it in the vase.
  4. Hide the rubber bands with raffia tied in a bow.
  5. Add stones around the stems, for support.
  6. Add cool water and sugar-bleach mixture.

STAGE TWO: Two or three days

  1. Remove the raffia, rubber bands, and stones when the flower heads begin to droop. Pluck out withered or discolored petals.
  2. Cut the stems so that the heads rest on the edge
  3. of the same vase used in the first arrangement.
  4. Hide the water (which is hard to flush in this arrangement) by wrapping a large leaf or two around the inside of the vase.


  1. Remove the best heads and trim them directly under the flowers.
  2. Float the heads on water in low dishes. These are pretty on a dinner table or windowsill, or scattered around your home-anywhere you’ll be looking down at the flowers.