Last updated on August 17th, 2016
Ugh. This weather! It’s 2000 hot, humid degrees here in New York’s Hudson Valley. I’m hosting dinner parties indoors not out these days. And I’m bringing my garden indoors, too, via nifty table-top displays. A dining table centerpiece is really easy to achieve. All you need is a handful of freshly-cut flowers, a bit of greenery, and a “wet block.”
What’s a wet block? Well, it’s a brick of phenolic foam that holds many times its weight in water. You can find this flower-arranging necessity at any craft or hobby shop. I recently purchased a package of 4 wet blocks for just $7.00.
The blocks can be cut to any desired shape. And that’s a good thing, especially if you are dealing with round or oval containers.
To start, take the floral block, and float it in a sink or pan of water. Let the block sink naturally as it absorbs moisture. If you submerge the block by forcing it down, you’ll end up with a block that is riddled with air pockets.
Next, select your container! A soup tureen, a shallow bowl, or even a baking dish will suffice for a dining table arrangement. Remember, such arrangements must be low enough so that Uncle Albert can watch Aunt Martha eat barbecued ribs without straining his neck. For today’s display, I used an old, mostly-white soup tureen.
If large gaps exist between the foam and your container, just fill-in with more foam. As you can see, I added some extra foam to my tureen.
Now run out to your garden, and grab some greenery. I used pachysandra because I have tons of it. Pachysandra stays fresh for a stunning length of time — about 3 weeks.
Poke the green stems horizontally along the perimeter of the container. The goal here is to conceal the edge of the floral foam.
Then poke more pachysandra into the top of the block to cover it. When you are finished, the wet block should not be visible. And by the way, a bowl or tureen of nothing more than pachysandra would look divine on fireplace mantel in winter.
But it’s not yet winter. So let’s grab some summer flowers!
I used purple zinnias, simply because they were in my herb garden. But you should feel free to use whatever flowers you can get your hands on. You might like a mixture of flowers and hues. Try to choose colors that will compliment the colors in your dining room.
Stick one zinnia into the foam.
Then add another zinnia…
And keep going…
Until you achieve the arrangement of your dreams. Or, until you run out of flowers.
Although this arrangement is about as simple as simple can be, it’s dashing on the dining table…
Magical on the mantel…
And fabulous on the Federal side table.
Well, I hope this little tutorial was of some value to you. And if you’d like to see other arrangements that professional designers Erin Brady and Sue Chiafullo have made for my home, you can find them right here.
Meantime, let me know if this August heatwave is making you melt like the Wicked Witch of the West. Honestly, it’s been so hot here that I can only enjoy my garden indoors!
Beverly, zone 6, eastern PA says
Using pachysandra is a great idea! Anyone who has “some” of it probably has “lots” of it. I also favor Euonymus ‘Manhattan’, an evergreen shrub whose glossy oval leaves easily mask the edge of the container. It has been cut for use in last-minute Christmas dinner arrangements many times. Floral block foam is so affordable when compared to the price of even one small arrangement from a florist. Foam can be dried out and reused, too, despite its many holes. When I stroll the tables at flea markets, I am aways on the lookout for a shapely, inexpensive container for indoor arrangements. It can be successfully argued that I have too many, stashed away out of sight.
We are also sweating buckets around here with heavy, humid air and scorching heat. Birdbaths and dog bowls are refreshed with cool water 2X/day. It’s a wonder ornamentals and food crops in the garden can stand up to it day after day, the most uncomfortable summer in recent memory. Thank goodness we can stay inside and find amusement in the KLJ category.
Kevin Lee Jacobs says
Hi Beverly – So glad to hear that you enjoy making indoor flower displays as much as I do. And you are right — Euonymus ‘Manhattan’ and pachysandra are both ideal for year ’round arrangements, even during the bitter months of winter, which — after this cruel summer — can’t come soon enough!
Brenda Johnson says
How beautiful Kevin!! I love your ideas for various containers!! (I have an old tea pot I’ve used before…but these are some wonderfully inventive ideas for pieces that don’t necessarily get used for their intended function very often!) Great easy to follow steps!! Thanks Kevin!!
Mary in Iowa says
Beautiful! I’ve got masses of pink zinnias in the vegetable beds, and you’ve inspired me to do this in an antique covered vegetable dish for this weekend’s festivities. I don’t have pachysandra, but I’m thinking smallish hosta leaves and vinca and/or ivy with maybe some white garlic chive blossoms or Royal Standard Hosta blooms to set off the pink and green. Boxwood would work too. For winter I often use ivy or ferns from indoor pots and some holly with or without berries, along with clippings from the arborvitae. As Beverly does, I also reuse the foam.
We’re now predicted to be going into a spell of cooler weather, and since weather patterns often move east, perhaps you’ll get a break in the next week or so.
I am a dedicated weeder and staker from May until October….until it gets over 90 degrees. Then, I must confess, I am a compete wimp, and I stay indoors except for very early morning forays outside to pick flowers for the house. The weeds go crazy and I try not to look. Usually, in early September, we get just a few cool days (southern NY state) between bouts of blast furnace heat and I trot outside to tidy the beds all day. Some years ago, I went on a mission to locate porcelain and silver cache pots, teapots, unmatched bowls and the like to use for flowers. Few but me is willing to polish silver any longer so you can pick up single pieces for a song at antique shops. I polish away willingly in exchange for its soft gleam under beautiful flowers. From May through December, I have many containers of flowers, greens, berries–whatever the garden is offering– all over my house and I love it!
I am a dedicated weeder and staker from May until October….until it gets over 90 degrees. Then, I must confess, I am a compete wimp, and I stay indoors except for very early morning forays outside to pick flowers for the house. The weeds go crazy and I try not to look. Usually, in early September, we get just a few cool days (southern NY state) between bouts of blast furnace heat and I trot outside to tidy the beds all day. Some years ago, I went on a mission to locate porcelain and silver cache pots, teapots, unmatched bowls and the like to use for flowers. Few but me are willing to polish silver any longer so you can pick up single pieces for a song at antique shops. I polish away willingly in exchange for its soft gleam under beautiful flowers. From May through December, I have many containers of flowers, greens, berries–whatever the garden is offering– all over my house and I love it!
Kevin Lee Jacobs says
Hi Brenda – Thanks for reading. So glad you enjoyed the tutorial!
Hi Mary – My dwarf white snapdragons were pummeled by rain the night before I made this arrangement, otherwise I would have added them. I like your idea of using white garlic chive blossoms. Unusual and beautiful.
Hi Tracy – I’m with you. Flowers everywhere in the house, all year long.
Your arrangement is lovely! I’ve noticed that there are two kinds of foam sold, one kinda hard and one soft. Do they have different uses?
As a former floral designer, I love having flowers all around the house. And I especially love zinnias! I planted two flats of them this year and they’re going absolutely coo coo, right now, and will til frost. I keep them in small arrangements around the house and in bud vases on all my windowsills. They also last well out of water, so I sometimes tuck them into the grapevine wreath on the front door, or use them as garnishes on a party platter.
I once did a party when the Bridal Wreath Spirea was in bloom –they made spectacular arrangements!
linda faatz says
I plant 2 raised beds filled with long stemmed zinnias every year so that I can have arrangements everywhere. They are so beautiful in my flea market containers of all colors.
My latest discovery is Magellan zinnias from Park seeds. They are bushier and shorter stemmed but are terrific in a low container. These zinnias are fabulous planted in masses in the garden. I started the seeds under lights this spring and I think every seed germinated. So wonderful.
Mary Singer says
Love your post! We also are cooking here in Richmond, VA. In fact we were done a while back, but it continues. Only the crazy ones come out to weed the gardens. Most uncomfortable summer that I can remember. But very thankful for what we have, we are not under water or burning.
We are hosting a 50th anniversary for friends in our yard this weekend. I’ll have to raid the pachysandra for some fillers. We’re in the low 90s here in Easter Washington State but we do fine with the dry heat and our shade and misters. Lets not wish too hard for the freezing cold of winter yet!
In middle Georgia where I live, we have had 50 days over 95 degrees this summer when our average days over 95 degrees are 24 (according to the weather report I heard last night). My garden is doing OK, but my water bill budget is most definitely not. A brutal summer. Sure enjoy your blog.
Marilyn in Maine says
Hi Kevin, When it comes to flower arranging I am the worst. Your instructions give me courage to try, at least. I have an abundance of late blooming Mums. Could I use the leaves from that plant to cover the foam? Also, I like the sound of planting zinnias and may also clear a spot in my perennial garden for them next summer. We are having a very hot and dry summer here in Maine too. Very concerned about forest fires (I greatly pity California). Let’s not rush to winter just yet – it gets very cold here in the Northeast. I enjoy your web-site.
[email protected]'s Kitchen and Garden says
Our vegetable garden did terrible this year with this heat wave. We were in the middle of a severe drought till a couple of days ago. Not sure how we are doing now after the rain.
I need to go buy some foam. Your flower displays are so pretty. Even though it’s hot I want to enjoy the flowers too! thanks for the tutorial!
Samantha Gray says
Hotter than “H-E-two sticks” (as my southern Grandma used to say) here on the north shore of Long Island. Dante’s Inferno isn’t close to it! No matter how we watered and mulched, seeds didn’t sprout, sets didn’t grow and the garden is a real bust this year. Evenings are too warm for tomatoes to set, beans are laggard, and the soil is just too hot for most plants it seems. The crepe myrtles are loving it, however, as are the evening primroses – in every colour and even speckled! Hostas are blooming and grasses are sending up wonderful foxtails and seed heads, which make a cool arrangement for the living room. When our steps were created in a wide curve from front path down the yard slope to the driveway, most of my pachysandra died (didn’t know it was possible to kill it!), so I am babying what is left this year. But the black eyed Susans never fail (as the summer bulbs did this year) and make a very bright display on our table with ivy and periwinkle vine. A bit of crepe myrtle int here for extra colour and it’s summer indoors and out. Love your column, Kevin, and always look forward to reading and trying all your wonderful new things. Thank you!
Anthony Parker says
Thank you for sharing, this is very useful advice! It’s great to bring some flowers inside from time to time, they bring a lot of colour into the room and make everything seem more fresh and nice. I personally have many potted plants inside the house, and they bloom each summer, which turns my house into a true paradise.
There is something about zinnias. Crayon colors in the garden and house. I have to plant them even if nothing else.
Good job explaining a mass flower arrangement…my favorite kind! I got lazy about watering so my red zinnias are toast! Today, I’ll water everywhere, scrub and refill the birdbath-no mosquito larvae on my watch- and put new nectar in the hummingbird feeders. This is said with great resolve from a comfortably air conditioned house. We’re pushing 90 again today. Give me strength!
Rhonda Strahler says
THANK YOU!! I usually just poke some foliage and Zinnias cut to different lengths into a vase – the extent of my flower arranging skills! This is SO beautiful – I WILL try it. I ADORE Zinnias – my very favorite – probably because my father always had 2 rows of them all around the perimeter of our garden when I was a child ((1950’s!!).He said they not only please the eyes, but bring in the bees to pollinate the garden. It’s no surprise that I have 2 rows of them on the 2 long sides of my garden right now….; )