Spring has sprung, which signals that it’s time to start thinking about how you’ll be celebrating the rites of the season, by which we mean brunches, showers, and ‘just because it’s beautiful out’ gatherings. Since nothing goes hand-in-hand with spring entertaining like flowers, we turned to floral expert Margot Shaw, the founder and editor-in-chief of Flower magazine and author of the upcoming book Living Floral, to get her best tips for throwing a flower-festooned fete. Here Margot shares tons of know-how, from the best way to make a flower budget stretch, to the no-arrange flower that every host should know!
1. Don’t Choose Overwhelming Florals
It might run contrary to everything you think you know, but Margot’s golden rule for decorating with flowers is to opt for pared down florals over scene-stealing ones. “I like to say that we want our florals to whisper, not shout,” she says. The reasons for going with pared-down florals are plentiful, but chief among them is that they don’t detract from what should really be the center of the party: your guests! In place of weighty floral arrangements, Margot loves flowers with a less precious, wildflower feel. Chocolate cosmos, coneflowers and spiky gomphrena are all favorites. “I mean, you can’t beat a David Austin rose,” she says, “But I like the flowers that are just a little sassy. They’re not as beloved and not as obvious, but I think that’s all the more reason to love them.”
2. Use Flowers en Masse
Margot loves a densely-layered bouquet as much as the next, but when it comes to hosting (and especially last minute hosting), she has no qualms about limiting her florals to just one specimen of flower, even if it comes from the grocery store. Her trick for making bodega mums or carnations look chic? Using them in bulk. “When you mass anything, whether its carnations or rosemary it’s just pretty,” she says. “It’s lush.” For anyone who’s daunted by the prospect of attempting floral arrangements without the florist by their side, this trick is a total game-changer.
3. Use Unusual Vessels
Whether you’re on a budget, or simply looking for a way to crank up the whimsy, using unexpected vessels is one of Margot’s most beloved entertaining hacks. “One of my favorite vessels that I use is this sort of tall, cinnabar-colored wastebasket,” she says. “It’s square and has this Chinoiserie mouth that sort of flares out, and I will do a big old mass of hydrangeas in it.” Other options pulled from Margot’s Living Floral include using a silver Revere bowl for floating gardenias or a glass bottle for a single branch of quince. Spring is also the perfect time to experiment with wicker or lotus baskets.
4. Focus on the Foyer
Hailing from the Birmingham, Alabama means that hospitality is never far from Margot’s mind. That said, she’s not a huge fan of the front door wreath, since it spends most of its time shut away from guests’ view. “I don’t usually opt for wreath except at Christmas,” she says. Rather than a wreath, she recommends allotting your floral budget to a stunning centerpiece that takes up residence in your foyer or entry. “I do think there’s nothing more welcoming than a beautiful arrangement, that’s not too big, that sits in your foyer on your chest or your console or your lowboy. It’s just festive.”
5. Keep Centerpieces Low
Since good conversation is a key ingredient to any party, Margot is a huge proponent of centerpieces that skim the tabletop rather than tower over it. “Before I really sort of absorbed this I can’t tell you how many times I would take a centerpiece off the table and put it on the console and just leave it there on the sideboard for the entire meal and then put it back,” she says. “Now, how silly is that?” One way to ensure florals stay below the conversation line is to opt for a series of tiny arrangements that, as Margot puts it “march” down the table rather than anchor the center of it.
6. Limit Fragrance
In case you missed it in hosting 101: flowers like lilies and roses should only make rare appearances on the dinner table. The thought being that their strong scent can interfere with the smell and taste of the food. While scentless flowers like ranunculus and tulips are always an option, Margot is a fan of herbs, whose pungent scent she says, “just enhances the meal.” As a bonus, herbs are among some of the easiest plants to grow at home. Margot, for instance, wanders her husband’s garden prior to parties, clippers in hand. Among her favorite herbs to use is rosemary, which she loads into julep cups.
7. When in Doubt: Go With Hydrangeas
To be real, sometimes even with all the planning that goes into a party, the florals just drop to the wayside. When that happens, Margot has a secret weapon: hydrangeas. “For the neophyte flower arranger, hydrangeas arrange themselves,” she promises. Load an armload of them into virtually any vessel on the planet and they’ll look like a million bucks. To make sure they don’t fizzle during the party (they have a habit for getting a bit wilt-y), Margot recommends keeping them heavily hydrated, and if they do start to wilt take them out and put them face down in a sink of water. In addition to absorbing water through their stems, hydrangeas also absorb through their petals!
All photos courtesy of Rizzoli. Lead photo by Michael Mundy.