Short on Floral Inspiration? Start with the Vessel, Says David Stark

If you ever find yourself lacking in inspiration for a great floral arrangement, take this tip from event designer David Stark: start with the vessel. It’s a simple trick, and a good investment—after all, the vases will stay while the flowers come and go.

The team at David Stark Design created five fall arrangements just for us—all with flowers available now, and all chosen for the beautiful handmade vessels in which they sit. Most of these flowers can be had on the cheap, and all the arrangements are simple enough to recreate at home. So find a favorite vessel—mug, dish, or vase—and get to work:

Photography by David Stark Design for Gardenista. 

Fall Flower Arrangement by David Stark for Gardenista

Above: The team sourced New Jersey-grown dahlias from the Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket in Brooklyn—”Dahlias are the peonies of autumn,” says David—and paired them with black-and-white Splatter Mugs by LA artist Peter Shire. According to David, the key to this arrangement is having the courage to pair a bold color with an equally bold graphic pattern—here, “assertively decorative” magenta dahlias with subtly colored, but strongly graphic vessels. “The flowers arrange themselves!” he says. For sourcing information, visit Echo Park Pottery or Peter Shire Studio.

Fall Flower Arrangement by David Stark for Gardenista

Above: Armed with this bud vase from Gardenista favorite Cécile Daladier, David assures us even a complete beginner can create floral arrangements akin to sculpture. “The dialogue here with this charming vase is not only with the blooms, but also with the gesture and structure of the stems,” he says. 

David’s team arranged drumstick alliums and passion vine in the three-holed shallow vase, which forces skinny-stemmed flowers like alliums to stand on their own. However, notes David’s team, because the dish is so shallow it’s important to keep the water topped up or the flowers will wilt. When arranging several of these vases in a group, “variation is key.” For soucing information, visit Cécile Daladier.

Fall Flower Arrangement by David Stark for Gardenista

Above: Here, the team paired ‘PowWow White’ echinacea with ceramic flower discs of David’s own design. Made in collaboration with Detroit ceramicist Victoria Shaheen for Culture Lab Detroit, the hand-made discs will be available starting October 30 at design shop Nora (in Detroit and online). Stay tuned for more on a David Stark-designed pop-up shop at Nora to be held October 30-November 15.

Fall Flower Arrangement by David Stark for Gardenista

Above: David Stark’s Ceramic Flower Rests come in six sizes, each with different hole patterns and each paired with a cylindrical glass vase. Check Nora for availability beginning October 30.

Fall Flower Arrangement by David Stark for Gardenista

Above: These two designs are all about “architectural juxtaposition,” says David—of shape, form, color, and texture—anchored by sculptural vessels from Brooklyn artist Cody Hoyt. The team arranged scabiosa, French anemones, and optic grass in the shorter vase, and a burst of white sedum blossoms in the tall one. David’s tip: “Because these piece stand a-kilter, have fun with that: cluster various heights of vessels and blooms to create an architectural arrangement.” For more on Hoyt’s high art vessels, visit Patrick Parrish

Fall Flower Arrangement by David Stark for Gardenista

Above: This terra cotta urn by potter Frances Palmer calls out for a full fall arrangement—”lush seasonal abundance,” in David’s words. The team filled it with locally harvested dahlias, basil blossoms, amaranthus, sunflowers, eucalyptus, echinacea, and smartweed. Note: The urn has a drainage hole for planted arrangements, so cut flowers require a watertight liner tucked inside. The No. Five Terra Cotta Two Handle Urn is $ 350 at Frances Palmer Pottery. 

For more from David, see: 

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DIY Decor: Justine’s Spooky-Elegant Halloween Table Setting

Good Halloween decor should always evoke a ghost story. Mine captures a ladies’ luncheon gone on waaaay too long. 

Every October my husband and children run around bedecking the exterior of our house with ghouls and pumpkins. But the interior is my domain. I like to honor All Hallows’ Eve with a more subtle, grown-up approach—something that is only vaguely sinister or decayed.

Last year I paid homage to Miss Havisham in my hall. (See Justine’s Haunted Hall.) This year I wanted to serve a spectral supper in the dining room. Using little more than floating black leaves and bone-white porcelain, I’ve conjured a Halloween setting that is, I like to think, equally haunting and beautiful. Here’s how I did it.

Photography by Justine Hand.

Above: The inspiration for my Halloween table came from two sources: an old issue of Kinfolk that featured an autumnal setting with colorful leaves floating over a table, and a Martha Stewart DIY, in which she preserved fall leaves in wax. Step one: Gather leaves. While my daughter, Solvi, searched for sunset yellows and oranges, I hunted for noirish reds and browns, the more desiccated and moth-eaten, the better.


Above: All you need for this project is:

  • Approximately 35 leaves in dark colors. I allowed my leaves to dry overnight so the edges would curl.
  • 1/3 pound wax. I used beeswax from Ruhl Bee Supply; $ 8.50 for 1 pound.
  • Black candle dye. I used Liquid Eco-friendly Candle Dye, also from Ruhl Bee Supply; $ 7.35.
  • A double boiler.
  • Any fine thread.


Above: Melt wax in a double boiler over medium heat. After the wax is entirely melted, add several drops of coloring. Stir and do a test dip with the leaves. Add more color until the leaves reach the desired shade. You also can re-dip the leaves for a richer hue.

Above: Reduce the temperature of the wax to low. Holding the stem, quickly dip each leaf in the wax, letting the excess drip back into the pot. Place leaves on parchment paper to dry. 

Above: Now much more noir, my wax-dipped leaves will also last for a long time.

You may be wondering, Why I didn’t just paint the leaves? You could, but I wanted the depth of the translucent wax. Also, for the paint to adhere, you’d have to use something pretty heavy-duty, like household paint. That seemed to require at least as much effort as dipping leaves in wax. (Plus, I plan to use the excess wax and dye to make black candles. Stay tuned.)

Above: If necessary, use a hammer and nail to poke holes in the leaves. Or simply tie a thread to the stems. Be sure to give yourself extra string, so you can adjust the height of your hanging leaves.

Above: Solvi and I also found some wonderfully twisted locust pods.

Above: Suspend your leaves at staggered lengths. I used matte Scotch tape to affix them to the ceiling.

Above: After the leaves are hung, it’s time to consider your tablescape. I wanted a stark contrast to the black leaves, so I employed alabaster porcelain from White Forest Pottery, dried straw flowers, pale gourds, and several layers of creamy linens to create a ghostlike shroud.

Above: Voila! My finished table.

Above: For a centerpiece I gathered more black leaves as a backdrop for two white gourds set on an antique pedestal.

Above: I love the lacy effect of the tattered leaves. Here also you can see that I added one red leaf, like a pinprick on my tableau.

Above: Elderberry Cordial from Caledonia Spirits makes a perfect Halloween aperitif for adults. And note, you don’t need to polish the silver.

Above: More haphazardly placed linens add an air of neglect to the side bar.

Above: A wider view of the dining room.

Above: Solvi walked through the completed space this morning. “Mom, Is that room supposed to be creepy?” she asked. “Yes,” I said. “Did I do a good job?” “Yeah,” she replied with a shiver.

Get fully spooky:

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Getting Started: Salvias for Zone 9

California's small, Mohave Desert city of Barstow averages about 5 inches of rain annually. Across the continent, Pensacola, Florida, has more than double Barstow's population and more than 12 times its amount of rainfall. Yet both cities are part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Plant Hardiness Zone 9 where you can plant perennials and shrubs that survive winter lows ranging from 20 to 30 degrees F. Flowers by the Sea takes readers on a triple coast road trip of Zone 9 and suggests plantings for varied growing conditions along the way.
Flowers by the Sea

New at FBTS: Butterflies Love Perennial Echeandia Texensis

It isn't surprising that the golden flowers of the drought-resistant, perennial Texas Craglily (Echeandia texensis) are tops for attracting butterflies. The plant was first discovered on Green Island in Laguna Madre, which is at the southernmost tip of Texas. The area is part of the Lower Rio Grande Valley, which is home to 300 butterfly species. Texas Craglily is an adaptable plant that grows well both in dry and somewhat damp conditions and from California to the Southeast. But it is a rare species that may be threatened by land development and the U.S./Mexico border fence.
Flowers by the Sea

Drought Praise: Around the World with Sunny Groundcovers

Bring on the sun. Bring on the heat. Bring on the drought-resistant Salvia groundcovers.Flowers by the Sea offers a short list of top groundcovers from around the world for fighting drought. They come from Asia, California, Mexico and Morocco in lavender, purple and pink to do battle against the boring brown caused by water shortage. Similar to gravel, bark chip or pine needle mulch, these groundcovers discourage weeds, cool soil, conserve moisture and add color to gardens. They are living mulch.
Flowers by the Sea

Fioraio Bianchi Caffè: Food and Flowers from Milan’s Poet Florist

There is only one restaurant inside a flower shop in Milan—or maybe the flower shop is inside the restaurant? This much is known about Fioraio Bianchi Caffè: order the fresh pasta with clams (and rocket pesto) for lunch, and then you may buy a bouquet if you like. Probably you will want to, because the flowers are courtesy of the city’s most famous “poet florist,” 89-year-old Raimondo Bianchi.

It’s open for lunch and dinner, and all the flowers are for sale. Or go down to the basement workshop to order a custom floral arrangement between the hours of 9 am and 7 pm.

Photography via Fioraio Bianchi Caffè except where noted.


Above: The story of Fioraio Bianchi Caffè begins in 1945, after the war, when 19-year-old Raimondo Bianchi became an apprentice florist in Milan to help his family make ends meet. A decade later, he opened his own flower-and-coffee shop at Via Montebello 7. As the Brera neighborhood became tonier, rents rose and by 2004, after nearly 60 years in the business, a change was necessary.


Above: By 2005, the coffee shop had evolved into a restaurant under the guidance of owner Massimo Villardita, and the atmosphere remains “a very special place where the flowers will still surprise with their scents, their forms, their shades,” Bianchi said.


Above: Bianchi’s arrangements are evidence, as the writer Gloria Wells has said, that he “is by nature contemplative, and not by chance has over the decades earned the title of ‘florist poet’.”

Fiorario Bianchi Caffe bar counter Milan ; Gardenista

Above: Photograph via Trip Advisor.

Billed as a bistro, the restaurant serves a full lunch and dinner menu. French music plays in the background.


Above: Photograph via Daniel Farò.

(You also can order a cup of coffee at the counter in the morning.)


Above: Says Bianchi: “A flower is a tribute. The antithesis of consumerism is ephemeral, but can take away the sadness.”


Above: Photograph via The Asmonti Chronicles.

The floral arrangements change with the seasons; Bianchi sources flowers from local farms.

Fioraio Bianchi Caffe Milan ; Gardenista

Above: Orchids are for sale (L) or go downstairs (R) to place a custom order.

Fioraio Bianchi Caffe Milan florists workshop ; Gardenista

Above: Photograph via Graffidigusto.

In the basement is Bianchi’s workshop.

Raimondo Bianchi Florist Milan ; Gardenista

Above: Photograph via Slowtown.

“I have always worked from morning to night with the rhythm of a clock because I think that being able to build something with consistency is important,” says florist Raimondo Bianchi.

Traveling to Milan? See more of our favorite spots:

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DIY: A Winter White Holiday Bough

In floral design, I love the challenge of working with new and unexpected materials. So when I spotted some cotton branches at my local Whole Foods, I was immediately intrigued. Their fluffy, white plumes set in brittle, golden pods seemed the perfect launching point for a late autumn arrangement.

See below for step-by-step instructions for making a winter white bough with branches of cotton:

Photography by Justine Hand for Gardenista. 

DIY Cotton Garland, cotton branches, by Justine Hand for Gardenista

Above: Cotton branches with raw cotton bolls from Whole Foods Market. You can find similar Cotton Branches at Save on Crafts; $ 5 for two stems.

I have to admit that my cotton sat around for a few days while I contemplated how to exhibit the branches to best effect. A rounded bouquet or wreath seemed too obvious. I wanted a contrast to the cute, fluffy bolls—something with structure and dramatic flair. 

DIY Cotton Garland, millet, by Justine Hand for Gardenista

Above: Some millet, also found at Whole Foods, seemed the perfect complement—spiky and dark. Similar Dried Purple Majesty Millet is $ 7.99 per bunch at Dried Decor.

DIY Cotton Garland, pear branch, by Justine Hand for Gardenista

Above: And then I found this pear branch at Winston Flowers, and the form began to emerge. Playing off the natural forms of the branch, I would create a sweeping autumnal bough. Though I bought mine, a similar branch could easily be foraged.

DIY Cotton Garland, oak and bridal wreath branches, by Justine Hand for Gardenista

Above: Now all I needed was some foraged material to would complete my homage to the waning days of fall—something that would reflect autumn, but not immediately wilt after I got it indoors. A spray of bridal wreath and some oak leaves seemed perfect. I also gathered a few sprigs of yellowing privet with aubergine berries.

DIY Cotton Garland, tools and supplies, by Justine Hand for Gardenista

Above: Other than my plant specimens, all I needed were flexible floral wire, clippers, and a lovely velvet ribbon. I used 16 MM Mustard French Velvet Ribbon from The Ribbon Jar; $ 3.55 per yard.

DIY Cotton Garland, step one, by Justine Hand for Gardenista

Step 1: Consider your structure and create a base.

Think about the basic shape of you arrangement. Do you want a single- or double-sided bough? If the latter, do you want it equal in length or lopsided? You also have to consider where you want to display it. Is it going to lie flat on a table (in which case you need to build it up on all sides), or flat against a wall (one side). Is it going to hang or drape off a mantel?

When I started, I wasn’t really sure, so I simply started by building one side of the bough. Channeling my inner-ikebana I grabbed a branch, which I knew would be the base of my arrangement, and examined how best to trim it down. This I coupled with the more linear millet to create a structural counterpoint.

DIY Cotton Garland, step 2, by Justine Hand for Gardenista

Step 2: Begin layering the arrangement.

Taking each branch of cotton in hand, I began to experiment until I had the right piece.

DIY Cotton Garland, trim branches as you go, by Justine Hand for Gardenista

Above: With each new specimen, you most likely will need to trim.

DIY Cotton Garland, building up the garland, by Justine Hand for Gardenista

Above: Don’t forget to add height to the arrangement. 

DIY Cotton Garland, wire branches, by Justine Hand for Gardenista

Step 3: Secure your first few branches with floral wire.

You will notice that I didn’t immediately start tacking down the branches. That’s because I wanted give myself the flexibility to change things until the basic structure emerged. Once satisfied that I was on the right track, I began to wrap the branches together with wire. Don’t worry at this point if you have bare branches showing. You can cover those later when you build up the middle.

DIY Cotton Garland, constructing side 2, by Justine Hand for Gardenista

Step 4: After you have one side loosely constructed, begin building up the other side and the middle. 

I lifted my arrangement onto a mantel (which is awaiting a new coat of soft gray paint, BTW), so I could also begin to build up the understory. You will notice from this less than inspiring image that my arrangement looks a little hopeless at point. I admit I was worried, and you may be too. But hang in there. Just keep adding materials and securing with wire until you get the effect you want.

DIY Cotton Garland, tie ribbon, by Justine Hand for Gardenista

Step 5: After the bouquet is mostly assembled, tie a ribbon around each side.

DIY Cotton Garland, finished, by Justine Hand for Gardenista

Step 6: Hang or place in situ and continue to add last minute touches until you have the arrangement you want. Here is my finished piece.

DIY Cotton Garland, detail 3, by Justine Hand for Gardenista

Above: I left my structure a bit loose and wild, so the forms of individual plants would show.

DIY Cotton Garland, detail 7, by Justine Hand for Gardenista

Above: I didn’t use anything other than the pear branches for structural support, allowing for more flexibility in the arrangement. After it was hung, it took on a nice gentle arch. 

DIY Cotton Garland, detail 6, by Justine Hand for Gardenista

Above: Among the auburn and yellowing foliage, the scattered cotton balls remind me of winter’s first dusting of snow.

DIY Cotton Garland, detail 4, by Justine Hand for Gardenista

Above and below: You will note that I did not create a mirror image on both sides of the arrangement. It’s more extemporaneous and natural that way.

DIY Cotton Garland, detail 9, by Justine Hand for Gardenista

Above: I did not preserve my leaves because I wanted them to continue to yellow just as they would outside. If you want your arrangement to appear fresh indefinitely, you can preserve the leaves beforehand by drying them or dipping them in wax. Or you can build your structure around a bit of floral foam or moss that has been soaked in water. Finally, you can prolong the arrangement by refreshing it with new material.

N.B. Want to experience some other wild arrangements? See 10 Tips for Floral Arrangements With Native Flowers, from Brooklyn Florist Emily Thompson. Also: Alexa created 12 Autumnal Centerpieces for $ 200.

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