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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Step 2: Begin layering the arrangement.
Taking each branch of cotton in hand, I began to experiment until I had the right piece.
Above: With each new specimen, you most likely will need to trim.
Above: Don’t forget to add height to the arrangement.
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.
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.
Step 5: After the bouquet is mostly assembled, tie a ribbon around each side.
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.
Above: I left my structure a bit loose and wild, so the forms of individual plants would show.
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.
Above: Among the auburn and yellowing foliage, the scattered cotton balls remind me of winter’s first dusting of snow.
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.
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.