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Building a Thanksgiving Centerpiece

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My flower arranging skills are pretty straightforward - I can handle a typical bouquet, but when it comes to a more unique centerpiece, I find the process a little challenging. Since we're hosting Thanksgiving this year, I decided to reach out to the namesake and mastermind behind L.A.'s Hollyflora, Holly Vesecky, on how to build a stunning holiday arrangement that might just upstage the food. 


The Sum of its Parts: Select five different kinds of flowers in varying textures, descending sizes, and different but complementary colors. For this one, Vesecky chose four blush-hued peonies (the largest of the bunch), six medium yellow Helios Garden roses, a handful of average-sized wild flowers, two baby peach-colored ranunculus, and a handful of tiny dusty-pink flowers from the Nandina plant. "The blush and dusty oranges are kind of our feminine twist on Thanksgiving," says Vesecky. Grounded by greenery, leaves, and cranberry-colored sprigs, the spring-like shades suddenly look perfectly autumnal.

The element that looks like cranberries is called Nandina. "I chose it because it is a very common landscaping hedge," explained Vesecky. "It is at Home Depot, it’s at In-n-Out Burger—it’s in your garden and you don’t even know it. It makes these beautiful fall berries and it’s very accessible. It's also the same plant as the tiny flowers and foliage. The flowers become the berries and then the foliage." 

Regardless of which blooms you have access to, you can follow Vesecky's rule of thumb: "Our general aesthetic is to always buy five things at the farmer's market or at your florist, and then use your garden or whatever you can find outdoors to augment, to make it look original. That is our whole ethos." 


Worthy Vessel: Choosing the right vessel is a huge factor when it comes to building an arrangement that works. A normal salad bowl makes the perfect base. Vesecky chose copper because it's an under-utilized material (most people pick brass), and brings some warmth to a Thanksgiving table. Fill the bowl with floral foam to keep everything in place.


Infinity and Beyond: The secret to a professional-looking arrangement is to build it with an infinity sign in mind. This means starting at the back left corner, then filling the front right, back right, front left, and filling in the holes in that same sort of swirling, infinity-like motion. "Because we read and scan left to right, if you build your flower arrangement this way, there is movement. I think you can notice that in most people’s flower arrangements, there is subtle back motion left to right. It started in the 1500s." 

Embrace Curves: When you have a branch that slopes downward, it's something to celebrate. "People often think they're dead, but we love getting the things that hang over and show shape," said Vesecky. "They're a really special thing. Then you have this relaxed movement to the piece." For flowers or foliage that have a natural "lilt" to them, choose a place that sort of looks natural for them to bend down, like the front left or right corners. 


Grounding Factor: "It's nice to have a grounding factor, which means a heavier leaf, so not everything looks so lacey," says Vesecky. The grounding factor above is the maple-looking leaf Vesecky stuck into each quadrant of the infinity sign.

Staggering Heights: As you can see from the photo above, Vesecky placed the large peonies at staggered heights in different quadrants. Nothing should look too "aligned." 


Backwards Beauty: A cool trick Vesecky uses when building an arrangement is to turn a few leaves around backwards. It's a great way to get maximum mileage out of a particular type of foliage, because it showcases a different side, color, and texture than if you were to face all leaves of a given variety forward. 

Breathing Room: Once you start peppering in the larger and medium flowers for shape, it's important to keep the center open, says Vesecky, "so it doesn't just end up looking like a dome. Lots of people make things that look very rounded, and planar. They make it look like it's only one plane. So we're trying very hard to make an in-and-out situation," that doesn't look one-dimensional or too "intentional," she explained. 


Forward Motion: "Having things come forward is so important," says Vesecky. Even with blooms that don't have a natural lilt, like the stick-straight garden rose shown above, you want to place a few stems so they're coming forward out of the arrangement, so there is depth and density.

Imbalance is Better: "I'm always trying to fight the balance, because that's how I learned," Vesecky told us. "I've been doing flowers for 25 years, and we started doing things in triangles. You have to fight those urges for "order." You can have a single flower, ones, twos, threes of different flowers, so there isn't such a defined method. That's how you get that Dutch Master feel."


Filled In: The final touches are to fill in any holes with your berry clusters and greenery, without overthinking it. "If you think too much about structure you're going to get screwed up," says Vesecky. If the arrangement feels too stiff at the end, she suggests softening it up by sticking in some leaves that have a feathery feel. 

Cut Right: Vesecky cuts every stem before it goes into the arrangement, and gives these words of caution: "You want to cut between the nodes. A node is where the leaf comes out, and flowers drink up their stem. They do that in the inner layer of "flesh." The node is sort of like a break. The water flows up, and it holds it there, at the node. So if you cut at the node, you're ruining the flower's method of bringing water up the stem. So you cut between, and then at an angle, to get as much surface area as you can to flow into that node."

The final, stunning product. 

The final, stunning product. 


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