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  • Writer's pictureJulia Watson

Color Combinations in the Vase

Updated: Jul 17, 2021

Bold and summery - a combination of scarlet and gold zinnias

I could have called this post "The Farmer-Florist Thinks About Color" but since it's related to my previous post about color here, I opted for related titles.

I’ve always enjoyed making bouquets from my own flowers, but when Don and I started Tiny Footprint Flowers I had to make a lot more, and fast! I didn’t have formal training in floristry, but I had years of experience as an artist to guide me.* Here are the lessons I learned in making beautiful flower arrangements.

Choose Your Main Color Combination Carefully

They have to be harmonious of course, but consider the mood too. Ivory roses with soft pink or mauve accents will be quiet and nostalgic. Carmine and coral zinnias with burgundy accents will be bold and dramatic. I’m always looking for unexpected combinations, like golden varieties of Celosia with rose and coral shades of double snapdragons, or chartreuse zinnias with purple Agapanthus.

rose bouquet
This combo is bright but also elegant: deep cerise roses, pale pink rose and gray foliage.

Focus on Your Focal Flower

It’s the same with a painting – you need a focal point. In a flower arrangement it’s usually one or two large flowers, like roses, dahlias or giant zinnias. All your subsequent choices have to support and accentuate your focal flower and your main color combination.

rose bouquet
One 'French Lace' rose with everything else supporting a rich fall feeling.

Get the Right Green

There are greens that will bring out the beauty of your focal flower and others won’t, so choose carefully. I grow boxwood in two varieties, one a cool, deep green with blue cast, the other a bright, yellowish green. Most flowers will look better with one than the other, growing both means I can choose the right one. I also grow several types of scented geraniums, Nandina, several types of Pittosporum. The more you grow, the more you can get just the right thing.

Add Some Darks, Lights and Neutrals

I like to have these in production because they provide the right accent. Darks can come from flowers like ‘Black Knight’ scabiosa, deep blue Cerinthe, ‘Paul Scherer’ tulips, or the blue-black berries of privet.

Lights come from white or ivory flowers like ‘Oklahoma Ivory’ zinnias, ‘Thalia’ daffodils or ‘Vegmo Snowball’ Tanacetum. Neutrals can be grays like Dusty Miller foliage or Celosia in neutral shades like ‘Celway White.’ My intention here is not to make an exhaustive list, but to get you thinking about what to grow and use for more interesting floral designs.

Pink flower bouquet
Dusty Miller for gray, 'Smoky Eyes' larkspur as a neutral.

You Need More Filler

I didn’t really believe this until I started making arrangements regularly. I’d cut boxwood or myrtle and think I had plenty, only to run out halfway through my work. Many times Don saved us by going out and cutting more while I was making the last bouquets.

Try for airy or unusual accents. I’ve had several from Annie’s Annuals. Gomphrena decumbens, Scabiosa ochroleuca, Deschampia grasses are all wonderful as interesting fillers.

You also need plants to trail over the edge of the vase. Boxwood won’t do it, in fact many of the standard greens won’t work either. I often use scented geraniums. Mint sometimes works and small potted ivy is excellent. Certain varieties of Pittosporum work because they have whorls of leaves at the tips and these can be fit over the edge of the vase. Look around and find things that make a graceful line over the vase.

* You can see my paintings on my art website at

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