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Cut flowers

Little Pom PomsCommercially grown cut flowers are treated after they have been harvested so that they last longer.  If you buy from a reputable outlet and follow a few basic rules, there is no reason why you shouldn’t have your flowers for a week or more.  Blooms from the garden are beautiful too, but don’t expect them to last as long.  In either case, the transient nature of real flowers, I think, adds to their beauty.  For me there is something rather sad about the fake versions, no matter how life-like they may look.

The flowers: If you’re buying loose cut flowers follow the basic design principle that things tend to look best grouped in odd numbers so buy three, five or seven stems.   My favourite flower is the oriental lily and just three stems of this in a simple glass vase looks elegant and beautiful, proving that buying flowers needn’t be overly expensive. 

The vase: I tend to prefer glass most of the time – because of its stark simplicity it goes with everything, making the flowers the star attraction.  Other containers do, however, work well and here is where you can use your imagination because if an item has at one time contained liquid, then obviously it can be given a second lease of life as a container for flowers.  Look for antique or vintage kitchen ware – jugs, teapots, tumblers or even little cups.  Old jars, rinsed out and painted with glass paint can look good.  If you have children around you could get them to paint a vase for you.  Even tin cans can take on a new lease of life.  Soak off the labels, clean them thoroughly and make sure there are no raw edges left around the top.  Again, group in odd numbers for maximum impact – three shiny tin cans, lined up in a row and filled with cottage-type garden flowers would look very pretty.

Whatever you use, it should be squeaky clean to begin with as bacteria kills flowers.

Preparing the flowers:  Cut flowers bought from the shop should ideally be dealt with as soon as you arrive home with them.  Unwrap them carefully and trim the stems – take off at least an inch but you can take more if a certain height suits your container better.  (In short containers like cups and tumblers flowers tend to look best if the head appears to float at the level of the rim).   Cut the stems at a slant using sharp scissors or a knife.  I keep a pair of small garden secateurs for this in the kitchen drawer as pre-prepared bunches of flowers often contain flowers with woody stems which play havoc with ordinary scissors. 

Remove all leaves that will sit below the water level otherwise they will start to rot, make the water cloudy and bacteria will begin to grow.

Flowers look equally beautiful whether ‘arranged’ or cut roughly to one length.  You don’t need to be an expert to make a pretty display.  I tend to take pot luck, trimming the stems, individually, to about the same length and slotting them into the vase where I think they look best.  About the only bit of advice I’d give is not to make them look too regimented.  Keep in mind how they would look in the garden, and let your creative eye be your guide.  

Once you have arranged them, fill your vase with lukewarm water into which you have dissolved some commercially prepared flower food – your bunch of flowers should come with a sachet of flower food, either in powder or liquid/gel form.  If you’re buying loose stems, make sure that the supplier gives you a sachet.

Positioning flowers in your home to make them last longer: Avoid direct sunlight, heat and draughts.  Remove faded flowers as they occur.

Butter Cream Rose


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All about scent

Little Pink Rose

Here are some facts, pointers and advice about one of my favourite subjects – perfume.

Perfume is a carefully balanced blend of oil, combined with alcohol, essential oils and often chemical scents.   Sometimes described as having  ‘top notes’ of certain plants, this simply means that these are the scents that hit you first.  For example, Chanel No. 5 has, amongst others, top notes of ylang-yang and neroli but then gives way to ‘middle notes’ of rose and jasmine before revealing the woody ‘base notes’ of sandalwood and vanilla.  These layers are present in all good perfumes and it’s why, when buying a new perfume, you should always spray on a sample and then walk away for 10 minutes or so.  What you smell initially may delight you.  What is left after that initial spritz may be less appealing!  It’s also important to do this as perfume reacts differently on different skin.  What is great on your friend might be truly horrible on you.  (There is, for example, a perfume that I really like on other people that always, genuinely, smells like cat pee on me)!

Getting an idea of these ‘notes’ in your favourite perfumes will help guide you to new scents that you might like because fragrance falls into categories: Florals (rose, gardenia, lilac, jasmine etc.), Exotic (musk, ylang, ylang, vanilla), Spice (cinnamon, ginger, cloves), Wood (pine, sandalwood, cedar), Fruit (lemon, orange, peach) and Herbal (lavender, bay, sage).  Suppliers of perfume on the web often list the scent ingredients that make up a fragrance.  If you look up your favourite perfumes you may spot a common trend!

The purest form of your favourite scent you are likely to find available for sale will be ‘Eau de Parfum’ (EDP).  This is because the blend in its original form (Parfum) is so highly concentrated that it may actually cause allergic skin reactions.  To produce Eau de Parfum the scent has been diluted with ethanol, water or a neutral smelling oil or wax.  EDP is obviously the most expensive form of a scent because it contains, in proportion, more of the original blend of ingredients (approx. 30%) that make it smell so attractive. 

When the original scent has been diluted further it becomes Eau de Toilette (EDT) and occasionally you will find available Eau de Cologne or ‘Splash’, the weakest form of the perfume, often only containing 1-3% of its original scented compounds. 

Quite obviously these different versions smell very different and it may well be that you prefer the lighter fragrance of an Eau de Toilette.  However, if you really like a scent don’t be put off by the expense of a bottle of Eau de Parfum.  The greater concentration of the fragrant ingredients means that you can apply less to produce the same result and the scent is likely to last longer on your skin.    

Here are a few tips for applying and wearing perfume:

No perfume will last more than a few hours and so will have to be topped up during the day if you want to maintain the effect.  Pretty handbag sprays are often available of favourite perfumes.

Layering is the best way to make your scent last longer.  Use something like shower gel and then body lotion in the same range, finishing with a light spray of perfume, highlighting the pulse points.  

Pulse points on your body are areas where blood flow is closest to the surface of the skin, meaning that they stay warm – wrists, temples, backs of knees, inside elbows, behind the earlobes.  Perfume reacts to warmth by releasing more of its aroma.

For a more subtle effect, spray your perfume just in front of you and immediately walk through the mist so that it is dispersed all over you.

If you tend to stick with one perfume you can scent non-delicate, natural fabrics like cotton and linen, giving your clothes your signature scent.  Spray from a distance of 12-15 inches.  (Be very careful with this: perfume will stain silk and many synthetic fabrics).   This is not something I personally recommend by the way, simply because of the possibility of damaging my clothes and the fact that I tend to change my perfume depending on my mood and the time of year.

Last pointer, and it’s an important one.  Don’t ‘ladle’ on perfume.  Subtlety is the key. You want to drift by, leaving a delicate and enticing trail of loveliness behind you, not move along,  leaving in your wake a trail of poor asthmatics gasping for air and the noses of others kicking and screaming for mercy.

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