Holiday Entertaining Guide

Flower Shuttle volunteers share floral secrets for the holidays

aweigl@newsobserver.comNovember 22, 2013 

  • Want to volunteer?

    The Flower Shuttle was started in 2006 by Kathy Reece after reading an article in Oprah magazine about a similar effort in New York City.

    The group was started with the support of the Raleigh Moravian Church and its women’s ministry, which gave $700 in seed money to start the Flower Shuttle. Reece is now an adviser to the group.

    Volunteers meet most Tuesday mornings to create flower arrangements for local hospitals, hospices, soup kitchens, assisted living centers and other medical facilities. The volunteers collect flowers that would otherwise be thrown away by stores and florists or after special events.

    Volunteers are needed to pick up donated flowers, prep flowers and vases, create arrangements, organize deliveries and delivery.


    The group meets weekly at the Raleigh Moravian Church, 1816 Ridge Road. Drop-ins are welcome.

  • More information

    Start with: An 8-inch gathering vase, two lilies and a sunflower, focal point of this centerpiece.

    Fill in with: Mums, Japanese lanterns and hypericum berries.

    Make it last: Filtered water, changed every couple of days, will keep your arrangement looking fresh longer. Or use a commercial fresh flower food.

    Embellish with: Two orange slices add color and visual interest to the vase.

    Finishing touch: Inexpensive raffia bow can be short or allowed to trail onto the table.

    • Arrangement and how-to by Whole Foods, Wade Avenue, Raleigh.

It’s a snap to create a flower arrangement worthy of your holiday table, say the volunteers behind The Flower Shuttle in Raleigh.

Since 2006, they have assembled more than 107,000 arrangements to brighten local hospitals, soup kitchens and nursing homes. The nonprofit has a roster of 500 volunteers, mostly women, and about 60 to 80 gather at Raleigh Moravian Church on Tuesday mornings to make arrangements for distribution across the Triangle.

They use flowers that would otherwise be thrown away by grocery stores, big-box retailers, florists or after special events. They never know what types of flowers, greenery or containers they will have to work with.

“You learn that whatever you’ve got to work with – usually everything turns out beautiful,” said Nadine Yalch of Cary.

We asked the volunteers to share the secrets to creating a stellar floral centerpiece for your holiday entertaining.

What you need

• Garden shears or scissors

• Garden gloves

• Vases or containers

• Green, wet floral foam (Wet foam provides a steady supply of water to fresh flower arrangements and is available at most craft supply stores. It is different from dry foam, which is used for dried and silk flower arrangements.)

Step by step

• Always recut the flower stems, trimming at a 45-degree angle.

• Trim leaves off stems when putting flowers in water-filled vases. Leaves under the waterline will break down, creating murky, smelly water. The leaves also wilt sooner than blooms, spoiling the arrangement.

• Certain flowers, including popular Gerbera daisies and tulips, absorb water along the length of their stem as well as at the bottom, so they do better in water than in wet floral foam.

• Allow about 3/8th-inch of wet floral foam to stick out the top of the container. This will allow you to insert stems both parallel to and perpendicular to the container, creating a pretty half-circle shape. (If no foam protrudes, your only option is to insert greenery at an angle, which will produce a V-shaped arrangement.)

• See what can be gathered from your yard: any flowers in bloom, greenery, seed pods, berries, grasses, even attractive branches from Curly Willow tree or Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick shrub.

• When making an arrangement of just one type of flower, such as roses, use an odd number – that is, use three roses, instead of four. Odd-numbered groups create more visual interest than even pairings. This is called the Rule of Three in design.

• Start with the most eye-catching blooms, which will be the focal point of your arrangement. Place them in front and center.

• Let thinner flowers peek out the top of the arrangement. Use fuller flowers, for instance carnations or daisies, near the base.

• Fill in any blank spots with greenery, taking care to hide the green floral foam.

• Aim for low, squat centerpieces for a dining table to avoid blocking guests’ view across the table. A taller arrangement is better suited for a buffet table or sideboard.

Colorful combinations

•  Good fall holiday flowers: Sunflowers, pumpkin trees, yellow and orange Gerbera daisies, broomcorn, millet, cattails, carnations, mums and daisies.

•  Good winter holiday flowers: Roses, daisies, snapdragons, white Limonium, amaryllis, carnations, poinsettia, dahlia, tulips, gladiolus, anemone, calla lily, baby’s breath, iris, larkspur and freesia.

Weigl: 919-829-4848; Twitter: @andreaweigl

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