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Adding flair to cash-and-carry Valentine flowers

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Valentine floral arrangements are a fun do-it-yourself project. Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service2 / 5
The first flowers inserted into the foam establish the height, width and shape of the arrangement. Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service3 / 5
Don Kinzler, Growing Together gardening columnist4 / 5
Wettable floral foam and a containter turn cash-and-carry flowers into a floral arrangement. Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service5 / 5

FARGO — Diamonds are high-priced and chocolates add calories. That's why flowers and Valentine's Day go together like Martha Stewart and color-coordinated garden hose.

On Valentine's Day, flower shops are filled with floral arrangements elegant enough to give even Martha a run for her money.

Speaking of money, there's a way to enjoy a nice floral arrangement from the local florist, even if you're on a tight budget.

Most florists sell pre-packaged, cash-and-carry flower bunches at a reasonable price. Instead of just setting the flowers in a water-filled vase, we can create something exciting. And if a clumsy guy like me can make a simple floral arrangement, anyone can. (And for me, the pressure is really on, because my wife, Mary, was a trained florist.)

Selecting flowers

Cellophane-wrapped bunches might have one or more flower types included, often with a few sprigs of greenery. Floral arrangements can be created with one flower type, but it's easier if you have flowers of several shapes. Look for tall, spike-shaped blooms like snapdragons or gladiolus plus round flowers like roses or lilies.

Although upright vases are the most common flower-holder, they aren't the most effective. Flowers in a vase often look like the same rounded bouquet, because it's difficult to position them any other way. A plain soup bowl, or similar container, is more adaptable.

The key ingredient in simplified floral design is wettable floral foam, and the most popular brand is Oasis. You might not find it on the shelf in the floral shop, but you can ask for it at the counter. Each foam block can be cut to size for two or three arrangements. Whether you're using a vase or a bowl, the foam holds flower stems in the desired position, allowing exact placement.

Steps to follow

• Cut the block of foam to fit the bowl or vase you've chosen. Foam should extend above the rim by at least two inches.

• Soak the foam in water until it sinks, indicating it's saturated, then place in bowl or vase.

• Most flower bunches are sold with a packet of floral preservative. Dissolve in water as directed, and fill the arrangement's container with the solution.

• The foam's weight will usually keep it stable in the container, or crisscross strips of heavy tape over the foam.

• Decide the shape of the arrangement. For greatest interest, choose a non-round shape with a definite line, such as a triangle, a crescent or a lazy s-curve. Arrangements seen from one side are easiest, and require fewer flowers.

• Insert longer, linear, spike-shaped flowers into the foam to frame the shape you've chosen, after giving stems a fresh cut to desired length. These flowers establish the height and width. Because the foam extends several inches above the container's rim, you can position flowers horizontally or downward, as well as up.

• The best floral arrangements have a focal point — an eye-catcher located at the design's lower center. All points should appear to radiate out from this central feature, which can be large, round flowers like roses or lilies used singly or in a closely spaced group of three.

• Add flowers to fill gaps, shortening their stems as needed, and inserting in locations that maintain the arrangement's shape. Tuck the fill-ins so the focal point extends forward a little, giving a 3-D effect of depth. Outer edges of the arrangement can be airy, with the lower center more visibly heavy and full.

• If a few greens were included in the flower bundle, add them to extend beyond the outer edges, or to conceal the foam between flowers.

• Add extra preservative solution as needed.