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Elements of Floral Design

Great Tips on Flower Conditioning
A critical aspect of flower arranging, especially for entering into flower shows is to properly condition your plant material.  Download and print this handy guide:  Tips on Flower Conditioning

For some great information on flower arranging,  visit these webpagesFlower Arranging     Basic Terms


The GCA Flower Arranging Study Group


By Design is a "must-have" publication for anyone interested in floral design.  Published four times a year, it is a magazine jam packed with pictures of award winning designs, a calendar of upcoming flower shows and workshop events, reviews of floral design books new on the market, a list of random resources and much, much more.

By Design is a subscription magazine. For a subscription form, login to new Members Only section of the GCA website. Login with your email and password. Then click the Resources tab and once there, go to Publications and follow the link to subscribe.

Flower Arranging - Elements and Principles

Flower Arranging is a fully realized art form through which we can express our personal feelings, ideas and individual choices, hopefully evoking an emotional response from the viewer. Flowers placed in a vase without any particular design are intrinsically beautiful, but the same flowers, arranged according to the basic principles of design, become a work of art.

All artists in any endeavor, using any medium, apply the Elements and Principles of Design when creating their work. These are factors already found in nature and given names and definitions by man.

Elements of Design
The following are ingredients of a design, in the context of flower arranging.

This is the first thing one notices about a floral design. Do the colors work together or do they seem unrelated? It is best to use either all pastels or all brights as these groups are hard to mix together. Choose a harmonious mix of colors close together on the color wheel such as red, orange and yellow or green, blue and purple. For a more powerful effect, chose opposing colors such as purple and orange. Study a color wheel to help understand how colors work together.

This is the overall shape of the design. Usually, it is a three dimensional geometric form such as a sphere, pyramid or cube (square or rectangle). Consider the shapes of the individual blossoms themselves; roses are round, irises are triangular, snapdragons are elongated triangles, and lilies are a circular arrangement of small triangles. A combination of different forms will create interest. They can emphasize the form chosen for the overall design.

Natural material such as stems, branches and leaves have inherent linear features. These lines create the framework of the composition. A straight vertical placement provides a static and stable line, while a slanted or cascading placement creates a dynamic and moving line. It is important to pay close attention to the relationship between all of the composition’s linear elements. They must work together to produce the arranger’s desired effect. Careful pruning of unnecessary leaves and shoots helps to strengthen the line.


Space in a floral design is three dimensional, as opposed to a painting where it is two dimensional. An arrangement must fit well in the space where it is to be viewed. The space within the design itself is usually divided between areas filled with plant material and empty shapes created by linear elements; for example, the open space between the limbs of a branch. Negative and positive spaces are of equal importance in making the design interesting.


The diverse surface quality of each different material in a design creates textural interest. Juxtaposition of shiny and dull, rough and smooth, coarse and fine, regular and irregular material makes the arrangement exciting, evoking the tactile senses e.g. consider the multi-petaled Zinnia with the large smooth overlapping petals of a rose.

Principles of Design
The principles organize the elements. They are the recipe for a cohesive and successful design.


Balance, both visually and physically, is a critical factor to the arrangement’s staying power. Balance can be achieved both symmetrically and asymmetrically. Imagine a vertical line through the center of the design. Are the two sides visually balanced? Does one side seem heavier or more important than the other? The same material need not be used on both sides but needs to be of equal importance. A larger negative space can balance a smaller filled space.

Visual excitement is created by differing materials placed together. Contrast can be achieved through color, shape, size and texture. The play of these elements provides interest throughout the design.

A clear decision is made to make a certain material predominate in the design. It can be a special flower, texture or color. It may also be the illustrious “focal point.” It might be the form of the design itself or the spaces within. The special interest feature should be accented or supported by its subordinate elements. To create a well-designed whole, be careful that the special feature does not “over dominate” the rest of the design.

This is the relationship of size and quality between all materials in a design. Is the container a good size for the plant material? Consider the choice of a rose or King Protea in a crystal bud vase. Is the finished arrangement in proportion to its surroundings? Consider a cache pot on the hall table versus a monumental garden urn. Are the materials in the arrangement proportional to each other? Consider a combination of Babies Breath with hanging Heliconia. Are there enough Daisies mixed in with the Babies Breath, or are they overpowered by the small white blossoms?

Rhythm gives vitality and excitement to an arrangement. It is the path your eyes follow through the total design. Rhythm is movement through size gradation, repetition of color or material and linear direction. If the beautiful sinuous line of a large calla lily is abruptly interrupted by an ill-placed leaf, the eye is jolted out of the composition and not sure how to return.

Scale is the size relationship of the smallest material to all other elements of the design. Too much diversity of size will affect the success of the design. Consider trying to put a sunflower in a teacup or babies breath combined again with the Lobster Claw Heliconia.

Beginning Flower Arranging

Try simple basic designs at first. Set as your goal a conscious effort to create an even pattern of color, texture or specific blossoms in a sphere. Use a 4”-6” wide mouthed container no more that 6” high. A terra cotta flower pot shape is an easy choice. Soak the floral foam by laying in on the surface of the water, letting it draw on its own. Dry air pockets will be created if it is forced down. Cut the foam to fit loosely in the container rising 1”-2” above the rim to facilitate the all around sphere form with material breaking the edge of the container to integrate material and vase together. Insert all stems towards a central binding point much the same way a plant grows to achieve a natural effect.

Intermediate Flower Arranging
Once the basic design has been mastered, concentrate less on patterning and more on composition. Consider using negative spaces balanced with filled areas. Try different textural and color combinations. Use a line as your design’s skeleton. Lay chicken wire on top of the floral foam and tape it to the container for extra support for tall and/or thick stems. It is crucial at this point to keep the Principles and Elements in mind.

Advanced Flower Arranging
Advanced design is rethinking the ordinary and challenging conventions. Explore new containers or construct a design with no container at all. Water sources may become glass test tubes or small foam domes affixed high in a branch. The possibilities are endless. Think of floral art as temporal sculpture. Tell a story. Even an advanced mass arrangement can tell a story of color, form, texture, rhythm or balance. Through correct application of the Principles and Elements of Design, along with technical finesse, one can create truly extraordinary works of floral art.

In Conclusion
Flower Arranging is a very accessible art to practice. Chances are that you already have most of the needed equipment in your home and garden. Pachysandra is a beautiful rosette of its own accord; a kitchen glass makes a nice contemporary container. As you grow in your skill, you will need more sophisticated equipment. Growth is a process that happily never ends and enriches one’s inner creative life. Through practice you will learn to love floral design.