It’s no surprise that we’re passionate about posies, but we also feel a budding kinship with Margot Shaw, the delightful and talented founder and editor in chief of Flower magazine. To us, she’s a kindred spirit—so passionate about a singular aspect of joy that she’s ventured to build an entire magazine around it. So devoted is Margot to the power of posies that she recently penned Living Floral: Entertaining and Decorating with Flowers, a gorgeous and comprehensive new coffee-table book filled with inspiring ways to add blooming-fabulous touches to our homes and parties. Mix yourself a Garden Gimlet, and join us as we sow the seeds of Margot’s floral wisdom.
Why are flowers so important in our lives?
Flowers have been integral to our well-being since the beginning. There are lots of examples from art, religion, medicine, literature, and romance. But for me, it boils down to two words: “natural beauty.” As Joni Mitchell wrote in the song, Woodstock, “We got to get ourselves back to the garden.” As we get further away from nature and its inherent wonder, majesty, and beauty, we get further away from ourselves. Nature and flowers are festive and perfect and life-giving, and don’t we all need that?!
Photo from Living Floral by Michael Mundy
Who inspired your love of flowers?
It began early but went dormant for years. I remember happening upon a rainbow of flowers in our neighborhood when I was five, and in an almost primal urge, I proceeded to harvest every one of them and took them home to my mother who was not pleased, as the hyacinths belonged to a neighbor. As an adult, I was inspired by Sybil Sylvester, one of the great floral designers, with whom I worked to “flower” my daughter’s at-home wedding. I recognized once again the intrinsic beauty of flowers and their exquisitely ephemeral nature (witness the here-today-gone-tomorrow nature of wedding flowers), but in Birmingham, as in many cities, they’re whisked away and given to hospitals and retirement homes. The surprise to me was that floral design was such a rich and unique art form, one that I had never really considered.
What is the most spectacular floral design you have ever seen?
Hands down, the Flower Carpet at the Grand-Place in Brussels, a floral installation made up of nearly a million flowers that had been woven into a beautiful transitory tapestry by hundreds of devoted volunteers from around Belgium. Such patience and hard work to create something for all to enjoy. What a labor of love!
Margot’s new book features a foreword by Salonniere 100 honoree, Charlotte Moss
What are the current trends in floral design?
We’re seeing a greater emphasis on organic flowers and arranging practices. Many designers have abandoned floral foam altogether, as it isn’t biodegradable. Also, there are more and more designers who are growing their own flowers—on farms or in backyards. As far as actual design goes, the loose, natural, garden-y shape is everywhere now. It seems easy, because it looks somewhat disheveled, but it can go badly awry if not undertaken with care and some design experience.
What are your favorite floral and table runner ideas for spring?
I really like flowering branches and azaleas combined in a tall glass cylinder vase. Placed on a chest or console in the foyer, they trumpet spring and are dramatic. For a table runner, place daffodils in wheatgrass flats down the length of the table. (You can use water picks to hydrate the flowers and place them in the grass.) It’s fresh and modern and encourages easy cross-table conversation.
The Oval Fountain in Villa d’Este, Tivoli
What are your favorite gardens from around the world?
- Nancy Lancaster’s gem-like, somewhat whimsical garden at Haseley Court in Oxfordshire, England
- A little-known property in Nouvelle-Aquitaine, France, called les Prés d’Eugénie that is now a resort but was originally the country retreat for Empress Eugénie. The gardens are lush and imaginative, yet precise, tasteful, and very French.
- The gardens at the Villa d’Este in Tivoli, just outside Rome. This may be an obvious choice, but to me the brilliantly conceived and constructed water features, providing a wall of water sounds, and the immaculate Italian gardens are breathtaking and timeless.
One of the gardens at The Mount. Photo via edithwharton.org.
- Closer to home, I love the elegant Italianate and French gardens at The Mount, Edith Wharton’s estate in Lenox, Massachusetts. The American author’s interpretation of things she’d seen and loved abroad is to me almost more interesting than the originals that inspired her.
- In my home town of Birmingham, Alabama, I love Louise Wrinkle’s already-iconic woodland garden, which is full of native plants and trees (long before native was cool), peaceful paths bordered by ferns, and subtle surprises of blooming shrubs punctuating the world of green.
Who are some of your favorite florists?
That’s tricky, as there are many, so I will have to leave some out, but limited to a short list, I’d include Shane Connolly, Christian Tortu, Ariella Chezar, Remco van Vliet, Lewis Miller, and Sybil Sylvester.
Photo from Living Floral by Lisa Romerein
What are some fun ways to use flowers in entertaining?
I always think it’s interesting to glean from the garden, and that includes not only clipping blooms like roses or hydrangeas but foraging for more unexpected plant materials, such as lichen-covered branches, pods, and things like herbs from the kitchen garden. In lieu of politics, let’s talk about all the home-grown plant material we’ve used in our arrangements! I also like to pick a flower that I think reflects the personality of each guest and place one on the napkin at their place setting, then describe the attributes of the flower that parallel that guest. It can also be fun to omit the place cards entirely and have guests guess where their seat is—based on how they see themselves. It makes for lively dinner conversation, especially if you include a cactus or a spider lily…
Photo from Living Floral by Edward Addeo
What are your best tips for incorporating “Living Coral,” the Pantone color of the year, into our floral arrangements this spring and summer?
First and foremost, the Coral Charm Peony must be considered, for obvious reasons. Then, I would suggest hunting through your wholesaler’s cooler or your garden shop and picking out whatever coral varieties suit your aesthetic: that can be pinky-coral ranunculus, Coral Drift Roses, Sundown Orange Bougainvillea, dark-orange daylilies, and tulips, which come in a vast array of oranges, peaches, and corals. Also, you can add coral-colored fruit, like nectarines, darker peaches, and coral-orange plums, to arrangements.
What’s your best tip for creating a last-minute floral centerpiece if you don’t have a garden?
My favorite last-minute floral centerpiece consists of a few mixed bouquets from the grocery store (you know the ones). Separate them by variety, gather six or eight or even 12 cordial glasses or julep cups, and fill each with a different variety of bloom. Then sprinkle them down your table, mixing votive candles in between. It’s an interesting effect, and the low height of the flowers makes for easy chatting.
Photo from Living Floral by Brook Slezak
What’s your best tip for making flowers last longer?
Keep your water clean. If that means changing it every day or every few days, so be it. Your fresh flowers will thank you by staying fresh longer. Also, don’t allow leaves below the water line. They produce bacteria and dirty up the water fast.
What are your tips for mixing fresh fruits and herbs into floral arrangements?
I prefer only a few pieces of fruit, strategically placed, in a floral design. Most fruits can be “picked” (using a green floral pick) and wired around the chicken wire, or you can use tape to hold the flowers in the container. Herbs, like rosemary, can be easily woven into existing arrangements and don’t need a water source, at least for a few days.
What are your floral-design must-haves?
A good pair of snips, like those from Joyce Chen, chicken wire to hold the stems, rubber bands and/or twine to tie stems together when needed, and a vast array of containers.
Photo from Living Floral by Julia Lynn
Are there any flowers, such as carnations, that you will never use in an arrangement?
I will always use carnations, but only in an arrangement consisting only of carnations. I believe they are undervalued. Look at one—it’s ruffle-y, rich, lush, and durable, and they’re also very inexpensive. There are really no flowers that are off limits, in my opinion. It’s all in the application. For example, never place fragrant blooms on the dining table—they will fight with the taste of the food.
Favorite floral combination?
Muscari and tulip
Favorite floral dinnerware pattern?
Richard Ginori Oriente Italiano
Designer Carleton Varney created his “Growing Wild” print in 1975
Favorite floral fabric?
Carleton Varney’s Growing Wild. It’s a classic graphic print that’s still fresh.
Favorite floral wallpaper?
Same as above.
Favorite flower market?
The one I’m most familiar with that is always stellar is the New York Flower Market on the lower West Side.
Favorite online source for great vessels and vases?
Favorite floral-scented candle?
Cedar Leaf & Lavender by Nest. It’s the fragrance that I’ve been waiting for in a candle.
Favorite floral-scented powder room soap?
Lavender Shea Butter Soap from L’Occitane
Favorite floral cocktail?
Though I no longer drink, I choose the “Sweet and Sally,” which was featured in Flower magazine. I can’t remember the creator—wink, wink—but the clever mix of Champagne, elderberry liquor, pressed apple juice, lemon juice, soda, and edible flowers gets the nod from this flower girl.
And here are a few more story topics that we think you’ll enjoy:
How to create a fruit-and-floral centerpiece
How to pick the perfect party posy: the secret language of flowers
How to infuse your party with lavender
The 10 best floral-inspired tabletop touches