Books on flower arranging are plentiful; books on caring for cut flowers are much rarer. So it is heartening that when one comes along, it's a keeper.
Cecelia Heffernan, a floral designer in Jackson Hole, Wyo., brings us "Flowers A to Z" (Abrams, 160 pps., $49.50) and with it lots of sound, practical advice on growing or buying, arranging and enjoying cut flowers.
The work might be called, popularly, a coffee-table book -- oversize, hardbound and full of extravagant photographs. But the moniker fails to recognize that it is, rather, a highly instructive effort, far more likely to end up on the kitchen counter than the coffee table.
It is quickly clear to the reader that the practical care of cut flowers is as much a skill as the ensuing floral design. For those of us who are not wholly comfortable around cut flowers, Heffernan is beside us, anticipating every question. Photographer T. K. Hill succeeds in capturing close-up floral images that are wonderful as well as illuminating.
Buying flowers can be costly -- you want to feel confident that you can spot the difference between the fresh article and one that is shopworn. Heffernan offers essential advice in this regard, flower by flower.
On florist's anemones, she notes that older blooms show pollen and the petals "are slightly faded in color and have become separated" from the next. Alliums, or ornamental onions, offer globes of tiny pink-purple blossoms. "A fresh allium should have one-third to one-half of its blossoms open."
Flowers taken from the garden are obviously more durable than those purchased, though your homegrown blooms invariably are more moth-eaten, rain damaged and windblown, factors not addressed in the book.
However, she offers tips on reviving flagging blooms, repairing damaged ones and generally making sure that the flowers we use last as long as possible. The key is to get freshly cut flowers hydrated and then to keep a column of clean water circulating through the stalks.
"In conditioning flowers, the water temperature should be comfortably warm. Submerge your hand to test the water. Cold water is not as readily absorbed by the flower. Hot water will penetrate the stem, but will almost shock the flower," she says.
In addition to sections on tools, handling techniques and arranging, the book contains a guide on buying and caring for more than 50 popular flowers used in arrangements.
If you use a lot of cut flowers in your home, the cost of this book soon would be recouped.
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