There are worse things to learn at a high school job than how to put flowers into a vase. I worked as a florist’s assistant at a tiny shop run by a French couple named (I am not making this up) Pascale and Pascal. I was 16 so I wasn’t exactly doing wedding centerpieces, but doing those less-exciting everyday arrangements has definitely turned out to be a Useful Life Skill.

Here’s the thing: fresh flowers are inherently so damn nice that you can make almost any assortment of flowers look good. How they’re structured is much more important than which flowers they are. If you don’t think about structure…

vase of flowers with all flowers scrunched together

…yeah, this happens. As you’ve probably figured out, if you just put a handful of flowers in a glass or vase, you get a floral flat-top, with all the flowers scrunched up in a little bundle atop a forest of stems. Not so good. Let’s fix this. Go get some scissors.

image of cutting the flowers

First, cut the stems so they’re different lengths. Bonus: cutting a fresh surface on the bottom of the stem makes the flowers last longer.

how to place leaves

Lean the greens around the edge of the vase. The stems should rest against the sides of the vase, not the bottom. You’re creating a sort of network of stems that you can insert the flowers into.

how to place sprays

Do the same thing with sprays of flowers. (I’ve always thought calling these flowers “filler” was misleading. Clusters of small flowers can be just as focal as single large flowers, so let’s call them “sprays” instead.) Split bigger sprays into a couple pieces to get more even coverage.

vase of flowers with flowers nicely spread out

Finally, add the single flowers, the roses or carnations or whatnot. Stand them up in the lattice you’ve created with the stems of the greens and sprays. Step back, squint, and trim the stems of any flowers that are sticking up too high.

Give the whole vase a gentle shake so that the flowers relax a bit into their new shape. Pascale and Pascal would be proud of you.