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A Celebratory Birthday Flower Arrangement

Stephen Sonnier of Dunn & Sonnier Antiques, Flowers & Gifts in New Orleans shows how to create a simple yet swoon-worthy birthday arrangement using hardy flowers in saturated hues.
Stephen Sonnier standing in front of Dunn & Sonnier in New Orleans
Stephen Sonnier, designer and owner of Dunn & Sonnier Antiques, Flowers and Gifts in New Orleans

We asked Stephen Sonnier to show us how to create a celebratory birthday flower arrangement. “Too much is a good place to start,” laughs Stephen. Just step into his Magazine Street shop, and you’ll get the joke. The floral designer and self-described maximalist has been creating bountiful bouquets and exquisite arrangements from the back of the antiques emporium he founded with his late husband, Roy Dunn, nearly 40 years ago. Inside the light-filled, 19th-century Greek Revival cottage, the only thing that rivals the intoxicating fragrance of fresh blooms is the crusty charm of the timeworn treasures that the couple amassed from markets, artisans, and dealers around the country and all over the world.

The perfect imperfections of the centuries-old giltwood fragments from Italy, tattered textiles from France, and faded Chinese export porcelain are inspiration for Stephen’s art. Flowers of various colors, textures, and forms culminate in a Van Es-like image due, ironically, to his Pollock-esque approach.

“Nature is random—not meticulously arranged,” he says. “In a garden, flowers grow wherever seeds fall and don’t always remain confined to where they are strategically planted. Daffodils may bloom beneath a rose bush and tulips might sprout between the pansies. Anything is possible. My designs express that spontaneity and celebrate it.”

How to Make a Birthday Flower Arrangement

A celebratory birthday flower arrangement of pink roses, tulips, hydrangeas

Floral designer and antiquarian Stephen Sonnier has a humble flower-arranging philosophy: Just go with the flow. He prides himself on not having one signature look but rather many looks inspired by whatever color, flower, or mood that captivates him in that moment. Using just a fistful of bold, easy-to-find blooms and a few simple steps, he concocts an arrangement that lends a sense of occasion to the everyday.

Materials

  • Knife
  • Alum
  • Rose stripper
  • “Hulk” hydrangea
  • David Austin “Ashley” roses
  • Pink field tulips
  • Yellow parrot tulips
  • Lysimachus, blue and white
Stephen Sonnier filling blue and white vase with water

1. Fill container ¾ full with water.

Stephen Sonnier cutting stem of green hydrangea

2. Create an armature of hydrangea.  Using a knife, cut stems at an angle, remove foliage, and dip each individual stem in alum to support water absorption and optimize hydration.

Stephen Sonnier cutting rose for flower arrangement

3. Add hardy flowers starting with garden roses. Stems should be stripped of thorns and foliage.

4. Add in field tulips. Keep leaves that are upright, but remove listless or damaged foliage.

Stephen Sonnier adding tulips to birthday flower arrangement

5. Add parrot tulips

Stephen Sonnier adding lysimachus flowers to birthday flower arrangement

6. Insert blue and white Lysimachus to add movement to the arrangement.

“Nature is random—not meticulously arranged. Anything is possible. My designs express that spontaneity and celebrate it.” —Stephen Sonnier
Celebratory flower arrangement from Dunn & Sonnier New Orleans

By Margaret Zainey Roux

Photography by Sara Essex Bradley