Garden Philosophy

Boone, North Carolina, floral designer Kelly Perry reveals a few of her tenets for making the most from what grows in the garden
Kelly Perry arrangement of roses, clematis, fern and other flowers.

Kelly Perry of Philosophy Flowers and Team Flower believes in the transformative power of small, exquisite moments. “Once I really started noticing the beautiful little things, like poppies blooming along the side of the road, a life shift began to happen,” she says. Although Perry had always engaged in creative endeavors, from baking wedding cakes (a business she started while in middle school) to event planning, she found her true calling in flowers.

Today, Perry shares her love for making arrangements that are uninhibited, artistic, and freshly picked from the garden. Her approach to designing an arrangement involves three layers, each with a specific purpose.


  • Vessel with a wide opening (6-8 inches in diameter is ideal)
  • Flower Frog
  • Floral Putty
  • Clippers
  • Waterproof tape
Skylands main terrace, summer home of Martha Stewart



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  • Ivy
  • Fern
  • Allium
  • Geranium
  • Unripe blackberries
  • Bells of Ireland
  • Oregano
  • Clematis
  • Carnations
  • Ranunculus
  • Forget-me-not
  • Lavender
  • Fritillaria

Step 1

Attach a flower frog to your container using floral putty. Secure the stem of a flexible vine (such as ivy) in the frog and begin wrapping the ring of the container and base.

Step 2

For your first layer, establish the shape and size of the arrangement by adding ferns and allium. Allium’s rigid stems offer a touch of structure and the purple flower sets the tone for the rest of the flower choices. Continue by adding in bells of Ireland. I like them for their fun, graceful twists and turns—they’re also a great way to create interest around the base of the container.

Step 3

Next use the geranium, blackberries, and oregano to give support for the arrangement. The unripe blackberries have a glossy texture, and the oregano was chosen for its purple vein running through the stem. To finish off this layer, add the clematis and carnations. The carnations' fluffy shape provides more texture and draws the eye deep into the arrangement. Keep in mind that the frog will catch the first pieces that go in (and some of the last) but the berries, bells, and carnations will hold all the pieces you layer in between!

Step 4

For the second layer, construct an implied line using the white ranunculus to help move the eye through the arrangement. When doing this, I like to think of the constellations in the sky, letting my eye connect the dots. The ranunculus have loose curves, so place each in such a way that their stems face the direction they naturally lean. If you don’t want to use ranunculus, another medium-sized round flower will work, such as zinnias or mums.

Step 5

The third layer helps create a resting place for the eye by using a focal flower and tops everything off with light ingredients for interest. Here I used a large purple ranunculus to ground the design. I like to think of arrangements as a room—generally the ceiling is white and light, and the floor is dark and made of heavier materials.

Step 6

To complete the arrangement, add in lighter ingredients such as forget-me-not, lavender, and fritillaria. Their gentle, wispy nature and unique textures are the perfect way to add interest at the highest level (or the ceiling) of the arrangement.

“Be inspired by what you see here, but adjust the flowers to whatever you have in your garden. Substitutions are easy once you understand the qualities and purpose of each flower—just look for things of similar shape and size.” – Kelly Perry

Kelly’s Tips for Garden-Style Arrangements

TIMING MATTERS. Cut flowers either early in the morning or late in the afternoon when they’ve had the opportunity to cool down from harsh midday sun. Also, clipping from more established plants means that they will hold longer in an arrangement. For example, hydrangeas or dahlias harvested early in their blooming season will not last as long as those cut later.

TEXTURE TELLS THE TALE. If the flower feels soft, damp, or sticky, it generally will not hold very long when cut. If it feels leathery, papery, and dry, it will usually last longer.

TAKE ADVANTAGE OF A PLANT’S ENTIRE LIFE CYCLE. Use the foliage even after the flowers are gone. I love hellebores, forsythia, and peonies, for instance, but after their blooming seasons are over, I still use the branches and leaves in my arrangements for line and shape.

USE A SECRET WEAPON. Joyce Chen Unlimited scissors can cut anything. And Quick Dip, a magic potion, revives flowers in desperate need of hydration. Dip a withering flower in it for 3 seconds, return it to water, and 15 minutes later something that had keeled over is brought back to life.

Produced by Alexandra Schmitt | Photography by Heather Payne