Margot Shaw, founder and editor of Flower Magazine, joined Washington Post staff writer Jura Koncius for a chat. Here is an edited excerpt.
Q: What are the best types of vases to own?
A: I recommend glass cubes, low bowls and small bud vases of different shapes and sizes to create impact with ease. I also like the popular compote container for loose, garden-y designs.
Q: I know this varies, but what is the best type of supermarket bouquet to buy that would be long-lasting and beautiful?
A: Roses and carnations are always a good choice. If they’re well prepped, they will last a good while. Keep them in clean water with no floral foam. Some grocery stores also stock orchids, which are long-lasting.
Q: Is a green plant or succulent a better hostess gift than a fresh bouquet? I’ve heard the etiquette is “don’t burden the host with having to put fresh flowers in water,” but is this really a hardship?
A: It depends on the host. If it’s a close friend, you can raid their cupboard for a vase and drop the flowers in yourself, then place it in a spot that doesn’t already have anything blooming. If the hostess is not as well known to you, bring something already in a container — or even a beautifully dressed orchid.
Q: Is it still customary to send all white flowers as a sympathy bouquet?
A: Floral rules have loosened up in the past decade or so. White is always appropriate for sympathy, especially lilies, but I have been known to send a basket of bright, seasonal flowers as a more happy, informal offering. Consider the recipient and what they might appreciate.
Q: Do younger generations recognize the custom of sending flowers as a thank-you?
A: Young people who have been paying attention and whose parents were in the habit of thanking with flowers are more prone to sending flowers as a thank-you. I think the tide is turning back to a more thoughtful gesture, whether it’s a handwritten note or a simple bouquet.
Q: I am seeing more table-scapes using small vases on Instagram and online. What do you think of using single blooms all over the table in small vases for a dinner party? Isn’t it more likely they will tip over?
A: I am fond of single blooms in small vases on tables for several reasons. One, it’s a simple design and easy to implement. Two, it allows for numerous color and variety options that work with whatever palette you’re using. Three, low flowers allow for easier conversation. If you fill the small vases with water, almost to the top, they will not topple over unless someone is dancing on the table.
Q: I just moved into a new house and am trying to find the perfect plant or flower for my reading nook, which is between the entrance and our solarium. The room doesn’t have a window but gets some light from the solarium. We painted one wall green as an accent color (the other walls are light gray). Any ideas for great cat-friendly plants or flowers to add to the space?
A: I have found that green plants like grape ivy do well indoors in areas without a lot of natural light. Cat-friendly flowers that can thrive in that environment would be roses, daisies, strawberry begonia plants, purple hearts, spider plant, some varieties of palms and, of course, catnip.
Q: Is it OK to cut flowers and branches that overhang into alleys, or is that considered flower poaching? Sometimes alley gardening is the only way you can quickly put together a bouquet.
A: An interesting dilemma. Some of my prettiest arrangements consist of greenery and branches from our garden, so I have not had to resort to “poaching” from alleys and other people’s property. It depends on the homeowner and maybe even how far their property extends into the alley. Most would not mind a gentle cutting — just ask.
Q: Many communities no longer have a local bricks-and-mortar florist. Are mail-order startups the future? How do you make sure the recipient is getting what you order?
A: Everything is in flux right now in flowers and delivery. A trend we’re seeing is florists growing and delivering their own flowers. There’s a more hands-on, independent practice that harks back to a time when things were less mechanized and “big boxy.”
Q: Are there specific occasions when you’d suggest sending flowers instead of a gift, and do you have any tips for ordering from a florist you aren’t familiar with?
A: I do think flowers are a beautiful gesture and speak of life and beauty. When ordering from a local florist, ask if they know the recipient and their floral preference. You can also ask the designer what interesting and special blooms they might have that have a wow factor.
Q: Is it still appropriate to have flowers sent to an office for a special occasion, or is this considered old-fashioned?
A: Flowers are always appropriate. I’d suggest something smaller and understated that could be placed on a desk — maybe something without a heavy fragrance, which some might find distracting or unpleasant. But again, flowers are always right!
Q: We live in a house that’s more than 100 years old, and we’ve decided to redo our backyard patio using bluestone pavers. Our contractor recommends an ashlar pattern because “90 percent of the bluestone patios” he lays are in this pattern. We prefer a slightly more modern look using only large pavers and are not swayed by the fact that “everyone does it this way.” What do you think?
A: How exciting that you’re in the middle of redoing your patio. I think a more modern approach with a 100-year-old house sounds really interesting, and it also seems as though that is your inclination, so I would go with your instinct. Stay involved in the process so you are sure to be pleased with the outcome.