Many years ago, the Baltimore-born and internationally known interior designer Billy Baldwin advised that people not put an arrangement of fresh flowers in the guest room if guests are staying more than two nights, because the flowers would look tired before the guests had gone.
(Being a bit perverse myself, my thinking is that the look of the flowers would reflect the fatigue of the hosts, and the guests would start packing.)
There is nothing prettier than a bouquet of flowers in the house, and we'd all like it to look fresh for more than two days.
Some flowers naturally last longer than others, but there are techniques to help others hold up. While most flowers do fairly well in room-temperature water, some require different measures, such as hot water or burning the stems.
Jean Hook Baetjer, author of "Fitness for Flowers," a guide to making cut flowers last (Irvine Natural Science Center, 1986), advises picking flowers early in the morning or late afternoon and even recommends taking a container of water with you when you pick.
Because land development has greatly diminished the wildflower supply, she urges you not to pick any wildflowers at all, or at least to take a guidebook with you so that you won't ignorantly plunder an endangered species, and to leave many more flowers than you take.
Generally, cut the flowers on a sharp angle in order to expose the stems to the greatest possible water supply. Remove any foliage that would sit in the water. Add a little sugar to the water; it has the same effect on flowers that a chocolate bar has on us. Also add a few drops of bleach to your water. It keeps the algae (and smell) down. This applies to Christmas arrangements that you might keep for several weeks. Most woody stems should be split.
Change water daily, lifting the flowers out -- flower spikes and all. Pour out the old water and replace it with fresh room-temperature water. Snipping the stems to open a new surface to water is even better.
A deep vase of water will keep the flowers fresh longer than a shallow one; if you're determined to have a low one, condition the flowers first in deep water for several hours or overnight.
Some flowers, flowering shrubs and trees need extra, even Byzantine, steps of care. The stems of poppies, hollyhocks and hydrangeas should be charred to seal them before they're put in water. (And hydrangeas then like 3 inches of boiling water with a teaspoon of vinegar, followed by a dousing of warm water and finally, cold water.)
When cutting material that must be charred, take kitchen or fireplace matches or a lighter with you. Hostas, both leaves and flowers, do best in cold water, but the stems of heliotrope, euphorbia, campanula, peonies (Paeonia) and snapdragons (Antirrhinum) require hot or boiling water to open their pores before being put in cold water.
Other flowers have their own finicky ways. Peonies and morning glories don't like metal containers. Many roses should be soaked in hot water with 3 teaspoons of sugar, 2 tablespoons of vinegar and 3 tablespoons of bleach. And, like some of us, certain flowers -- including tulips, azalea and clematis -- perk up with a little gin.
* "Fitness for Flowers: How to Make Cut Flowers and Foliage Last Longer," by Jean Hook Baetjer (Irvine Natural Science Center, 1986)
* "The Southern Book of Lists: The Best Plants for All Your Needs, Wants, and Whims," by Lois Trigg Chaplin (Taylor Publishing Company, 1994)
* "The Book of Fresh Flowers: A Complete Guide to Selecting & Arranging," by Malcolm Hillier (Simon and Schuster, 1988)
Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa)
Carnation (Dianthus caryophyllus)
China aster (Callistephus chinensis)
Cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus)
Gayfeather (Liatris spicata)
Globe thistle (Echinops)
Heliopsis (Heliopsis helianthoides)
Michaelmas daisy (Aster novae-angliae)
Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
Snapdragon (Antirrhinum majus)
Yarrow (Achillea species)
Bee balm (Monarda)
Butterfly bush (Buddleia)
Lenten rose (Helleborus orientalis)
Sweet pea (Lathyrus odorata)
TIPS FOR LONG-LASTING BOUQUETS
* Cut flowers in the morning or late afternoon.
* Use sharp pruners to get a clean cut.
* Immediately put the stems in lukewarm water.
* Remove the leaves from the bottom part of the stems so no leaves are underwater.
* To perk up limp flowers, place the bouquet in the refrigerator for an hour.
* Keep bouquets out of direct sunlight.
* Change the water daily.
* Remove faded blooms to keep the bouquet looking fresh.