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Foam-free urns – if in doubt, leave it out (and how not to make perfect mirror images)

Hello, and welcome back if you’re a returning reader or welcome to my flower tutorial series if you’re here for the first time.

This is a quick tutorial for a pair of foam-free flower urns. I made these back in March 2020 just as the Covid-19 lockdown started. It feels like a very long time ago now and I feel somewhat guilty that I’ve promised to share photos of the tutorial on at least 3 occasions now! So here we go. The tutorial is about designing as a pair without making perfect mirror images and also about learning to leave things out of a design and using photographs to help you critique your own work.

What you’ll need

Pair of urns. These are approximately 30 cm tall by 23 cm diameter.

Waterproof liners/bowls. I used plastic oasis posy bowls as they fit perfectly into the rim of the urns. I reuse these bowls over and over again as they fit well into all sorts of containers.

Damp sphagnum moss.

Chicken wire.

Gloves and wire cutters.

Florists tools – snips/scissors or a knife. Secateurs if you are using woody foliage stems.

A selection of flower stems and foliage.


Fill your pair of bowl liners with very damp moss, mounding it up as high as possible. The higher the mound, the easier it is to add stems that drape downwards over the rim of the urns.

Wearing your gloves, cut 2 squares of chicken wire that are around an inch bigger than the bowl liners.

Add a single layer of chicken wire over the top of each of the mounds, tucking it in carefully around the edges of the bowls. Try to maintain the mounded shape as much as possible. Fix the bowls in place inside the urns. You can use pot fix or tape to help secure the bowls in place.

Well-prepared stems

Ensure that all of your foliage and flower stems are well conditioned and prepared ready for the arrangements. When working with moss and wire, it helps to make sure that your stems are very clean with no side-shoots that can catch as you are inserting them. Any side stems can also make it impossible to take a stem back out and re-insert. I use a knife to remove any side stems (like this little nodule in the image of a stem of flowering currant) and also to make the stem ends very sharply pointed to make it easier to insert into the moss.

The height achieved by the mounding of the moss, means that draping foliage over the edge of the urns is really easy to do without having to only use trailing stems in that part of the design. Add a little more water to the moss before you start designing.

Greenery – and lots of it

I find it easier to work on a turntable and usually begin by adding all my greenery. Some design books tell you to always have at least 3 types of greenery to add variety and texture to the design. I quite often will use even more that this depending on the style of the design. Here I used eucalyptus parvifolia, eucalyptus populus, eucalyptus gunnii, fatsia japonica, ivy and a couple of stems of asparagus densiflorus ‘myersii’ (more on this later!)

Do you really want them to be exactly the same?

When designing a pair, I often find it difficult to make them the same, but to be honest, who wants two absolutely identical floral designs? I am quite happy for them to be obviously a pair but to not be exactly the same. I’d follow the same formula in terms of content, but would intentionally add the stems so that they’re not perfect mirror images of each other. Perhaps it is due to my style of floral design, but they really don’t look right if they’re too matched. I suspect with a more modern, clean lined almost ikebana style design, getting them mirrored would be far more important and indeed they may look wrong if they’re not almost exactly the same. Who knows – tell me what you think.

Designing side by side when you are making a pair is always easier. Work on both together, flitting between each, adding one or two stems to one design and then back to the other design. Step back and look at your work regularly. I added some stems of flowering currant and made sure they ‘almost mirrored’ each other in the design pair.

If in doubt, leave it out

The advantage of stepping back and looking at the pair together means you see mistakes. Here is where I realised that the foxtail asparagus really looked very odd in the designs. If I’d had a few more stems, I may have kept them in as they add movement and line and they’re such a lovely light green colour compared to the rest of the greenery stems. But a single foxtail sticking up out of each design really did look odd. So…If in doubt, leave it out.

Out with the foxtails and in with some lovely white roses. Again working side by side and regularly stepping back to look at the shapes and lines created by your designs. If you’ve remembered to trim all your stems carefully, you should be able to easily remove any stems that don’t look quite right and re-insert them (just what you should avoid if you’re working in foam!). This is one of the reasons designing in moss is so good for practising your design skills.

Critique your own work

I often take photographs of my designs whilst they’re in progress to help me critique my own work. Seeing your design in a photograph can help you see shapes and patterns (and good bits and bad bits!) far easier than ‘in real life’. Make a habit of practising and photographing and going back over your work again. Designing in moss makes this easy as you’re not wrecking your oasis base and making it impossible to re-insert stems. In the image you can see that one of the roses in the centre of the design on the right is a little too short and inserted at a rather flat angle (in truth this is only because the rose is a different variety to all the others and I didn’t have enough to complete the design, but you can see my point about looking critically at your own work and seeing where things could have been improved).

Finally, I added some large green chrysanthemums taking care to not perfectly mirror them with each other.

Two designs (a pair but not identical thankfully!) made with lots of greenery, a few stems of flowering currant and some very nice quality roses and chrysanthemums. Not a huge amount of flowery content, but a very nice simple design that is long lasting in a moss base.

These would look lovely for a wedding either side of a doorway on plinths, or as table top or pedestal designs for a wedding or event (but only after replacing the wrong rose!)

Thank you for taking the time to read. I hope the tips are useful. Share your mirrored designs with me, I’d love to see them.

Anne-Marie x

2 thoughts on “Foam-free urns – if in doubt, leave it out (and how not to make perfect mirror images)

  1. i very much enjoyed your tutorial with the two urns. the tip about taking photos to criticise my work is useful.

    1. You’re welcome Kathryn. I’m glad it was usual for you. I still take photos as I go along now and don’t think I’ll ever stop! šŸ˜†

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