As the saying goes, the earth laughs in flowers. And indeed, this time of year keeping fresh blooms around the house—or playing the gracious houseguest and bringing them to someone else’s—is an instant pick-me-up. We spent time with Brooklyn-based florist (and a handpicked favorite of one Mrs. Obama) Emily Thompson, who tipped us off to her favorite in-season flowers, shared how she gets inspired and gave us some simple rules for making an artful, spirit-lifting wintry bouquet.
How did you get started in the flower business?
I briefly worked at a flower shop in college while I was studying sculpture. I realized the principles of floral and sculpture design were the same: balancing the organic world with a delicate, classical composition, and building something in harmony with a space, as if it grew there.
You’ve been a full-time florist for eight years, so you must have seasonal favorites. Which flowers do you like to use during the winter months?
I tend to avoid peonies and other flowers that shout “summer.” These are also very pricey as most are imported from the Southern hemisphere. During the winter months, there is an amazing variety of bulb flowers, like tulips and amaryllises that can be procured from local farms. I also rely heavily on branches and greenery. And if you can’t find anything you like at your local market or you feel uninspired, go for a walk!
That’s our next question. Your arrangements seem to have a mix of wild plants and cultivated flowers. What are your favorite materials, and where do you find them?
I collect every kind of thing on winter walks, from pinecones and acorns—if the squirrels haven’t eaten them—to rose hips, lichen branches, everything! In fact, starting each fall, my mother gathers moss so she can create a moss garden under her Christmas tree. She just keeps it in bags in the basement until the tree is up.
That’s genius. So once you’ve gathered the flowers and special extras for a bouquet, how do you put everything together in a way that looks pretty instead of messy?
I think about proportion to the vase and then create a silhouette by putting the foliage or the large elements in so I’ll have an “outline”, and then I fill it in with the smaller pieces. I allow air to move through the arrangement, so everything is visible and doesn’t get buried. Lady Bird Johnson once said that a bird should be able to fly through an arrangement.
If we’re bringing a bouquet to someone’s home, how do we make sure it doesn’t clash visually and scent-wise with other things in their home?
I often keep to color palettes in the white, gold, tangerine and crimson family for winter. These tones evoke warmth and light in a dark season. Avoiding heavily scented flowers like lilies is usually safe, but I happen to love the overpowering scent of paper-whites.
The air indoors can be dry in colder months. How do you keep floral arrangements alive and healthy?
Water! It may seem silly, but some folks simply ignore the need to top off the flowers. However, I tend to love flowers in all their stages and have a taste for beautiful decay. So I leave them as-is as they deteriorate. Otherwise, just pull things out as they fade and allow the bouquet to get more and more spare.
Finish this sentence: Beautiful flowers have the power to…
Win hearts and minds with their infinite variety.