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LILY DESIGNER TIPS for 13,000 Stems or Less

Sally Ferguson, Director, Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center
Photograph courtesy of Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center

When talking about how she feels about designing with lilies, Dutch floral stylist Dorien van den Berg doesn’t hesitate. “All flowers have a face,” she says. “But few are as expressive as lilies.” Dorien had left her home among the bulb fields of Lisse, the Netherlands to travel to North America as head designer of the Lilytopia exhibition at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pa., the largest lily exhibition ever held on this continent.

Though few people get the opportunity to “play with flowers,” as she likes to call it, on the scale of Lilytopia’s more than 13,000 stems, Dorien feels that anyone can create appealing floral designs with lilies at home by following a few tips.

“Above all, don’t make it too difficult. The flowers are already beautiful,” she says. “But do make a plan. Think first. Do second. Then you can relax into your project.” Dorien has made an international reputation for her creative mixes of flowers with natural elements and understands the importance of process. “Before you start, think 'who is this arrangement for? What is the occasion? Where will it be displayed?' Think of different vases too. The more choices you have – the more important it is to have a plan. For instance: the time to think about size is before you start.”

Dorien advocates a thorough ‘shake out of the shoulders’ before you start designing. This frees you up to use all your senses. Let your every day surroundings inspire, she insists, wherever you are. Of course, in her case, days usually start and stop in a rustic, renovated farmhouse bathed in North Sea breezes and completely surrounded by bulb farm fields striped in bright colors (primarily tulips or dahlias, depending on the season). Keukenhof, the famous bulb show garden, is a neighbor.

Lily Arranging Tips from Dorien van den Berg

Following are lily-specific tips for creating flower arrangements at home, whether a lily design will feature one stem or, well, 13,000.

  • Face lily flowers forward. Big lilies have big beautiful faces. People, even babies, respond to faces. Position your flowers in the arrangement so that the faces of the flowers are turned towards the viewer. Let the flowers and people make eye-to-eye contact and establish a relationship.
  • Think ahead: open lilies need more space. Normally one starts an arrangement with fairly closed fresh flowers. This allows for the longest vase life. But remember, closed flowers will open. So leave a bit breathing room for when the flowers are in their full glory.
  • Big lily flowers can be heavy. If the weight of a large lily flower bends the stem, add twigs, sticks or other elements to support the arrangement. This is not only practical, but it looks very natural, and it’s very easy. Nothing special is needed. Use twigs or sticks from the yard.
  • “Play off” the edges of the vase. The vase isn’t just a vessel; it’s a part of the arrangement. Extend the dimensions of the arrangement by playing off the vase, especially its edges or boundaries. You might drape flowers over the edge, or insert some stems at an angle that extends the arrangement beyond the vase to create a dramatic tension between the edge and extending flowers or foliage. The idea is to make the arrangement full, lush, and fashionable, while also creating a multi-dimensional vibe.

On a practical level, Dorien advises:

  • Prep stems for arranging. Trim off the base of each stem to open up the water uptake channels. Use a sharp clean knife, so the stem doesn’t pinch closed. Choose a vase that is tall and sturdy enough to support heavy lily flowers. Add clean cool water plus a packet of cut flower food to keep water clear and fresh.
  • Lilies are very long-lived in the vase, easily lasting for up to two weeks. The lower buds will open first; the flowers open from bottom to top. Snip off faded blooms to maintain a fresh look.
  • Avoid Drafts. This is especially critical when flowers are opening. Drafts or windy situations are not good for opening flowers!
  • Don’t shy away from the pollen. Lily pollen can stain skin, fabrics, and even the petals themselves. There are two strategies to deal with this. It’s for you to decide: either snip off the anthers and remove the pollen totally or, relax and enjoy them. They’re very pretty after all. If pollen dust gets on fabric, don’t try to rub it off with a wet cloth. That will create and set a stain. Instead, let the pollen dry, then lay strips of tape across the area and lift the dark powder off. If any residue remains, lay the item out in full sun. Something about direct sunshine makes the last traces vanish, like disappearing ink.

Lilies are available for most of the year, but they’re most abundant and affordable in the summer months, their natural season in the garden. So, summer is the perfect time to have fun with home lily arrangements, even if the budget allows for somewhat fewer than 13,000 stems. For more information, go to

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