The right centerpiece unites a table, evoking the right mood for a successful meal. Crave talks to some floral experts to garner their opinions on how to select the light flowers, and how to assemble a great arrangement.
Text by Doretta Lau, opening image courtesy of Solomon Bloemen
When you’re entertaining at home, once you’ve set the menu and the wines, it’s time to pay attention to décor. While it’s difficult to change up your china, cutlery or glassware from meal to meal, one aspect of the table setting must be replaced each time you’re entertaining: the centrepiece. The centrepiece is a chance to play with the décor, and to complement the food you’re serving, at little cost.
“A proper centrepiece is important because the diner will be facing it for the entire meal,” says Kenny Chan of Greenfingers Florist. “If it’s done well, it will arouse conversation.”
Selecting flowers for a home centrepiece can be difficult, because Hong Kong has a wealth of options. “It’s a bit peculiar in Hong Kong because during the four seasons, it’s possible to get a lot by import, and at the florist you’ll see winter flowers and summer flowers at the same time,” Chan says.
Despite the availability of numerous floral options, Chan thinks it better to choose from what is in season for Hong Kong. “For fine dining, I prefer to use the flowers in season,” he says. “Like food, flowers that are in season are usually cheaper and of better quality. For February, you should use spring flowers, which are often bulbous plants. Tulips, hyacinths, muscari, daffodils and amaryllis are in season at this time. In terms of colours for the season, it’s mostly pastels, such as light pink, light purple and light blue.”
Dr Solomon Leong of Solomon Bloemen also suggests that pastels are ideal well for spring. “An egg yolky yellow fits well with a culinary theme. Also, pale apple green or apricot is very spring. In Hong Kong, spring coincides with Chinese New Year, so it’s okay to go with a stronger colour scheme as well. Basically the guideline is that if you’re going with pastel colours, you stick with the pastel theme.”
Gary Kwok of Gary K Limited and Armani/Fiori HK says that for the Lunar New Year, Asian flowers such as cherry blossoms and orchids are a good fit for centrepieces. “The combination of amaryllis and cherry blossoms is an excellent one,” Kwok says. “The red and pink is very celebratory, and amaryllis with berries evokes an auspicious association. And the cherry blossoms can last for a week.” He also notes that for Valentine’s Day, roses will be popular.
What else needs to be taken into consideration when selecting flowers? Chan notes that overly fragrant flowers should be avoided. “A flower with a powerful fragrance will affect the taste of your food,” he says. “And scent can be quite a personal matter. Some people will think certain fragrances, which smell great to others, smell bad.”
In addition to these considerations, some people may have allergies to certain flowers. “It’s best to avoid flowers with a lot of pollen, such as lilies,” Chan says. “Some people are quite allergic to daisies as well. You don’t want your dinner guests constantly sneezing during the meal.”
Above all, the centrepiece is supposed to enhance the table, and not to distract from the food, or impede conversation. Chan stresses the importance of the height of a centrepiece, which should be below 30 centimetres or above 60 centimetres, to allow guests to be able to see one another across the table.
“For home, a low centrepiece works best,” he says. Never place anything at the awkward level of 30 to 50 centimetres, or you’ll risk destroying a sense of connection at the dining table.
Mandy To at OVOgarden has suggestions for those who wish to make their own centrepieces, rather than ordering them from a florist. “If you’re on a budget, there’s a simple and attractive centrepiece that you can make,” she says. “Take a container, fill it with water and let a few blossoms float on the surface. If you use larger flower, such as hippeastrum, you need only three or four. A few floating candles alongside the flowers can also look good.”
Leong also has advice for novice flower arrangers. “For a person who may not be trained in flower arranging, go for big blousy blooms such as peonies,” he says. “So all you need to do is find a vase that is approximately a foot high and then put the flowers in. Or you can have a group of containers of different heights, and group them together.” He also suggests adding a few drops of bleach to the water in the vase, so that the flowers last longer.
Arrangements done in soil require more effort, and the right tools. In addition to a container and flowers, florist knives and scissors are handy. Once you have gathered all the materials, To says that you must first, “Prep the soil by soaking it with water.” From there, “Select a container. Carefully fill it with the soil. First, add leaves, such as salal. Next, place the primary flowers in the container. Then add the complementary flowers. The very last step is to add grasses, but this is optional.” For arrangements done in soil, she mentions that seashells can be a good extra touch.
Why should a host go through the trouble of selecting and arranging flowers for the table? “The purpose of a flower is to evoke an emotion,” says Chan. “For spring, you want to evoke the feeling of spring. Flowers allude to the sentiment and emotion of the season.”
The proper centrepiece with the right flowers not only heightens the décor, it brings positive emotions to the dining experience. And creating that good feeling for your guests is really the key to hosting a successful meal.
FLOWERS IN SEASON
This spring, pair your seasonal menu with centrepieces composed of seasonal flowers.
1. Tulips: These deceptively simple-looking flowers can brighten any table and look great in vases of different heights.
2. Muscaris: These flowers look like tiny bunches of grapes, adding a delicate texture to the dining table.
3. Daffodils: This hardy flower can stand on its own in any centrepiece and lend a simple elegance to any setting.
4. Hyacinths: The dense blooms evoke a sense of drama and look great in a low centrepiece.
5. Amaryllis: The graceful long-stemmed flower also has lasting power, appearing fresh for nearly a week.
1. Florist knives and florist scissors
Cut and prune with the right equipment to get a precise look.
Image from istockphoto
A clear vase or bowl is the most versatile option for any table.
Vase from Alessi
A warm addition to any centrepiece.
Candle holders and candles from Present Times