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Zen in the garden: A newfound joy of floating flowers


Earlier this week I opened my garden to a group of master gardeners. Although this wasn’t an official garden tour, there was a still a bit of last-minute fussing, the kind where you look at your own garden with a more critical  eye.

That led to pulling out a “more natural” area next to the small path that leads to the vegetable garden. By natural, of course, I mean a hot mess of weeds with, perhaps something resembling the remains of something I planted eons ago. (There is no before picture. When I get myself into these random gardening situations I rarely pause long enough to think it through, much less take a photo.)

A weeded and freshly mulched area was a great improvement, but it was a rather large blank spot in a well-traveled area of the garden. So I did what any sane gardener would do and headed to a garden center.

I didn’t have a clear vision for what I wanted to do in this area long term and I’ve gotten so much better about not buying a single plant for a spot until I have a plan. But this garden center had a big sale on all ceramic pots. Which brought to mind one of those moments I loved so much from my trip to Chanticleer Garden in June.

water container
This simple idea from Chanticleer drew me in immediately.

A few hours later a new 21-inch pot landed in that blank spot with a few new annuals planted at its base to help soften the transition to all that mulch. The drainage hole problem (funny how you can’t find a pot with proper drainage when you’re looking for one, but the one time you need one without a hole you can’t find one) was solved with a wine cork. I knew cocktail hour was important in the garden.

water pot in garden
That area of mulch had been a weedy mess on the path to the vegetable garden.

A drop of the black pond dye I bought for the stock tank pond made the inside of the pot disappear. And then the fun began.

My first design started with a ‘Breakout’ dahlia flower that was past its peak and needed to be deadheaded. I pulled off the floppy bottom petals but the top still looked great. A few Japanese fern fronds, some Tuff Stuff hydrangea flowers, Aralia ‘Sun King’ leaves and brightly colored Nicotiana alata ‘Lime Green’ blooms finished it off. 

floating flower arrangement

floating flower arrangement

I learned that “thinner” foliage works better than thicker foliage—hosta leaves don’t seem to float well—but beyond that there are no rules with this sort of thing. To create a design on a moving surface you have to place them strategically, placing bigger material as a border to keep smaller flowers and leaves from straying. And everything needs to be gently rested on the water’s surface.

In other words, you have to slow down. And here’s where the magic happens. Walking around the garden in search leaves and flowers for the arrangement requires looking at everything differently, Placing plants on the surface of the water requires the kind of concentration that clears your mind. It’s the most zen thing I’ve done in ages.

The result of my first attempt was lovely. I’ve only had my little floating flower arrangement for a few days, but it seems that flowers last a couple days in it, and the birds do a bit of rearranging when I’m not around. Each arrangement is fleeting, which is both fabulous and a little sad. When the flowers look a bit ragged, I just fish them out, toss them away and throw some fresh water in the pot (which manages the mosquito issue that I know you’re thinking about). 

floating flower arrangement
For my second attempt I went a little less symmetrical, using ferns, papalo foliage (a Mexican herb that I decided I hate the test of but has lovely leaves), Tithonia flowers and ‘Millennium’ allium flowers.

floating flower arrangement

You can probably tell that I’ve become quite enamored with my little water pot. Yesterday I had one of those days at work where you aren’t pleasant company when you get home. Rather than subject anyone else to that attitude, I went outside with my pruners and made a new floating arrangement. The process has an almost meditative quality, which is a nice way to say that I was a happier person when I came back inside 15 minutes later.

flower arranging
A collection of flowers from the garden sit on a nearby rock waiting for floating.

My original thought wasn’t to leave this container in that spot for the long term, but now I quite like that moment on my way to the vegetable garden. It turns out that garden moments are as good for the gardener as they are for garden visitors.

11 Responses

  1. What a great project! Could you please share the kind of black paint you used for the inside of the vase? Thank you so much in advance! 🙂

  2. I saw this floating water garden pot when visiting Chanticleer in 2011, when gardenias were drifting in its waters, and always wanted to recreate it in my own garden. However, I was stumped, thinking the interior of the pot had to be painted black. I am elated to understand the solution and will seek out a spot in my new CA garden to experiment. The only question I have has to do with draining the water if I place the pot on my covered brick patio. Does the black dye stain?

  3. These look amazing! I love the idea of floating flower pots. I’m a landscaper in Colorado, and this has given me great ideas for helping clients with their designs. Thanks for sharing your experiences and insights on this project, I’m excited to try it out myself!

  4. What a wonderful idea. When looking at others’ gardens, I do get the zen feeling. But never from my own, because there is always something needing pulled, plucked, dug or weeded. But I can imagine this activity would be soothing. Great video btw. Love your channel and I will be enjoying your blog now as well.

    Zone 8b Texas

  5. I do love my water feature, but this idea of just a huge vase with a floating bouquet is wonderful! Pinned and stuck in the back of my mind for a similar project.
    🙂 gwingal

  6. This is such a lovely idea. Your floating flowers look so stunning against the water. It’s creative ideas like this that make gardening so exciting. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Fantastic now I am looking forward to using finding a pot with no hole when usually that is annoying. You have me thinking I could have 2, one in front and one in back instead of the containers I always make each summer. The end of the year pot sales are happening soon. Maybe my first display will be fall foliage!

  8. Erin,
    Thank you for putting your gardening “out there”. I only discovered your videos earlier this spring and your blog just lately. This stuff feeds my soul. You have a beautiful blog. I garden in Montana zone 4 but find we grow many of the same plants. Your veg garden is ‘the bomb’ and these floating flower arrangements are gorgeous and certainly unique. Nice Work!

  9. This is a lovely idea! It must have been a big hit during the tour. And I love your solution for the drainage hole. You never stop inspiring me. For years, I’ve been thinking about an enclosed cutting/vegetable garden. You’ve inspired me to make that a reality. Thank you for all the inspiration and practical advice you post. Your beautiful flowers and sense of humor make me smile!?

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