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Flower power: more than just decoration

A master florist gives expert tips on how to decorate your table for a special occasion.

When it comes to extraordinary decoration, Himmel and Erde is the place to go in Hamburg. Master florist Mario Mahlstedt gives his expert tips on how to decorate your table for a special occasion.

Here, bouquets are not just simply made, but are works of art created from flowers and leaves. We talked to top florist Mario Mahlstedt (in picture, right) about how to create a distinctive atmosphere using beautiful plants and flowers – and gathered a few expert tips on how to decorate a table for a special occasion.

Mr Mahlstedt, you’re considered to be an authority on floral masterpieces. What makes you special?
We arrange things in ways that no-one else does. Not because we’re desperate to stand out, but simply because that’s what we like doing. It’s all about aesthetics and naturalness, not about the taste of the masses.

How do you come up with new ideas?
When I’m out and about I absorb subtle impressions like colours, shapes and architecture. When I’m walking around a strange city and look at the window displays I might see a beautifully cut coat against a fascinating background, and that inspires me.

“Flowers breathe life into living spaces.”

How important are flowers for the atmosphere of a room?
I often notice how people spend days setting up for events, installing spotlights and flooring, laying tables – but it’s only when the flower arrangements arrive that they say: “Wow, it looks beautiful!” Flowers bring rooms to life.

Do you only create arrangements that fit in with your particular style?
Of course we don’t refuse to work with a client’s specific wishes, but we try to steer them a little. I have a real problem when someone wants a wedding bouquet with long-stemmed red roses and a symbolic white rose in the centre. Then I recommend a spray rose because I think it appeals more to women. We also never use sunflowers, because they look wonderful in the fields but lose all their impact when you turn them into a bouquet.

Is it possible to acquire good taste when it comes to flowers?
What we like depends on our influences and where we live. In the countryside, people don’t put garden flowers in a vase, but people in cities like to bring a bit of nature into their homes.

You work on major events for international brands. Are there cultural differences when it comes to flowers?
Absolutely. Apart from New York, floristry in the USA is like going back to the 1980s here in Europe. They use a lot of flowers and drape them in boxes, it’s all very contrived. Japan and China also favour this style. In Holland, Belgium and Germany we prefer artistically arranged bouquets. Other countries turn to Europe when they want high-end floristry.

“Within your own four walls, less is more.”

Creative flower arrangements transform rooms into different worlds. Can we pick up a few tips for our home decor?
“Within your own four walls, less is more, it shouldn’t look overdone.” Often it’s enough to place some nasturtiums or a fuchsia flower on the plates or decorate the table with a few sprigs of rosemary. But it should always go with the food you’re serving! Pink orchids like you find in a sushi restaurant really don’t go with a pot roast. But I think the space around the table is more important than the table itself. Then you can exaggerate a little if you make the flowers part of a theme, such as a spring table brimming with flowers.

What decoration is right for what occasion?
If you’re planning a romantic dinner and want to send out a strong message, it can be a little more opulent, perhaps with lots of candles on a thick bed of blossoms. Or place tall, thin vases with wild roses around the table so that you’re practically dining beneath the flowers. If friends are dropping by I would make it look spontaneous, so just a few meadow flowers in pretty glass bottles. If you invite your boss to dinner, keep it low-key – it’s better to have 20 simple tulips than look like you’re trying too hard. And don’t use a bought flower arrangement, it just looks unnatural and it’s obvious you haven’t done it yourself.

Is it important to avoid clichés?
Generally, yes, except on traditional occasions when you want to create a homely feel. Nasturtiums are great for an Easter brunch – they can be scattered in your favourite containers and combined with eggs coloured with onion skins. Those who prefer something more sophisticated could dress the whole room in pure white. White amaryllis and Christmas roses or a bunch of eucalyptus twigs are a more restrained alternative to the classic red at Christmas time. But kitsch is allowed if it disrupts things a little, like an old Christmas tree bauble that has stories to tell.

“Unfortunately no-one ever gives me flowers – no-one dares!”

How do you combine different flowers?
The main thing is to remember that if they are too similar they lose their character. I wouldn’t use roses with hydrangeas because both are full and round. it would be more interesting to add something more dynamic, like flowering mint. The contrasting shapes enhance the effect.

Which types are the longest lasting?
Exotic plants like pincushion flowers and flowering ginger. And it’s really worth cutting the stems again, even if it’s only ten minutes since you bought them.

Which have the most appealing fragrance?
Today many people no longer seem to realise that flowers are natural things that are allowed to – and indeed should – have a fragrance. I love the sensual notes of lily of the valley, and tuberose reminds me of warm summer air. Jasmine has a lovely soft fragrance, while orange blossoms and lemon trees have a refreshing scent.

Which flowers do you like to receive the most?
Unfortunately no-one ever gives me flowers – no-one dares!

Author: Lena Schindler
Images: © Trent Perrett