Mother's Day bouquet with lilacs and ranunculus

Detail of a Mother’s Day bouquet, featuring backyard lilacs and ranunculus from the flower market.

One of the joys of gardening is to step out my back door and clip a few sprigs to bring inside. The day’s prettiest blooms and just-unfurled leaves — gathered simply into a bunch and displayed in a jar of water — provide everything I need to start the day. The tiny arrangement graces my kitchen counter or brightens a spot by the keyboard, connecting me with the natural world even when I’m “stuck” indoors, away from my beloved garden.

Is this floral design? Yes! Gardeners are especially qualified in the art of floral design. After all, we have an intimate relationship with our plants, their bloom cycle, their natural form and character — and their seasonality. We also know what colors and textures we like when combined in the landscape. A vase can be a little garden, its contents gathered and arranged to please the eye.

Where are the flowers? You can find local blooms in your backyard, a friend’s garden, or from the fields, meadows and farmstands of local flower growers. Each bouquet tells a story about one moment in time, about grandmother’s cherished flower vase or the fleeting memory that returns with a whiff of lavender or lilac. That’s one of the intangible gifts of bringing flowers into our lives.

“Still life with flowers” (from Slow Flowers: Four Seasons of Locally Grown Bouquets from the Garden, Meadow and Farm, by Debra Prinzing; St. Lynn’s Press, 2013)

Here is a Mother’s Day bouquet idea, for anyone who has a lilac shrub. If you don’t, look for any flowering shrub and substitute the big, floppy blooms; then add something smaller and vibrant, a spring-flowering bulb or perennial, as I’ve done here with the ranunculus.

Two bunches of my favorite spring flowers are all that’s needed to fill this charming vintage vase. The pale mint pottery plays nicely with the ranunculus’ green foliage, stems and buds. And a bit of green peeks out from the lilac tips. Joyous shades of apricot, coral and pink in the mixed bunch of ranunculus put a smile on my face.

Even though this vase is relatively small, its 5″ x 5″ opening accommodated one of my smaller vintage flower frogs, which will anchor the lilac stems. I cut them fairly short, leaving only 3-4″ of stem, which ensures that the white clusters drape gracefully over the rim of the vase.

The lilacs are snugly arranged, yet there’s still plenty of space between their fragrant blossoms to accommodate the ranunculus. Grown from tiny tubers, ranunculus has fern-like green foliage, fleshy stems and tightly-packed round buds that open to reveal layer upon layer of soft, curved petals. Placed in a random pattern, with the stem lengths varied for interest, they convey the new, hopeful spirit of the season.


  • 10 stems of lilac (Syringa sp.), grown by Oregon Coastal Flowers
  • 12 stems Ranunculus asiaticus, including La Belle and Super Green varieties, grown by Everyday Flowers


5-inch tall x 5-inch wide x 3-inch deep vase (overall height is 5-1/2 inches)

Slow Flowers

My book, Slow Flowers.

Tip from the farmer: For decades, it’s been the conventional wisdom of florists that woody shrubs — such as lilacs and hydrangeas — benefit from a second cut, a vertical slice up the center of the stem, to increase the surface area that can absorb water. But according to professors Lane Greer and John M. Dole, authors of Woody Cut Stems for Growers and Florists, a research-based reference, the practice “has never been proven to extend vase life.” The best thing you can do is to use clean, sharp pruners and refresh the vase water every day or so.

Debra Prinzing
Debra Prinzing is a Seattle- and Los Angeles-based outdoor living expert who writes and lectures on gardens and home design. She has a background in textiles, journalism, landscape design and horticulture. For more of her writing, read Planting My Bountiful, Beautiful Backyard and her blog,