By Susan Langenhennig, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune
Danielle Rollins is the author of “Soiree Entertaining with Style,” a gorgeous, photo-rich party-planning book filled with page after page of extravagant blooms— spiky orange protea arrangements the size of basketballs, red peonies and cream roses cascading across a dinner table, layers of lilies and ilex berries in a towering vase — even the author photo shows her clutching a mass of pink hydrangeas.
Such high-end blooms are the floral equivalent of a rope of pearls or a pair of diamond studs — elegant and moneyed. So it’s a little surprising when Rollins, a woman known for throwing parties for the likes of Oscar de la Renta and Lela Rose, starts singing the praises of the common carnation, that staple of grocery store bouquets and prom corsages.
The humble blooms don’t get enough respect.
“I love them,” she said. “I’ve done a silver revere bowl filled with a giant mound of carnations. They’re full and ruffly, live forever, easy to work with, and they’re one of the only flowers that comes in true white. The only advice I have is: don’t buy the dyed ones.”
A Dallas native living in Atlanta, Rollins has made high-art of hostessing. She’s a contributing editor to Veranda and Southern Living magazines, and on Thursday, March 20, she arrives in New Orleans to share her secrets at Art in Bloom, the annual floral extravaganza at the New Orleans Museum of Art.
Reached by phone in Atlanta on Monday, Rollins boiled the essence of flower arranging into a few easy points: flowers, like fruits and vegetables, are best and often cheapest when they’re in season; don’t be afraid to scour your backyard for greenery and clippings to add in; and the more elaborate tables often benefit from simpler flowers.
“I love small clay pots of blooming flowers, geraniums or begonias, lined up on a beautifully done table. I love that juxtaposition,” she said. “If you look at photos of how Valentino or Givenchy would entertain, you always see these perfect tables with linens and crystal, and then simple, simple flowers. The key is that it’s not over done.”
Rollins said she’s not above raiding the grocery store produce aisle to fill out an arrangement. In a pinch, she did just that before a television appearance once.
“I had flown into town at 6 p.m. and had a 6:30 a.m. TV appearance,” Rollins said. “I was staying at a hotel, and I wanted to keep the flowers under $25. So I went to the grocery store and bought deep red peonies and then found other things like Swiss chard,” to round it out.
“The key is to have one thing with impact, and it might be more expensive, but then you can fill in with things that are cheaper,” she said. “When I’m at home, I tend to find a lot of stuff in my own backyard.”
For those who are intimidated by flower arranging, she recommends using Oasis, a green floral foam you can find at craft or floral supply stores. “It comes in bricks,” she said. “You soak it and it absorbs the water, and you stick the flowers directly into it. It’s very easy and a good way of hiding some sins.”
Another tip: when planning a dinner party, be sure to sit down when you’re setting up the flowers. You don’t want the bouquet to be so tall you can’t see the person across the table.
At Art in Bloom, Rollins will demonstrate a few of her favorite arrangements, using an urn, a wicker basket and a wine crate. “The most important thing is to be flexible. Focus on the color and line rather than a specific flower. See what’s available and what fits your budget,” she said.
“Flowers are something we think of as a special treat in our lives, but I think of them more as a necessity, and they don’t have to be expensive to be beautiful.”