How to style a floral arrangement, with botanical designer Rollo Skinner

Whether you’re aiming for long and low table decoration or gloriously over-the-top blooms spilling from a vase, we’ve got you covered

Written by Clara Strunck October 20, 2021

If there’s one thing that elevates a table like no other, it’s a judiciously chosen and beautifully presented floral display. But as wonderful as they are when done right, flowers done wrong can ruin a table: think garish bouquets, old-fashioned designs and blooms too towering to talk over at dinner. So thank goodness for botanical designer Rollo Skinner, who has shared his secrets to creating truly tasteful bunches. Skinner, who trained at the London Flower School and creates magical, forest-like floral installations for clients including Sony Music, has also designed a series of exclusive arrangements using vases from The Sette, to give you an extra dose of inspiration.

The Sette’s Paper Bag Vase
How would you recommend arranging flowers for a dinner party, on a table?

Personally, I love low and long arrangements that seem to erupt from the table, and don’t get in people’s eyelines. Have fun experimenting and styling things with whatever you can find: fruit from the fruit bowl, vegetables, house plants and so on. It’s often ‘weeds’ or greenery that look the most beautiful. I love a full look, so group flowers together as they’d grow in nature (I can’t stand ‘liquorice allsorts’ flowers). There’s one golden rule, however: if in doubt leave it out. Otherwise, trust your creative intuition and go wild!

What are your tips for keeping an arrangement looking its best for longer?

Give a diagonal cut to stems and place in cold, deep water as soon as possible. If you’re using a woody stem or branch, give the end a good bash with a hammer. Always remember to change the water every few days, too. There are, of course, flowers that look better for longer and some have such an ephemeral beauty they last just a few days – that’s part of their magic.

What do you hate when it comes to a bunch of flowers?

I hate both convention and pretension. Flowers should feel free and wild. I can’t stand things trying to be too sophisticated, it’s so joyless. I also hate things that look too farmed, which often happens when you get flowers from the supermarket. Add anything you can find to the bunch – a branch or whatever – and suddenly it transforms into something extremely beautiful and original. Delight in the asymmetry of it all. Nature is deliciously imperfect.

How do you think flowers contribute to the feeling of an evening when entertaining?

Flowers can really elevate an evening to something truly special. They allow you to set the mood with colour and texture, bringing the table or space alive, which can’t help but be reflected in the evening’s atmosphere. Over lockdown, I found myself back at my parents’ house, and during that particularly joyless spring of 2020 I challenged myself every day to surprise and delight my family with things foraged from the garden and woods. Every day, I’d go and find cow parsley, dead nettles and sedge grasses from the fields close by. It’s amazing how much joy these things brought to the table.

How do these arrangements you’ve made best represent the season?

There’s something so deliciously abundant about this time of year as we ebb out of summer into autumn, with the colours changing around us and reflecting warmer tones as the sun lowers in the sky. We all slow down a little as the focus switches to good food, nights in with friends and trips to the local deli – which these glorious paper bag vases so remind me of. I wanted to evoke that same feeling one gets, of returning home before an evening of entertaining at home. Bags brimming with goodies, overflowing onto the kitchen table. This is more a life I aspire to than one I currently live, as I’m a fairly hapless cook – but this autumn I’m endeavouring to learn a few more recipes to complement my very well practiced leek and pesto pasta. So expect an invite…!

The Sette’s Trio Vases
What do you like most about these vases from The Sette? Can you tell us a bit about how you’ve styled them?

The paper bag vases have quite an iconic feel about them and are such a glorious statement piece. Sometimes, I can find a vase a little too predictable, too ‘vasey’ as it were, so these are great for creating something highly original. In that vein, I found it quite fun to style the vase with gourds and vegetables. I so wanted to capture the romance that you feel at this time of year, delighting in the small humble gestures, and acts of kindness to oneself, like buying a bunch of flowers or cooking up something delicious.

With bud vases, I feel it’s always best to go for simplicity. However, simplicity and abundance don’t have to be mutually exclusive. I grabbed three bunches of Michaelmas daisies out of my brother’s garden. I love these soft pink and lilac hues, so vividly prolific in gardens across the UK at this time of yea