Q&A: Jo Oliver on changing up your seasonal flowers

Oct 31, 2019

Jo Oliver is the owner of Flower Guild 1820 (formerly Highway to Hill Flowers), a small floral studio south of Annapolis. With 10 years of experience creating arrangements for weddings and events, Jo loves to experiment with seasonal ideas at her 1820 farmhouse with her lush, garden-inspired look. She pulls from her background as a graphic designer to create arrangements with unusual color palettes and movement.

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Jo Oliver is a flower designer known for her weddings and inventive arrangements. Her company Flower Guild 1820 (formerly Highway to Hill) is headquartered in her 19th century home south of Annapolis. She's got lots of ideas for decorating the inside and outside of your house for Thanksgiving and the December holidays. Let's chat.

Here's my article about Jo Oliver and her decorating for fall at her charming home. It's in the print edition of the Washington Post today which is a collectors edition due to the World Series win by the NATS!!!

It's a pleasure to be here--thank you so much for having me! And congratulations Nats!!

Very timely for this morning -any great ideas?

What a great question! I would create an arrangement that included some fun nods to the team and game—you could use red, white and blue palette for your flowers (think red dahlias, white roses and some dark-centered anemones or navy viburnum berries) and use an unusual vase (maybe an empty Cracker Jacks box with a glass vase inside?) Other ideas would be to incorporate actual baseballs in the arrangement--if you did a long, low arrangement (like the shape of the table arrangement in the article) you could tuck a baseball between blooms in the top of the arrangement. You could also print out small images of pennants and attach them to wooden skewers to tuck into the arrangement. If only there was a 'Baby Shark' flower! :)

What types of flowers do you suggest for those who have a limited budget for fresh flowers at home?

Thank you for this question! Think flowers that you can find at places like grocery stores—right now Mums, Alstroemeria and carnations. You can find these varieties in beautiful seasonal colors, and with some love (changing the water daily) these should last for a week (or two!). To create a fuller arrangement, pull greenery and berries from your garden. Enjoy!

It's my dream to always have fresh flowers on the table. What are your best tips for helping them last? Should I get those little pots of live flowers? (What do you do with them when they're done blooming -- can they really stay alive in those tiny pots?) and do you have advice for finding good value on flowers (read: tiny budget)?

What a wonderful dream!! Potted flowers can be a great way to enjoy flowers for longer periods of time, and you can find some fun varieties and local nurseries and plant stores (Terrain in Bethesda and Little Leaf in DC are both great!). One thing to keep in mind is how much light your table gets--is it by a window? Or in a darker room? Talk to the staff at the plant store to select plants that will work best in your space (and ones that you might be able to plant outdoors come spring!)

Hi! I'll be teaching my first ever flower arrangement class (hand arrangement technique). With a budget of about $12/person on flowers from a grocery store, what is the number of stems you'd recommend per arrangement and the number of different varieties? Thanks!!

Congratulations! Teaching is so much fun, and I know your students will enjoy it!

I would try to keep to an odd number, and look for flower varieties that can be broken down into smaller stems (think spray roses and mums). Three is a good number of flower varieites, and you can find some long-lasting ones in the grocery stores right now (mums, carnations and even some roses). If you have a garden, including some greenery/berries in your class is a great way to add to the arrangement, and also encourages your students to use what they have on hand.


Good luck!

I see people decorate the front step of their townhouse with potted flowers. What's the best way to anchor the pots and protect the flowers from the elements (and hungry rabbits)?

This is a great question! And with windy days ahead, keeping those pots from blowing away can be tricky--I would tuck the pots behind some heavier things (like larger gourds and pumpkins) to keep them in place. If need be, you could hide some bricks around the base of the pots with smaller gourds on top, or weight bushel baskets filled with smaller gourds with rocks from your garden, and then tuck the potted plants in between. If you have window boxes, filling them with small potted plants (mums, kale and pansies) can bring some seasonal color to your house (and keep the plants away from hungry wildlife!). 

I’m hosting an open house mid November and need some ideas on decorating our front wrap around porch. We live in Colorado and it is past season for any live flowers or plants. Also, I would like to continue that same Fall theme on the inside via flowers or fall arrangements. Any suggestions? By the way, our home is a new farmhouse. Thank you

Thank you for your question! I would think about decorations for the porch using small collections of things--three decorative outdoor pots (in varying heights) filled with lots of small gourds, grouped together by the door. Or maybe bundle three bunches of birch branches (in varying heights) bound together with ribbons in fall tones.

I also like to take the planters that I use year-round and fill them with greenery that will last--boxwood and magnolia--anchored in green styrofoam (you can find sheets of this at craft stores). For the fall, you could tuck in some small pumpkins/gourds, and maybe include some unexpected touches--like gold spray-painted pods--for a little variety. These arrangements can be done on a smaller scale in pots and vases inside of your house, and should hold up for a couple of weeks!

Were those ordinary roses that just fully opened or a certain variety? Not all of them open up to such full blossoms. Share your secret please.

This is a great question, one I always wondered myself before I started doing flowers!

I think there are a couple of answers—the first answer is to start with good flowers. We are very lucky in our area to have a couple of wonderful wholesale flower markets (McCallum Sauber in MD is great!) that work closely with growers to get the best flowers on the market. The second answer is to choose varieties that will open the fullest--we used a couple of garden rose varieties in the arrangements, and these have a higher petal count (than standard roses) and typically open larger--but, usually cost more. The third answer is to condition and hydrate your flowers—once you bring them home, give them a fresh cut with sharp shears and place them in a bucket of water. Within a couple of hours, the roses should feel firm to the touch and will start to open.

Thank you Jo for answering my question about teaching: that is very close to what I had in mind, so I'm happy to be on the right path! #flowerpower ♥

It was my pleasure, and you are going to do great!! #flowerpower

Do you have any experience using these in holiday arrangements? Tips for growing them....

Good question! You can use the bulbs in arrangements, but I might use the cut-flower variety for an arrangement, and here's why--the bulbs can get a little finicky (depending on the stage of their lifecycle) in they are sitting in too much water (which the other flowers in the arrangement will need). Cut amaryllis flowers can be used in the arrangement with other cut flower varieties, and can be cut to length for the height of your arrangement.

If you like the look of the bulb, you could do an 'arrangement' down your table of potted bulbs, succulents, small bud vases of flowers and maybe some greenery (you could tuck reindeer moss in between for some bright green accents). You can also find bulbs dipped in bright red wax for a different look. Enjoy!

How do you best plan a design-scape that will transition well between all of the fall holidays that seem to overlap eachother without constantly changing things?

This is a great question! I would start with a good base of plants that will hold up as the season progresses--ornamental kale is wonderful, and comes in a variety of sizes, leaf shape and colors. I would then layer smaller bits of color using pansies, and use pots filled with lots of small gourds along your steps or by your front doors. If you're looking for a longer-lasting investment, you might consider something like Nandina or Ninebark, which can add some depth to your garden with beautiful foliage. Happy gardening!

Hi! Any suggestions on ways to keep flowers from wilting too fast as we begin to turn on the heat inside this winter? Asking for a friend in Chicago ;)

Hello, Chicago! :)

This is a great question as cooler days are ahead (and snow begins to fall in places like Chicago :). Be sure to change the water daily with cut flower arrangements, and make sure your flowers are not too close to things like heaters and radiators. Choose long-lasting flower varieties (think flowers that you might find in the grocery stores) and remove dead flowers from the arrangement as it ages. Succulents and potted plants are great alternatives, but just be sure to keep them watered as well!

Hello! My friends recently moved into their first apartment and I want to give them a cute plant. However, they have lots of succulents and will be putting this on their balcony. I'm thinking a nice little California poppy because they just moved here from California. Do you have other ideas? What should you think about when gifting an actual potted plant to others versus a bouquet?

This is a great question! I always try to keep the person in mind who will be receiving the plant when selecting the variety--where do they live? Where might the plant live? Do they travel a lot, and not have as much time for plant care?

For an outdoor plant, you could gift them something that could be planted now to enjoy in the spring. There are beautiful varieties of poppies, and you might also look at Hellebore (we used a green variety for the table arrangements in the story). Thank you!!

Thank you so much for having us today, and for all of the wonderful questions! Happy Halloween, and I hope you can enjoy flowers (and pumpkins!) all season long!

Love the Nats tie in for this chat. Thanks Jo for all your ideas including the Crackerjacks and baby shark centerpiece. Next week I will have Mitch Goldstone of Scan My Photo on what to do with all those shoeboxes of photographs. Bye.

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Jura Koncius
Jura Koncius is a Washington Post staff writer who specializes in home and design. Read her daily Twitter feed @jurakoncius for the latest in decorating trends, shopping, decluttering and organizing.

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