Summers fade quickly, probably because each weekend is filled with a birthday party, a housewarming party, a barbecue, a holiday celebration or a wedding. Your flower garden looks great this year but the weather is starting to get colder.

Sometimes the best way to prolong the joy of summer is to grab a handful of daisies, tulips, peonies and lilies to create beautiful summer bouquets. The good news is you don't have to be a master florist to create something stylish and inspiring!

Step one toward creating vivid summer floral bouquets is, of course, the planting. The best time to begin is late March in the West or May in the East, after the threat of frost has diminished.

According to Beth Benjamin, floral expert at Renee's Garden Seed Company, the best flower garden picks are cosmos, sunflowers and zinnias. In the front row of her garden, she's planted purplish blue cerinthe, deep violet love-in-a-mist and phlox.

Her second row is comprised of white cosmos flanked by chartreuse bells-of-Ireland and backed by white ammi majus as filler. In the third row, round colorful zinnias grow next to blue and red salvia. The fourth row hangs ardent love-lies-bleeding to the left and cherry pink cleome to the right, flanked by pink and rose cosmos. In the rear, tall sunflowers grow with strawflowers at each end.

There are many florist tricks to extend the vase life of your summer bouquets. Cut flowers early in the morning for the freshest snip. Using sharp clippers will ensure the water can traverse up the stem into the flower. Place the stems in a bucket of tepid water immediately after cutting.

Inside, fill the kitchen sink with cool water and re-cut underwater, allowing water to travel up the stem, rather than air. Keep all bacteria-inducing leaves out of the water.

Add floral preservative containing sugar, acidifier and biocide into lukewarm water. You can also create your own mix with one-part regular lemon-lime soda and three parts water or 1 tablespoon of sugar, 1 teaspoon of vinegar and a crushed aspirin into 24 ounces of water.

Approach your summer bouquets with a vigilant eye and an open heart. "Gather the things your garden has to offer, and then add a few more from the grocery store," advises Georgia flower garden designer Ryan Gainey. "It isn't always when the flowers are at their peak that they're at their best. Many times, when they go to seed, their true beauty comes forth." He says to look for crepe myrtle seed heads, fern fronds and the black-eyed Susan for some pleasant surprises.

By: Michael Selvon

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