How to choose a vase to suit every room and season

Looking for an excuse to assemble an eclectic collection of useful, cheap, everyday things in your wanders around those boot sale fields? Well, I have a blooming good prospect to share this week.

Arranging flowers — whether snagged from the garden, gifted on an occasion, or snapped up as a treat just for yourself at the supermarket — having a choice of vase types doubles the pleasure.

You can keep a bouquet amply supported, and tailor smaller displays as the whole flourish dies back and is picked apart for vivid survivors.

A single bud or fluffy flower head can sit vertically to attract attention at a guest’s table setting, and even your pruning can play artistic sculpture with the right underpinning. Buy new, buy vintage, and above all look out for secondhand pieces (not necessarily intended for flower play).

There’s something for every pocket — from actual 1930s wall pockets to character Grecian heads looking for a do.

Florist favourites

A contemporary vase formed from a chain of interlinking labí body tubes.

Size and shape are key. The circumference of the vase at its widest point and its depth will determine the most effective volume of flowers you can include, and the stability of the entire production.

Keep an eye on the opening of the vessel too, as this will dictate what you can do with the vase in terms of sheer stem numbers. With varying degrees of opacity and texture, glass offers the opportunity to refract light through the stems of the flowers and to add decorative inclusions from lemon slices to shells and pebbles.

A ceramic vase will add a love line while keeping attention on your blossoms and foliage. With the exception of fragile hand-painting or period transfers, keep the amount of applied decoration on the vase to a minimum as it can pull the eye back and forth from the flowers, lessening their star status.

Glass aside, florists favor one color in black, grey, green, white, and jewel tones for a reason.

Your first purchase should be a tall cylinder or column style vase, and you can find these in a range of sizes in everything from glass to (lined) brass. These are perfect for dumping larger, lush bouquets with their predetermined shape, straight into water without a problem.

The flair of the flowers including hydrangea, gladiola, daisies, and foliage will complete a classic upside-down triangle (draw a virtual line around your arrangement to keep it in frame).

Look for a heavy-based cylinder for a low center of gravity that won’t tip under pressure. For smaller arrangements, these can include straight-sided drinking tumblers in treacle thick recycled glass.

For a secondhand cheat, tall, straight-sided coffee pots from the 1960s and ’70s are often left decapitated without a lid in boxes at boot sales.

They carry fascinating, groovy printed and embossed decoration with sweeping handles and impossible spouts. My favorite now (and probably forever) are the Totem coffee pots by Sally William-Ellis for Portmeirion.


Using a printed vase, choose a classic printed or painted design that won't overwhelm your flowers.
Using a printed vase, choose a classic printed or painted design that won’t overwhelm your flowers.

For just a few flowers, we want stems around one-and-a-half to two times the length of our vase and something to pinch the arrangement at the “waist” holding it in place. This is a perfect marriage for an hourglass style or the right bottle.

Watch out for suitable jars and carafes coming out of your pantry or listing around in crates at the charity shop. Allow the arrangement to froth off the edge of a waisted bottle, hiding the top edge.

This is particularly gorgeous with late, faded roses you might hack off while shredding your autumn hedges.

For buds, choose an onion-shaped vase, an ancient form still celebrated by potters right into the mid-century and still easily found in many high-street outlets including Sostrene Grene and HomeSense for just a few euros a piece.

Alternatively, look for lab-style vials set in metal supports or fused into a circle. Try Spun from Coolree, €15.

Start with a ceramic bud vase that nestles easily in your palm. Too big and single flowers will sag and a small group will splay mournfully.

broke? Green glass wine bottles with chunky bases. Classic. Keep a few on hand.

Round vases, also described as fish bowls, work best with dense carefully composed dome-like bouquets, and stumpy stems cut to one size in a formal arrangement.

The support is otherwise a bit random for 50cm long stem roses. If you’re putting in lots of spring bulbs in the coming months — vouch for tulips for your fish bowl, or deploy a single fat flower head.

The Waterford Glandore rose bowl (reminiscent of their deeply cut, thistle-head pieces) was a masterpiece of this vase type, and you might find a cheaper molded glass brand or a vintage 1980s Glandore from around €60 on Etsy or eBay.

The magnifying qualities of a round bubble of glass make it ideal for adding pieces like marbles, and florists pebbles to the water. This is another area where you can make up small collections to draw on.

‘Simple purity’

Bud vases are a wonderful addition to a dinner table or bedside.  Image: Talking Tables UK.
Bud vases are a wonderful addition to a dinner table or bedside. Image: Talking Tables UK.

In opaque materials, consider old, commonplace, matronly teapots of any era — just keep the water line safely below the spout or seal it off with a little putty.

The addition of a handle makes a tea-pot vase easy to shift around inside and out — perfect for conservatory afternoon tea as the weather gets too chilly for the garden.

Watch out for ovoid vases with narrow bases — very easily tipped even when empty. Hefty, Edwardian urns with flared feet or plinths, and two handles sit up better and are cheap ornamental buys for all sorts of botanical theatrics.

Square vases have a similar, simple purity as the round vase, but more angles and corners to the interior. Again, add volume to the arrangement to soften the frame. Rectangular and square vases come in a huge choice of sizes and dimensions.

Large, lower versions, have a lot of overall volume and a gaping mouth. These styles are frankly expensive to fill compared to an hourglass shape.

Avoid a mean display by adding some green fluff from the garden, or the odd quality synthetic element. Using glass, you can keep smaller groups of stems tied inside the vase to prop them to eye-catching symmetrical positions not possible while loose.

Terrace the bunches in groups of three or more.