The Secret to the Art of Arranging Flowers like the French

A person standing in front of a flower garden

“The French buy flowers as if they were selecting cheese for a dinner party,” explains Sandra Sigman in one of the opening chapters of her new book, French Blooms. The award-winning florist and owner of flower shop Les Fleurs in Andover, MA, has spent a lifetime incorporating French attitudes toward floral design into her work.

The daughter of a florist in New England, Sigman developed an early appreciation for the cultivation and care of flowers, which blossomed when she moved to Paris in her early twenties. In France, she became captivated by the fleuristes that brought color and perfume to the streets, far removed from the commercial bouquets packaged in plastic like so many cuts of meat in overly-refrigerated American grocery stores. She decided she wanted more than bodega roses.

In 1989, Sigman opened Les Fleurs, the name a nod to the Parisian shop of the same name (since closed) where she embarked on an unofficial education in the art of French floral design. She dedicated her new store to the tenets of the fleuriste: refined but understated arrangements, a love for vintage containers of all shapes and sizes, and an appreciation for shopping local and buying only what is in season.

Photography by Kindra Clineff

After three decades in the business, Sigman has decided to share her knowledge of all things French and floral in French Blooms. The book contains chapters on general design principles, the basics of flower arranging, and where to buy and how to select the perfect container for your flowers. It also offers tips on the best parks, flower shops, and antique markets in Paris and farther afield in France.

The guide contains both aesthetic and technical tips on how to get the most out of your blooms, and the second half of the book is largely dedicated to amazingly detailed floral “recipes” for types of bouquets you might put together depending on the season, occasion, or location. Need a bouquet for Easter, Mother’s Day, or Thanksgiving? Not a problem. Flowers for your mantel, dining table, or powder room? Clearly outlined by category, with specific selection techniques for each. The bouquet recipes also extend beyond classic flowers you may already know to include with  creative additions like various herbs, grasses, and ferns.

In addition to being informative, French Blooms is simply stunning. It is filled with photographs of perfectly manicured Parisian gardens, ancient stone staircases dotted with roses in vintage ceramic jugs, and outdoor dining tables accented with peak season zinnias and delightfully autumnal decor. It’s a design book that will make you want to quit your job, buy a crumbling chateau in the French countryside, and dedicate your days to turning your every waking moment into a living, breathing Pinterest post.

Photography by Kindra Clineff

A few questions with Sandra Sigman…

What is one thing you would like readers to take away from this book?

As the owner of a floral, home, and garden shop, I’ve always been passionate about floral design and the art of creating beautiful arrangements that elevate any space. My love for this art form and fascination with the city of Paris inspired me to write this book. I had the opportunity to live in Paris for some time in my early 20s and was struck by the beauty of the city, from the architecture to the lovely fleuristes (flower shops) that could be found on every corner. I was inspired to capture this beauty in a book and share my passion for floral design with others. I hope that my book will inspire others to appreciate the art of floral design and to find beauty in unexpected places.

What is your favorite floral arrangement you have included, and why?

The cover of the book is incredibly meaningful to me. It’s the face of French Blooms and represents decades of floral arranging knowledge. Initially, there was a different floral arrangement chosen for the cover. Even though it was pretty and would have been fine, I knew in my heart I wanted a different feel to the cover bouquet. With the clock ticking, I hopped on a plane and headed to France with my beloved antique jardinière in my suitcase. I planned the photo shoot with my French photographer friend, Anne Soulier, on the flight. This arrangement represents everything dear to me: flowers, antiques, and France. 

Photography by Anne Soulier

If you could sum up the difference between French and American floral arranging in a sentence or two, what would it be?

French floral arranging tends to focus on simplicity and natural beauty, often using only “in season” blooms to create an artful arrangement. On the other hand, American floral arranging tends to be more elaborate, with a lot more color and variety of flowers used. Another difference is that the French consider flowers an essential part of everyday life and purchase them more frequently. My American clientele tends to buy flowers for big and small occasions. 

What do you consider to be some of your greatest achievements or accolades in the world of flowers? 

One of my greatest achievements in the world of flowers has been starting my own French floral design business at the young age of 23, following the sudden loss of my mother, who was my inspiration and the driving force behind Les Fleurs. Despite the immense grief, I persevered through my sorrow and built a thriving floral, home, and garden shop that has been in operation for over 30 years. 

Along the way, I have had the honor of working on countless weddings, events, and projects that have allowed me to express my passion for floral design and bring joy to others through the beauty of flowers. I am grateful for the support of my community and the opportunities that have come my way, including my first book, “French Blooms.” 

How much time do you spend in France each year? 

As much as I can! My dream has always been to live in France. I lived there in my early 20s and vowed that I would one day return to live there again. Last spring, my husband and I fulfilled this life-long dream of owning an apartment in Paris. It took 30 years and a lot of French paperwork, but we finally got the keys to our charming pied-à-terre in the 6th arrondissement of Paris.

French Blooms is published today, March 21, 2023.

Catherine Rickman is a writer and professional francophile who has lived in Paris, New York, and Berlin. She is currently somewhere in Brooklyn with a fork in one hand and a pen in the other, and you can follow her adventures on Instagram @catrickman.

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