Julie McDonald Commentary: Florist Shows How to Create Affordable Christmas Centerpieces


Go to the backyard. Clip greenery. Stick it in a vase. Add flowers.

Sounds simple enough, but at the Christian Women’s Fellowship meeting in Centralia last week, longtime florist Dan Duffy showed how to employ simple details to create a gorgeous Christmas centerpiece using greenery from your yard.

Of course, unlike me, he knows what he’s doing. He owned Duffy’s Florals and Antiques in Centralia for 40 years.

Duffy created a base that sits on the kitchen table year-round and adds flowers as they bloom. “We had a geranium blossom, so we stuck it in,” he said.

For a simple arrangement, he goes into his yard and clips dusty miller and other greenery

“We stick one of those in a container,” said Duffy, 82. “It works really well as what you call a frog, which keeps flowers in place in an arrangement.”

He recommended buying oasis, a green foam brick sometimes referred to as wet foam. Dry oasis, which is hard compared to wet oasis, is used for artificial flowers. Wet oasis retains water, which enables the flowers to last longer. It can be purchased at Safeway, Walmart, Michael’s and other stores.

“It’s the best thing to use in a vase because the stems will go right in,” Duffy said. “This oasis gives you the material to arrange them.”

He purchases flowers at Safeway. Duffy pointed out that blossoms often are bunched together on top, but they’ll last longer if you swipe your hand gently over the flower to spread out the blossoms.

Clip the leaves from the lower stems before sticking them into the foam or they’ll rot.

“Whenever you’re making a flower arrangement with oasis, don’t put the flowers in so they’re way up high because this is holding water,” Duffy said. “So make sure the stem goes down below the flowers.”

He suggested starting at the bottom.

“The way we usually make arrangements is sort of start at the bottom and just build up your base,” Duffy said. “Don’t start always at the very top.”

Selecting different varieties of greenery from the yard makes the arrangement more interesting, he said.

“You don’t have to have holly,” he said. “It can be quite creative to just use anything you’ve got. You can stick a pine cone in if you’ve got it.”

Wire can be used to keep flowers in place in an arrangement. Noting that roses often grow droopy, Duffy suggested adding water to the bathtub and float the flowers, so they absorb water all the way through and rejuvenate.

He uses wire-edged ribbon bought in a continuous 50-yard roll from Costco to create beautiful bows to adorn bouquets, arrangements, Christmas trees, wreaths and gifts. too.

Duffy started his floral career as a delivery boy, when one of his friends needed a vacation and asked him to fill in temporarily, but he didn’t want the job back, so Duffy stayed. When he left for college in Bellingham, he visited a local florist shop and asked for a job, noting he had experience designing and delivering flowers. They hired him.

After buying the Centralia flower shop, he hosted open houses every year at Christmas, drawing as many as 500 people. When a woman entered the shop and wandered around, he was drawn to her personality and her laugh, but nobody could give him her name. Later, one of his employees told him a woman in Galvin needed a blind date for a special event and asked if he’d be interested. He knocked on his blind date’s door and saw the woman from his shop — Nancy. He knew her a month before he proposed, and they’ve been married 55 years.

At the meeting, Duffy shared photos of flower arrangements he’d created at their successful flower shop. Each page featured a photo of a little boy — his great-grandson.

He and Nancy have three sons, four granddaughters, and one great-grandchild.

“How could I possibly not show you his one-year-old picture?” Duffy said. “He’s almost two now.”


Julie McDonald, a personal historian from Toledo, may be reached at memoirs@chaptersoflife.com.