Although many people associate carnations with generic grocery-store floral displays and inexpensive prom corsages, this versatile, hardy flower has a natural elegance that lends itself to beautiful arrangements. The key to arranging carnations is to avoid using them with too many other flowers. Compared with a rose or a lily, a carnation can appear lacklustre. On its own, however, a carnation can make a graceful statement. Use carnations to create a large centrepiece, or to make smaller arrangements for table settings or bathrooms.
Create a commanding centrepiece by arranging a large group of carnations in a glass vase. Select two dozen single-coloured carnations. Choose white for more formal occasions or bright colours for the spring or summer. Place one flower, preferably the one with the tallest stem, in the centre of the vase and build around it, adding carnations in concentric circles until the vase is full.
Personalise a table setting with a simple display of one to three carnations. For a three-stem arrangement, choose colours according to the occasion. Use three colours of carnations to create a festive atmosphere, or use all-white flowers for a holiday party. Strip all but one or two leaves from the stems. Place the carnations in a narrow-necked bud vase. Add a single sprig such as flowering forsythia or bittersweet as an accent.
Spruce up a bathroom or kitchen with a medium-size carnation arrangement. Choose three to five carnations. For a more elegant look, use no more than two colours of flowers. Remove most of the leaves from the stems and mass the flowers closely together in the centre of a vase. Add evergreen sprigs around the perimeter of the bunched carnations to frame the arrangement.
To promote longer flower life, cut stems diagonally at a length of at least 6 inches. Adding anti-ethylene flower preservative to the vase water can extend the life of your carnation blooms.