We took some creative license and used new potatoes instead of Irish ones. But whether you're hosting a St. Patrick's Day party or a simple spring luncheon, this lighthearted centerpiece will cheer your guests.
1. Wrap the floral wires with brown floral tape, and cut each wire in half. Wrap a piece of wire around the middle of each of 36 potatoes, twisting the wire to secure it.
2. Soak the moss to fluff it, and blot it dry. Cover the outside of the basket with moss, and hold it in place with the potatoes. To attach the potatoes, push the wire ends through the wicker, twist them once or twice inside the basket, and flatten the ends against the basket. Work in rows around the basket from the bottom to the top.
3. Glue the floral foam into the plastic saucer, then soak the foam. Place the plastic saucer inside the wicker basket.
4. Fill in around the floral foam with additional moss, then insert the bells-of-Ireland to define the shape of the arrangement. Position the tallest stem in the center of the floral foam. Cut the remaining stems 2 inches to 3 inches shorter, and angle them toward the front, back, and sides of the arrangement as shown in the step 4 photo.
5. Cut the daisy stems to varying lengths. Insert them along the bells-of-Ireland. Rest the remaining potatoes on the moss around the top of the container.
The smooth green "bells" that cluster along the stems of bells-of-Ireland (Moluccella laevis) and give it its common name actually are the calyxes, the leafy coverings that protect the flower buds. The small white flowers open inside the bells like tiny clappers. The reference to Ireland comes from the color of the bells; the plant is native to the eastern Mediterranean area. Also called Molucca balm, bells-of-Ireland has long been a favorite in old-fashioned gardens.
An annual, bells-of-Ireland prefers cool weather but doesn't tolerate frost. Choose a spot that receives about six hours of sunlight daily, and sow seeds directly in the garden in spring after the danger of frost has passed. Seeds must have light to germinate, so press them into moist soil, but don't cover them. Be patient -- germination may take two to five weeks. In areas with a short growing season, get a head start by sowing seeds in individual peat pots six to eight weeks before the last frost.
For fresh arrangements, cut the stalks when they reach the desired height. Strip the leaves off to emphasize the bells. To dry the plants, hang the stems upside down to air-dry, or bury the bell-covered stalks in silica gel. The green color eventually will fade to creamy white. Handle the dried bells carefully.