FOOD & WINE's new contributing editor shares tactics, techniques and sources

quick tip
I've finally come up with the perfect hostess gift: a bouquet of flowers in a silver mint julep cup. I buy the cups from Two's Company ($9 to $18.50; 800-896-7266) and always keep several on hand; then, when I'm invited out,I bring one to my florist to fill for me.

Nina says...
When I'm decorating with flowers for a party, I follow the rules--as long as they are rules of my own invention. Rather than focusing on one enormous centerpiece, for instance,I prefer to place flowers in small vases on the table and around the house, especially bunches of roses (cut low), sweet peas or parrot tulips....
Creative flower containers are replacing stodgy, traditional glass vases. I prowl flea markets for vintage cups or wrap boring vases with fabric or decorate them with cinnamon sticks....
My pet peeve: orange flowers! I find them garish and difficult to pair with other stems. I prefer a mix of delicate pales--ivory, pink, yellow, lilac--or rich, deep blood reds....
A spectacular florist is the ultimate find. My Palm Pilot holds the phone numbers of four in Manhattan: L. Becker Flowers (212-439-6001), Ronaldo Maia (212-288-1049), Plaza Florists (212-734-2166) and Salou (212-595-9604)....
The wholesale flower market is one of my favorite haunts. Get there early (the best flowers sell out by 7 a.m.), bring cash (you can sometimes get a discount if you pay that way) and a shopping list (it's easy to get overwhelmed) and look for tightly closed flowers or huge branches of cherry blossoms--their look is minimalist yet lush and they are economical as well.

looking high and low
Too often, a high centerpiece makes it impossible for guests to see each other across the table. My friend Cathy Graham has figured out a graceful way to solve the problem. Petite vases filled with lilies of the valley and mini jonquils and tiny topiaries in small clay pots cut a low profile around a medium-size arrangement of tulips, lilacs and baby hydrangeas. Four candles stand tall but don't block the view. Despite the profusion of flowers and decoration, guests have no difficulty seeing eye-to-eye.

shop talk
Robert Bardin, and Robert Palomo created the most extraordinary Moroccan tent for a party I gave on Long Island. My guests sat on cushions on the floor and ate at long, low tables covered with pots of spices, voluptuous flowers and exotic votives. Great news: the Roberts now have a flower shop in Manhattan, Bardin Palomo, that sells those votives as well as other items for the table (524 W. 19th St.; 212-989-6113).

style notebook
Recently, over lunch at Gaya Rive Gauche in Paris, Carolyne Roehm told me that carnations were going to make a comeback. I thought she'd lost her mind, but she was right. (Avi Adler used carnations for a big fund-raiser for the Whitney Museum in New York; and in Holland, Marcel Wolterinck molds them into abstract squares.) Look for other forward-thinking ideas in Carolyne Roehm's Summer Notebook ($23; HarperCollins).

the velvet touch
The Velvet Garden in Los Angeles amazes me with its beautiful, innovative work and its ability to give unusual flower arrangements a whimsical touch. After all, how many florists would mix red dahlias, red roses and orchids with limes, or use a woven box as a vase--one that can be recycled to hold cards or trinkets? (8372 W. Third St.; 323-852-1766).