I adore flowers in the home, particularly roses cut fresh from the garden, but I don’t find the act described as ‘flower arranging’ at all inspiring. History tells us of tight protocols around arranging flowers and set rules that applied to the craft through the decades. The phrase ‘Flower arranging’ is reminiscent of dusty church halls or local rural flower shows seen in Midsummer Murders and the like. I like to gather roses into a large basket in an assorted mix of colours and place them in jugs, cups, bowls, silver teapots, or unusual vessels like jars or copper kettles in a more natural style.
Possibly a new way of describing floral design could be; setting out roses, composing a vase, choreograph flowers, harmonise a vase, dressing flowers, vase creation, floral creation or fashioning flowers. My favourite is orchestrating flowers and designing a vase. What are yours?
After picking roses from the garden the less that is done to them the better. History has seen many changes in floral design and some of our current trends date back centuries. Today’s trend is to pick flowers and adorn our homes and sometimes ourselves in a natural just fresh from the garden manner. This trend was popularised in the 1930’s by Constance Spry, who said said it was the most natural form of arranging. Using branches of blossoms, vegetables and flowers she would design around the Botanicals rather than a set of rules. Rather than rules we can become familiar with design elements to more naturally compose a floral masterpiece.
Floral Design uses the same principles as any other design project such as web, architecture, fashion, garden, interior or jewellery design. The principles of design are, SPACE, UNITY, RHYTHM, MOVEMENT, DOMINANCE, PROPORTION, SCALE, HARMONY AND BALANCE.
The elements of design are LINE, SHAPE, DIRECTION, REPETITION, SIZE, COLOUR, FRAGRANCE AND TEXTURE. Through a playful use of these elements and principles together, will form the building blocks of all visual design. The same applies to floral design and understanding these building blocks will always help in creating pleasing florals that will enhance any decor or space.
We often use design elements by default or intuition, but it pays to consider each of the components. Thankfully, the trends in floral design are more natural now, with randomly gathered collections displayed more organically with respect to design basics.
The proportional rule of thumb is that a display of blooms should be 2 1/2 times the overall size of the vessel and in proportion to the size and scale of the room or venue. Remember that a pleasing design is always best in uneven numbers, so 3, 5, 7 – often called the rule of 3.
The whole is more than the sum of the parts is a phrase well suited to floral design. If the final design is balanced and all the elements – blooms are in harmony, the overall look will be enjoyable to the eye, have an uplifting, charming appearance and fragrance that is more than the beauty of each part.
The art of floral work or floristry has a long history that significantly influenced floral design today.
The Egyptians 2800 – 28 BC. The Egyptians used Roses and other flowers from the Nile Valley -gladiolus, iris, rose, lily, narcissus, and the sacred lotus with ivy, palm and papyrus. The designs were simple repetitious, and orderly in vivid colours of red, yellow, and blue. They also combined flowers, foliages, and fruit to create wreaths and garlands for decorative offerings in their religious ceremonies.
Ancient Greeks 600-146 BC During this period of history, flowers began to be valued for personal use, fragrance, and religious ceremonies. The Greeks at banquets scattered loose flower petals on the ground and placed garlands of flowers in baskets and trays rather than vases. They arranged open flowers, fruits, and grains in upright cornucopias as offerings to the Gods. This floral ritual is still today, a symbol of abundance and plenty associated with autumn harvest and American Thanksgiving.
The colours were sky blue, maroon, terracotta, rose, and violet and came from collections of wheat and grains, roses, crocus, daisies, honeysuckle, hyacinth, iris, lilies, violets, fragrant herbs, ivy, laurel, myrtle, olive branches, and oak leaves.
Ancient Romans (28 BC – 325 AD) During the classical Roman period wreaths, crowns and garlands became showier where they added new exotic flowers and branches like crocus, oleander, myrtle, amaranth, ivy, narcissi . The Romans began the tradition of throwing roses and flowers onto caskets in remembrance called “Dies Rosationis.” This tradition continues today, along with the ritual of tossing single roses. Also a Roman custom of hanging an all-white wreath of roses from the ceiling to signify that everything said below will be kept secret- called Sub-Rosa.
Ancient Chinese (500 BC – 100 AD)The ancient Chinese Buddhist priests used flowers and plant materials for religious ceremonies where a few branches and flowers placed in containers represented the year’s seasons. In 621 AD, a Japanese Buddhist priest took the idea of offering flowers at Buddhist altars back to Japan. Floral design in China is more natural and less structured than the carefully stylized floral design of the Japanese. When Buddhism was introduced from China to Japan in the 7th century, the Japanese floral design known as Ikebana began in 1470 AD. Ikebana uses simplicity and negative space to design with flowers and plant materials as they appear in nature. It follows strict rules of placement concerning season, growth habit, and colour. The designs have three main elements: heaven, man, and earth. In a naturalistic manner, they use space, rhythm, and simplicity in their floral design, which has had an enormous impact on contemporary floral design.
Byzantine Culture (320 – 600 AD) After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Byzantine culture saw floral design use symmetry and tree-style designs where foliage in containers resembled conical trees. The Byzantines used the same flowers as the Greeks and Romans and their garlands were narrow bands of fruit and flowers, alternated with foliage.The bouquets were massive and opulent that dominated and created a contrasting sculptural effect. The eye is drawn into the bouquets with the flower heads turned in different directions or the reversing of leaves, and the curving of graceful lines of the flower and foliage stems.
The Middle Ages (476 – 1400 AD). During the Middle Ages, wreaths and garlands were used as decoration and personal adornment but the focus for plants and flowers was on their use for drinks, medicines, fragrances, and food.
The Renaissance (1400 – 1600 AD) The Renaissance, a time of rebirth, was when the passion for gardens and gardening spread from Italy and Europe. People cut flowers from their gardens and arranged them for everyday occasions, not just for religious ceremonies.
The Renaissance was a period where people began to appreciate the beauty of flowers and their symbolic values. Our current rituals and symbolic traditions like giving flowers to loved ones, roses as a symbol of love today have their roots in the Renaissance. Flowers used in designs during the Renaissance era were carnations, daisies, lily, marigold, pansies, roses, stock, and violets with branches from olive trees, boxwood and laurel.
Baroque Period (1600 – 1700 AD) With its origins in Italy, the Baroque style of floral design began as symmetrical, oval-shaped designs that were heavy ornamentations laden with cherubs and scrolls—later becoming asymmetrical and featuring the “S” curve known as the “Line of Beauty”. This was named the Hogarth curve after the 18th-century English painter in William Hogarth.
Flemish – Dutch Period (1550 – 1700 AD) The Flemish-Dutch period was an age of discovery in horticulture where ships returning from distant lands bought back exotic plants such as chrysanthemums, cacti, nasturtiums, and sunflowers.
Artists used many varieties of flowers for elaborate floral masterpieces in a wildly flamboyant style using plants and blooms from all seasons with accents of fruits, shells, nests, and additional flowers at the container base. Floral arrangements were from two to three times the height of the vessel.
English Georgian Period (1700s AD) The Georgian English people designed floral works in rich, restrained designs that were symmetrical and often triangular. They used a single choice of blooms and usually one colour. It was a stately, formal time where fragrance was utmost when selecting flowers. Fragrance was used to protect people from infectious diseases, and both men and women carried small handheld bouquets called nosegays. The nosegay, or tussy mussy, gave relief from the odours of the common unsanitary conditions.
Victorian Period (1830 – 1890 AD) The Romantic Victorian Era was the time that floral design became a professional art form. Some of our current traditions, such as presenting flowers at the ballet or wearing flowers to special events, started in Victorian times. Handheld bouquets or posy holders were typical to wear to social events during this time. The Victorian era was often depicted as the battle of styles because so many were adapted and initiated during this time – Baroque, classical, and rococo design styles. However, there were two distinct preferred styles in floral designs: large, compact, and over-the-top mass of flowers and the other style more informal, light and open.
The Victorians were obsessed with flowers and loved the overstuffed, cluttered style full of foliage, ferns and layers of blooms, fruits and flowers. Still, they added a romantic touch to floral work with the habit of trailing plant materials and using the foliage to develop texture and contrast. The Victorians liked intense hues and bold colour contrasts too and had massive displays as a centrepiece called a two-level epergne with a top for flowers and the lower tier for fruits. Flowers were everywhere and used to adorn hats, rooms, walls, stationery and dinner tables.
During the Victorian era in London the Pre-Raphaelite movement began in 1848. It was a secret society of young artists and a writer who wanted to purify the art of the day by returning to the example of medieval and early Renaissance painting. The Pre-Raphaelites helped to popularise the notion of ‘art for art’s sake’. They revolted against the artificial and mannered approach to painting and followed a programme of ‘truth to nature’, advocating a return to the simplicity and sincerity of subject and style. It was one of the Pre Raphaelite designer William Morris who bought the Victorian fascination with flowers into the home when he produced very colourful wallpaper designs of poppies, sunflowers and chrysanthemums
Also, in Victorian England, roses were used to express coded meanings and secret messages without a word being said. Red roses – I love you. Pink roses – elegance and friendship. Yellow roses -infidelity and jealousy. Lavender roses for mystery. More about Floriography next time….
All content Di Baker 2021 Images as cited.
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