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Decorative Value Of Flowers

( Originally Published 1923 )



It has been truly said that artists are born, not made, and the statement is applicable not only to the users of water colors or oils in reproducing natural landscapes on canvas, but as well to the users of plant material in varied forms for decorative effects.

People vary much in their ability to produce interesting cut flower arrangements. Some have a marked natural ability to arrange flowers so that almost immediately the effect pleases. Others labor long, arranging and re-arranging the material, and the final results bring little enthusiasm from those they have tried to please.

That one may arrange flowers in an interesting way, he must truly love flowers and have an appreciation of the decorative value of each unit to be used. The next essential is to so arrange the material that the attractiveness will lose nothing by the somewhat artificial arrangement necessitated by its use in interior decoration. Given a natural appreciation of plant material, any one may become expert in arrangement if a few definite rules are observed.

One Spring day I was invited by a friend to see his extensive collection of species and varieties of Narcissi. As we strolled through the garden, I remarked how beautifully the majority of species of Narcissi lend themselves to cut flower arrangement. My friend replied, "I love flowers in the garden, but care little for them in the house; they seem so artificial there." Evidently he had experienced the shock many have received when they have seen flowers, stripped of their natural foliage, and arranged in a conglomerate mass with other species of widely varied characters.

When carefully selected, arranged and placed, flowers add a distinct charm to every occasion. They also have a practical value, for every one is cheered or depressed in a marked degree by his surroundings. As a rule, a person's environment has much to do with his mental attitude. So it is that flowers in the sick room bring cheer, and flowers on the breakfast table prepare us pleasantly for our day's work. It is true also that flowers have a real cheering influence in bereavement, but too frequently such poor taste is shown in the flowers sent for funerals that they depress rather than cheer. It is possible to make hideous, even repulsive designs out of beautiful material. Fortunately, however, they are much less frequent now than formerly. This has been brought about quite largely by the dealers who suggest simple and appropriate wreaths or sprays of cut flowers, rather than the more complicated designs.

One of the most essential features to enter into the arranging of flowers is that of simplicity. A great majority of floral decorations are too complex. This is not a fault alone of the amateur, for many professional florists overdo the decorative effect they are striving for, and as a result the decorations become heavy and confused. One can safely follow Mother Nature as a teacher, for she makes no mistakes. In Nature we find little attempt at massing different flowers. It is true that there are plant families of varied character, but as a rule they rarely appear at the same time on the same ground. If one studies a given area of landscape, for example, it will be found that there is a succession of bloom or decorative effects from early Spring until late Fall. Perhaps the earlier flowers are a mass of Bluets among the green grass, then come the Dandelions, to be followed in succession by the Orange Hawkweed, Buttercups, Queen Anne's Lace, Goldenrod and Asters. There is on this area no massing of bloom or color contrasts to disturb the artistic eye.

Nature has taught man many valuable lessons and if he will but keep his eyes open, and his mind receptive, she will teach many more. The Creator intended that wild flowers should have a characteristic natural beauty, for Nature was created beautiful. Man in his attempts to subdue Nature and produce an artistic arrangement of plant material, better than that planned by the Creator, has not met with a large degree of success. We are appreciating this fact more and more, and are realizing that Nature is a teacher upon whom we can depend not alone in artistic flower arrangement, but in artistic flower planting as well.

For years we considered Nature coarse and crude. The picturesque attractiveness of the gnarled Pine tree, the bog grasses and other plant life on the windswept seacoast, were all unappreciated. A few men, with true artistic taste saw the attractiveness in such material, and by the aid of the camera and brush have educated their fellowmen to a better appreciation of its decorative value. A friend of the writer spent a Summer on the sandy barrens of Cape Cod, and his photographs of the bog grasses, Bayberries, Sand Cherries and Scrub Pines were intensely interesting in their composition and simplicity.

I well remember the bouquets which were fearfully and wonderfully made by my grandmother on Sunday morning, which were later to be carried proudly up the center aisle of the country church and placed on the table in front of the pulpit. Lilies, Roses, Geraniums, Baby's Breath, Petunias, Verbenas and many other species were closely massed in a varied form and color arrangement. She was a lover of flowers, but not an artist in flower arrangement. Little of the individual beauty of any flower or leaf could be seen. The so-called colonial bouquet, so popular at the present time, is similar, in that little value is given the individual character of the flowers. They please because of their unique color characters which are arranged usually in rows of closely harmonizing colors.

Following simplicity, a second lesson which we can learn from Nature is that the setting has much to do with the attractiveness of any arrangement of flowers. The shrubs in Winter are, for the most part, destitute of foliage, and the chief attractiveness of the fruits lies in their form and coloring. These are emphasized by the clear-cut profile of each fruit or cluster of fruits. There is no heavy massing of material, but each spray is distinct. Their colors in their natural habitat form a pleasant contrast with the white snow, and there is no discordant note. When this material is brought into the house for decorative effects, it should be so placed that a proper background and correct lighting will have a similar effect in making the arrangement interesting, and should be given as natural a setting as possible. This statement applies particularly to arrangement and environment, but other factors, such as receptacles, color and form contrasts are important.

The Japanese Barberry, for example, makes a most attractive decoration for the table on Thanksgiving Day. The rich red of the berries and the browns of the twigs are increased in value by the white of the table linen. The environment must of necessity be somewhat artificial, but if each twig or spray is placed as nearly as possible as Nature arranged them on the shrub, and if a wicker basket of nearly the same color as the twigs be used, the effect is more pleasing. If flowers are desired, rich bronze, yellow or red Chrysanthemums may be arranged lightly among the Barberries, much as they would grow together in the garden border in late Fall.

There are many other Winter fruits which may be used in the home in a decorative way, such as Teasels, dried Goldenrod sprays, Bittersweet and other plants of permanent attractiveness.

Again it should be emphasized that the arrangement and setting should be as natural as possible. The Partridge Vine, trailing over the dark green moss under the Pine tree, is a thing of beauty. Placed in a closed glass globe on the dining room table or in the living room, under stifling, artificial conditions, it is less so. One can have only sympathy instead of admiration for this plant shut away from the natural rustic beauty of its native habitat.

One of the things frequently overlooked in flower arrangement is the fact that each species, and in some cases each variety, has its own peculiar character. These factors should be studied carefully in flower arrangements. Taking the Sweet Pea as an example, its individuality is admirably portrayed by Keats in the following lines:

"Sweet Peas on tiptoe for a flight
With wings of gentle flush o'er delicate white,
And taper fingers catching at all things
To bind them all about with tiny rings."

The Tulip has a vastly different character, which another writer has noted thus: "The Tulip is an oriental plant, and we perceive Eastern splendor in the brilliancy of its flowers, color, the large size and massive substance of the floral urns; the dusky sheen of some varieties, a metallic sparkle of others, have a truly oriental magnificence."

Probably in no other two species could one find more pronounced differences in types. The fact that each species has its individuality must be borne in mind when one attempts to make complex flower arrangements, and to use material of pronounced differences in form and colors.

In cutting material for the home, too frequently only fully opened flowers are selected. This often necessitates cutting short stems which are difficult to arrange attractively. The composition will be much more interesting if sprays are cut sufficiently long so that in addition to the fully opened flowers there are some that are half opened, as well as some buds. Varied developments in the foliage also add to the interest in the composition.

The Japanese make much use of the branches and foliage of evergreen and deciduous trees. If, however, the plant is a flowering one, the foliage alone is never used, or if a plant naturally bears foliage at the flowering season, the flowers are not used without the foliage.

The use of foliage in a flower arrangement often aids in emphasizing the beauty of form or coloring in the flower. As a rule, no foliage so well suits a flower as that of the same species. Again a liberal use of foliage often softens and adds beauty to the arrangement. A vase of red Geraniums is too vivid in coloring when the fully blown flower clusters are used in a mass, but when the clusters are selected in varied stages of development and the brilliancy of coloring softened by a liberal use of foliage, the composition becomes interesting.

The Japanese study carefully the varied development of all plant material used in their compositions, as will be seen in Chapter IV.

Conder, in his excellent book on Japanese Flower Arrangement, calls attention to the fact that in all Japanese flower arrangement the spirit of the season is emphasized. In Spring the arrangement should be strong and powerful in line, like the growth of early vegetation. Summer arrangements must be full and spreading, while those of Autumn should be spare and lean, and those of Winter withered and dreary.

Often it is thought that if greenhouse material is not available in Winter, there is no possibility of using cut plant material for home ornamentation. In the Fall and early Winter, however, there is an abundance of wild Fall fruits, which even the city dweller may find on vacant lots in the suburbs. In the Winter, and especially at Christmas, twigs and branches of evergreen are most effective when arranged carefully, and in early Spring the brilliantly colored twigs of many of the ornamental trees and shrubs, or a few sprays of Cherry, Forsythia or other early Spring flowering shrubs, may add a charm to every household.



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