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Vases For Cut Flowers And Potted Plants

( Originally Published 1923 )

The proper selection of receptacles for cut flowers is very important. It must be remembered that the aim in flower arrangement is for decorative effects. Receptacles and containers are necessary for practical purposes, but they should by no means be conspicuous. The more subordinate they are to the flowers, the principles of the design, the more the arrangement will please. For this reason the more simple the receptacles, the better the decorative effect.

Strange as it may seem, simple, attractive receptacles are difficult to secure. The tendency of manufacturers seems to be to produce highly decorated, glazed ware in brilliant colors. It may be that such ware pleases the eye when not filled with flowers and therefore sells better. The setting adds or detracts from the beauty of a landscape or a painting; the same is true of a flower composition. The background, the receptacle and the general arrangement should be of such a character that the flowers will be the principals in the design and all accessories secondary. Thus it is important that when selecting receptacles, simplicity in design and decoration should be our first consideration.

It has been noted that Nature is a good instructor if one will but heed her teachings. The early Spring flowers push their way through the brown leaves or dark earth; later, flowers appear with the soft green tints of the foliage for a setting, or the grass may be the contrasting element. Nature chooses tone harmonies with much skill and seldom can one select better foliage material for combinations in flower arrangement than that of the same plant that produces the flowers.

The vase or bowl should be sufficiently large to hold the flowers without crowding the stems, but not too large, or it will appear out of balance with the flowers. The vase should be of such a character that there will be the appearance of stability or it will fail to interest the observer. It should be deep enough for the water to come well up on the stems, if the flowers are to retain their freshness for a considerable period. Because of this fact, Roses arranged in a shallow bowl soon wither and are rarely satisfactory, although when first arranged they are very attractive from the viewpoint of design. The less decoration the receptacles have, the better. It is especially objectional to have receptacles decorated with flowers unless the same species is to be used in filling them. A vase of pleasing tone decorated with Iris is attractive when filled with Iris, but when other flowers are used, expecially those which are massed or appear late in the Fall, such as Asters, one's sense of appropriateness is jarred.

Receptacles should be selected carefully with consideration for their form in comparison with the flowers. Often the beauty of an arrangement is marred because the shape of the vase is not appropriate for the flowers. The beauty in the lines of the flower stems, the foliage or in the form of the flowers, should be emphasized by the character of the receptacle. In those species of flowering plants where the lines of the stems or foliage are pronounced there should be a careful selection of the receptacles so that its lines may radiate to the lines of the stems of the flowers. For instance, a vase for Callas where the line characters of the stems and leaves are very evident, should be such that the general direction of the stems or leaves will be extended. The vase should not be too flaring at the top, neither should it be narrowed too abruptly. For tall flowers like the Gladiolus, the receptacle should not be broken in outline, for the beauty of the lines of the flower stems will be emphasized if extended gradually from the nearly straight line of the vase. An adaptation of the line of the receptacle to the lines of the flower stems, gives a shape rhythm which is as important in arrangement as is the shape rhythm existing between the different species of flowers in the composition.

The Japanese excel in their art of adaptation of receptacle and flowers. Much care is taken in selecting the material for the composition; then the particular characters of both flowers and receptacles are studied. After the particular receptacle is selected much time is spent in bending carefully each branch of the plant material or in eliminating certain branches, so the whole flower arrangement conforms to the particular lines of the vase.

The flowers should be approximately one and one-half the height of the receptacle. The breadth of the receptacle is also important for it has a direct bearing on the stability or shape balance of the composition.

Wall vases are little used as one rarely cares to have walls decorated with cut flowers. There are, however, a few flowering plants of a trailing character which lend themselves to such arrangements.

Plain, low, glass bowls make excellent receptacles for most flowers. They are especially good for Sweet Peas, Violets, Nasturtiums and other short stemmed flowers which are to be arranged in masses. The use of "japonica glasses" or glass blocks which are varied in form, aid very much with the arrangement in bowls. They make it possible to get pleasing effects with fewer flowers and give the material a natural appearance.

In the majority of instances, low tones of gray receptacles best suit the flowers. Subdued tones of green or red also make pleasing colors. The lighter tints of yellow or some shades of blue are also effective for certain flowers.

In the selection of receptacles for differently colored flowers, the same rules may be observed as in the selection of different combinations of flowers. The vase may represent a complementary, an analogous, a dominant or a contrasted harmony. For example, orange-yellow Calendulas in an unglazed blue bowl are especially effective. This is because the orange-yellow of the flowers is complementary in the spectrum scale to the blue colors of the bowl. The two colors thus make a complementary harmony.

When red Roses are arranged in a soft gray bowl, the marked contrast between the colors of the flowers and receptacle increases the value of the flowers. This is an example of contrasted harmony. A better tone-balance is obtained if the deeper value is in the receptacle.

Robin Redbreast Sweet Peas in a rich red bowl of low value are very effective. The contrast is not too pronounced and the brilliant color of the Sweet Peas is emphasized by the lower value of the bowl. Farncombe Saunders Tulips in a deep red vase would represent a similar pleasing harmony between flowers and receptacle. The higher tone values of the flowers are sufficiently pronounced to give a dominant harmony to the composition.

Czar Peter Hyacinths growing in a blue Wedgwood bowl are effective. Here differences in color are less pronounced than in any of the other combinations and the harmony between flowers and receptacle becomes analogous.

When a flower of two distinct colors is to be arranged, as for example, the Gracchus Iris, where the standard of the flowers is yellow, and the falls or outer petals of a very distinct crimson color, the effect is more pleasing if the color of the receptacle is analogous with the more intense coloring which in this case would be the crimson of the falls.

There are many types of ornamental receptacles for potted plants. As a rule, no plant grows in a healthy condition for any considerable time if it is not in an unglazed earthen pot. The porous character of the pot affords the excellent drainage so necessary for healthy plant growth. The free oxygen of the air has a ready entrance to the soil particles about the feeding roots, and rapid, vigorous growth results. When the pots are glazed, the drainage is imperfect; even if there is an opening of considerable size in the bottom of the pot, the air does not penetrate among the feeding roots and the soil becomes stagnant and sour. Healthy plant growth cannot go on and the plant becomes sickly and dies.

Jardinières are often necessary for artistic effects, for no clay pots can be very ornamental. They should be large enough for the plant to be elevated on a block of wood or metal so the drainage water will not accumulate about the roots, thus rendering them water-logged. No new roots develop under such conditions and the plant soon dies. The jardinières should also be large enough to insure good air circulation about the pots. As a rule, nothing is more ornamental for a jardinière than unglazed brown or green earthenware. Terra cotta is good and often one sees brass jardinières; however, brass is too conspicuous for the best effects. There are many wicker and raffia baskets which make pleasing pot covers. They are lined with tin or zinc and are very artistic and fairly durable. There are also many kinds of waterproof crêpe paper which are used to conceal temporarily the ordinary flower pot. In many retail flower shops no potted plants are ever delivered to a customer without a waterproof paper pot cover.

For ornamental plants which are expected to be attractive for a brief time only, there are many attractively decorated receptacles. They usually have an earthen inset, but the plant may be placed directly in the jardinière. Low-growing, compact garden flowers are beautiful when so arranged. A single Pansy may be lifted from the garden and grown inside for some time after Fall frosts. Bulbs, especially Narcissi or Grape Hyacinths, are beautiful when so planted. Recently I was at a luncheon where the table was decorated with a low bowl filled with growing English Daisies in full bloom. Polyantha and other hardy Primroses are also most decorative when grown in this way. If lifted carefully and planted it is not necessary to take large quantities of earth with the plants, and they soon establish their root systems in their new environment so they are not injured. Small pieces of moss may be inserted between the plants, thus making them more decorative.

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