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Perservatives For Flowers And Trees

( Originally Published 1913 )

THE Japanese tell us that no matter how skilful one may be in flower arrangement, if one is ignorant of the secret of keeping the flowers fresh, his skill is of no avail.

The masters of Hower arrangement have many secret formulas for preservatives revealed only to their pupils on graduation and some never revealed except on their death-beds to their successors. The drugs for most of these would be impossible to obtain outside of Japan, and none of them are really as important as the main Japanese rule that the flowers "must be so prepared before arranging as to enable them to suck up enough water to keep them in a fresh condition for a Iong time." All their vases are made with this object in view. This is why they are wide mouthed and so different from ours of compressed necks; the only means we have of holding flowers in an upright position is by tightening our vases at the neck.

The Japanese have found that having the opening completely filled by the stems makes the water become foul and also aIIows no oxygen to enter the stems at their ends. The placing of the flowers one by one through the support, keeping the ends of the stems always an inch or two above the bottom of the vase, aIIows the flowers to suck up freely all the water they require, while the ends of our flowers are usuaIIy sealed by forcing the stems tightly against the bottom of the vase. The Japanese also remove aII foliage below the surface of the water. This is not only to show the stems uniting at the base to form the parent stalk, but because it adds greatly to the Iife of flowers so arranged, since there are no Ieaves in the water to cause decomposition, which is so injurious to plant life.

The system of preserving plants and flowers according to the season of the year in which they are gathered is also very helpful in making them retain freshness for a Iong time. This method is divided into three periods known as Shin, Giyo, and So. Shin covers the summer months, June, July, and August; Giyo the autumn and spring months, September, October, November, and March, April, and May; So covers the winter months of December, January, and February.

The season of Shin is a very hot period of the year; therefore it is necessary for aII flowers and branches gathered during these months to be kept warm internaIIy. The way to do this is to wrap the stems of the flowers or branches in matting or a husk of bamboo - tissue paper will do as well - Ieaving five or six inches uncovered at the ends when the flowers are long stemmed, and two or three inches when short. Tie the covering fast with string. Put into three pints of boiling water fifty-eight grains of Sansho (see formula at end of the chapter). When this boils hard, plunge into it the uncovered ends of the flower stems and hold them in the boiling mixture until the ends whiten, being careful not to steam the wrapped portions. Then plunge in very cold water, removing the wrappings in a place not too warm and sheltered from the wind. Straighten the stalks and keep thus for about seven hours before arranging.

When the weather is exceptionally hot, this is the best way for preserving flowers, but when the weather is normal at this season, just to boil the ends of the stems until white, and then plunge them in very cold water, will have the same effect. Drugs are required only in extreme heat. Flowers and foliage must always be carefully protected from the steam while being boiled, then the cold water into which they are then put should be in a deep receptacle.

The season of Giyo covers the months when it is neither very hot nor very cold, and it is therefore comparatively easy to keep flowers fresh. But it is weII to know how they may be Iongest preserved. Wrap as in summer and then roast the ends of the stems in a charcoal or coal fire in which twenty-nine grains of Sansho have been put - it can also be done in a gas or candle flame without Sansho - until black and charred, holding the stems in a wet cloth while burning; then put in cold water for seven or eight hours.

In the So period - December, January, February, use very cold water to keep flowers in before arranging. Ice water, stream water, or that kept in a pail over night should be used. The Japanese say that well water is usually warm in winter, and therefore should not be used unless kept standing out of doors for a Iong time. FIowers do not require burning during these cold months; aII that is necessary is to let them stand in very cold water as Iong as possible before arranging.

A camelia may be kept from turning brown by putting a few grains of salt in the center of each flower. To keep a magnolia, split the end so (see cut) by cutting and apply some dry Sansho in the openings made; then put the branch in water for two or three hours.

These simple and well-thought-out methods do more towards preserving cut. flowers than the complicated drug mixtures which are so secretly held back by the masters; or, I should say, were held, for the teachers today give more liberally of this knowledge. In ancient times the rules for preserving flowers were completely withheld from the pupils. A master would sometimes reveal one rule or secret at a time to an advanced pupil, but it was impossible for any student to find out all the rules, unless in the case of the master's death, when to a favorite pupil would fall the honor of inheriting his name, his pupils, and his knowledge. To this fortunate follower, who had been chosen in the master's lifetime and instructed with the idea of becoming his successor, all knowledge would be given, but generally only by word of mouth.

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