This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V24", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
The subject of cut flowers concerns us all, and a few hints as to the arrangement of them may not be out of place. Much of the beauty of these lovely gems is often lost through a want of taste in this respect, as for instance when stiffly arranged in a bouquet, ring after ring with little intervening foliage, and no graceful form of tendril, leaf or bud allowed to break the monotonous circle. It is not by size, but by expression of color and shade that we have to measure, and thus the effect of a group of flowers prettily and harmoniously arranged may be completely spoiled by being multiplied in number or increased in size; that is, by repeating the same flower or adding to the same group.
A safe general rule for guidance in the arrangement of flowers is, if there are many flowers use delicate shades; but if the flowers are few and the foliage among which they are laid is dark, use shades of much deeper tones. In the arrangement of cut flowers for the parlor, sideboard, or dining table, much depends on the shape and color of the vessel in which they are placed. The white of glass or of Dresden china vases is so intense when placed in artificial light that the pure white flowers would scarcely look their whitest in them. Very light flowers are also likely to look darker by the striking contrast. A quantity of green is therefore the best fringe for such dishes, and ferns and smilax are the most suitable. In all floral arrangements, whether for vases, bouquets or designs, it is better to put in the green first and gradually working them up to the required brightness, always remembering that the collection had better lack a flower than have one too many, the object being to form a graceful, refreshing and suggestive picture.
The art of constructing bouquets, and the classification and arrangement of flowers for the table, cannot be communicated in writing. It requires as much taste, skill and practice to become a good artist in the making-up of flowers as it does experience to become a good gardener.
But to proceed with the subject of the arrangement of flowers in general, the main feature being to show each flower separately and not a quantity crowded together, forming a mass of petals, but that each flower may be seen reposing quietly among the green, giving to each bloom an individual character. A few colors in a bouquet have a much prettier effect that a mixture of many colors. Red, white and buff go well together with green between. A few rosebuds with their own leaves, and a little green smilax, make a bouquet much more handsome than one composed of many kinds of inferior flowers. These remarks hold good in the arrangement of designs for the table.
One of the most beautiful table designs I ever saw was a large open dish of lycopodium, a few white and pink rosebuds, with a handsome dracaena in the centre. The effect produced by the fresh green moss with the gay leaves of the dracaena was simply beautiful.
It is to be hoped that a better taste will soon supersede the enormities in so-called floral designs. The monstrosities often seen at our horticultural exhibitions are something to be avoided. They are unpleasant to look at and cannot be appreciated by persons of good taste. I have very little sympathy for the fashion which arranges flowers in the forms of broken wheels, vacant chairs and the like. At one of the horticultural exhibitions held recently in New York there were liberal and extra premiums offered for works of this kind, which brought forth some very beautiful designs, but the majority of them were ugly in the extreme. There were clocks and mantelpieces - at least so said the cards attached. There was a camp-fire with a tripod, the fire being represented by red flowers. There was a pair of shoes on a cushion ; the shoes were made of white flowers outside, with scarlet flowers for lining.
At the floral exhibition of the Pennsylvania State Fair, held at the Centennial Building in September, 1881, there were also many absurd designs. Among the most noticeable there was a coffin, which, as a work of mechanical art, was perhaps to be admired. But why degrade these beautiful creations by working them into such shapes so distressingly suggestive? Another example of bad taste in the selection of the subject and in the arrangement of colors, was a huge oval frame of walnut, with dark and yellow-colored dahlias arranged in rings around the edge, and a butterfly - or what was meant to re present that gay insect - in the middle. And, strange to say, this piece obtained the first premium. Of course these designs attracted the attention of the people, and were admired by certain ones whose taste leads them to admire a huge pyramidal bouquet with a calla lily in the centre.
But the people who are pleased with this style of floral work are not those who exhibit the best taste. It becomes a question whether a horticultural society is properly educating the public by offering premiums and thus encouraging a false taste for flowers. It was a relief to turn from such horticultural absurdities to a simple bouquet of roses and smilax, and to the most appropriate of all funeral designs - a plain heavy wreath and cross of white flowers fringed with green.