Keeping step with our business in other lines, the decoration of the house, the hall and the church has evolved apace and is with many a florist a leading feature of his trade. Looking back twenty-five or thirty years we can hardly imagine what material we then had with which to fill an order when we were favored with a decoration. Smilax we had, and some flowering plants of very common sorts. With the exception of the chandelier the decorations must have been of cut flowers, and they were hardly worth calling cut flowers, for all were short-stemmed and jammed frames and designs in a very conventional way.
We can all remember (at least all those whose hair is gray) that at a wedding or reception the chief decoration was the banking of the mantelpieces with cut flowers, and I think I have seen such a bank of flowers, six feet by two feet, that contained as many orders, gen -era, species and varieties as are usually found in a botanic garden. Of palms there were scarcely any. A few old latanias and occasionally a shop worn Seaforthia elegans comprised the stock in trade. Of the ornamental kentias and arecas there were none, and it would not be far wrong to say that with the great majority of those who undertook a decoration, of palms or decorative plants there were none at all.
To trace the progress and improvement in our style of decoration would be of no avail. What it is today and what we can look for in the future is what we are after. The basket filled with moss and stuffed full of a variety of flowers on toothpicks is gone forever, and so is the bank of moss (often made on a board to fit the mantelpiece) gone never to return. The passing away of that style, as well as the bouquet described in Peter Henderson's fine little work, "Practical Floriculture," is not a change of fashion; not at all. It is the awakening and the throwing off of a crude, semi-barbaric education in that particular line. And as pronounced traits of barbarism are occasionally cropping out among the most refined and polished people you occasionally see a bouquet that in form and make-up reminds you of the dark ages.
It is a question what brings about these great changes. Was it the supply of better material that suggested a more natural and refined style of decoration, or was it the good taste of our patrons that stimulated the taste and originality of the florist? We think decidedly it was the latter, for material of some kinds we always had, and flowers, too, but a knowledge of their proper use came by education and it came slowly. Did it ever occur to you how much we are all imitators? There are in our line only a few men of bright and original ideas in the whole country and I am without the post-office address of those tew.
All reformers are abused and reviled, or considered cranks by the common herd. All discoverers and demonstrators of everlasting truths are held in contempt and spoken of by fossilized brains and robed hypocrites as enemies of mankind. Saints never lived; they are saints when they die. Linnaeus, the colossal-brained Swede who demonstrated and published the facts about the sexes in plants, had to eat his words at the command of the church. Just fancy; he had to deny a great truth in nature which is today taught to every student at a high school. Happy is the man (for his mind is his great consolation) who will grasp the truth as great minds reveal it. Let him be penniless, he is yet rich, and a king compared to ignorant affluence, who, ostrich-like, hides its head to all true knowledge except that of acquiring wealth far beyond its necessities.
This is a deviation from floral decorations, but I will apply the argument to show that reformers in our line, men who were not afraid to step out of the beaten track, have likely been sneered at by hundreds of fogies who perhaps had nothing to say in argument against a new idea only that the author was " getting gay, " or " thinks he's smart." Every time some man of bright ideas brings out an artistic move we ought to be thankful, for by slow degrees our ideas of the artistic part of our business have been moved upward and onward.
A move in the wrong direction will soon die out, for upward and onward and progress are as sure to come as that we have progressed from the savage, and have lots of room for improvement yet.
The last twenty years have given us material that was not dreamed of in the early days. We had smilax, but we did not have Asparagus plumosus. We had, but did not then avail ourselves of, the Magnolia grandiflora sprays, the mountain laurel (kalmia). Holly was scarcely ever seen. Lycopodium (ground pine) was little used. Leucothoe sprays were unknown; also the southern wild smilax. Adiantum cuneatum was used, but in no such quantities as now. And in cut flowers we did not have our long-stemmed carnations, or our magnificent American Beauty rose. And the glorious buds of Bridesmaid or Bride and other beautiful roses were not to be had thirty years ago. We had to be content with Safrano, Isabella Sprunt and Bon Silene. As for palms, the use of them with the majority of florists began about twenty years ago and has yearly increased till it would be safe to say that compared with twenty-five years ago palms are bought up and sold or used up at the rate of at least a thousand to one.
Some houses and rooms lend themselves to our decorations. Where the permanent decorations of a room are elaborate it needs but little of the florist's assistance and that only of the very choicest material. Where the rooms are little embellished, more of our plants and vines will be appreciated. It is quality and good taste rather than quantity that are looked for in a handsome room.