This section is from the book "Commercial Gardening Vol1", by John Weathers (the Editor). Also available from Amazon: Commercial Gardening, A Practical & Scientific Treatise For Market Gardeners.
There is scarcely a town of any pretensions in the British Islands that does not boast of at least one florist's shop. In large provincial towns there are many, and in the metropolis itself and its suburbs there are many hundreds. The floral trade has developed enormously during the past twenty or thirty years, and the florists' shops are the main outlets for most of the decorative plants and flowers grown by market nurserymen. It would indeed be a poor prospect for the latter if the business of the florist was interfered with or hampered by increased burdens of taxation. The more florists there are in the country the better for the growers of plants and flowers. Incidentally, the florists' shops are a sign of the general prosperity of the people, because their trade may be regarded more in the light of a luxury of art and taste than as an actual necessity.
The business carried on by the florist is of a varied character. He is an adept at the making of bouquets of all kinds for weddings or Court functions. Wreaths, crosses, anchors, pillars, cushions, and numerous other floral emblems for the departed also come within his sphere of influence, in addition to which he sells masses of cut flowers in a natural state, as well as decorative pot plants, little shrubs, etc. And where the florist happens to be also a nurseryman, he undertakes landscape work and jobbing. In all these operations his raw material consists of plants and flowers of all descriptions, hardy and tender, and he is ever on the watch to invent new designs, or to arrange his flowers, etc, in such a way that they will attract attention and excite admiration. Some of the leading London florists have made their names famous by the taste and original ideas they display not only in the making of wreaths, bouquets, etc, but in the artistic way they decorate or furnish banquet halls, theatres, reception rooms, etc. All important public functions in any town or city lead to business being done by the florist; and he who displays the greatest taste, originality, and industry is the one most likely to be patronized.
The florist and furnishing trade indeed cannot be learned in a day. Many an excellent grower of plants and flowers used in floral decorations would make but a sorry job of it if he had to arrange his own produce for a public function. It takes years to become an expert florist, and in some branches of the trade, such as the making of wreaths, bouquets, etc, women stand as good a chance as men, if not a better. The operator must be not only skilful and quick in "mounting" the flowers on various kinds of wires and "foundations", but must display considerable taste in the arrangement of the individual flowers, and of their effects upon one another. It is quite possible for the choicest flowers to be as easily spoiled in effect in the hands of an incompetent florist as it is for good viands to be spoiled in the hands of an incompetent cook. A skilled florist will produce a finer effect with a few inexpensive blossoms than an unskilled one will with a cartload of choice material, just as some women can dress charmingly at little expense while others will look dowdy in the finest materials and jewellery.
There is no end to learning in the florist's business, and the fashion of to-day may be out of date to-morrow. Great and wonderful changes have taken place within the past thirty years in the way flowers are arranged. Formerly bouquets were made in a round, flat, and dumpy style, having row after row of flowers arranged in circles round the centrepiece. The whole arrangement was flat and formal, and was finished up with a collar of fancy paper. This heavy style of bouquet has long since disappeared, and a lighter and more graceful arrangement has taken its place. This has been brought about by the introduction of different kinds of flowers and trailing plants, and the different methods of sending them to market. Twenty and thirty years ago nearly all flowers were cut with very short stalks, so that the florist, to produce any effect at all, was obliged to mount many of them on wires to raise them above their neighbours. In these days, however, florists insist on having flowers with the natural stems as long as possible, so that a variety of designs is more easily obtained. The grower who would now send short-stemmed Roses or Carnations to market would find his wares on his hands when the market closed. With some classes of flowers, such as Camellias, Tuberoses, and Eucharis, it is impossible to supply long stems to the individual flowers, and what they lack in this respect must be made up by the florist in other ways.
Amongst the most important of the florist's accessories are wires of various kinds, and moss for the foundations of wreaths, crosses, anchors, and other emblems. The stiffish wires used for mounting flowers are known as stubs, and are of varying length and thickness, according to the purposes for which they are required. Special wires are also used for the mounting of Roses, Camellias, Tuberoses, etc, and it takes some considerable time for the beginner to find out, not only the proper stubs and wires to be used for certain purposes, but to acquire that manual dexterity which distinguishes the expert from the tyro.
The foundations of various sizes and shapes are made of strong galvanized wire by the horticultural sundriesman, so that they will not bend or twist when in use. These foundations are covered with soft moss tied on with string or wire, and into the moss the flowers, mounted on wires or stubs, are stuck. Years ago, before the use of stubs became common, flowers were tied down to the moss foundations, and the general effect was flat and unrelieved. Nowadays, however, flowers can be arranged in various styles - some flat, some slightly raised, some bunched boldly in certain places and forming the piece de resistance of the whole work - all of which variations depend upon the artistic perceptions of the operator. Owing to the more frequent interchange between British and Continental florists now than formerly, constant changes are taking place, and one notices how largely the ideas of the Continental florists are being assimilated by their British brethren, and vice versa.