"Pink, primrose, valley-lily, clove-carnation; Red rose and white rose, wall-flower, mignonette, The daisies all - these be her recreation, Her gaudies these."
During the rush of the London season many hostesses, much as they love to have their houses made sweet and beautiful with flowers, find it impossible to attend to the work of decoration themselves; they must entrust the task to others. To meet the want of chatelaines such as these, there is the lady decorator, with her train of flower-fairies, ready to fill the breach.
And they will not only bring us flowers; lights, too, they can adjust at will, not fire-flies but electric, which, after all, are most to be depended on.
Arranging flowers is one of those things that every woman in the world thinks nobody can do but herself; she is as much addicted to self-esteem in this direction as a man is over mending the fire; and who does not enjoy the pleasing excitement of setting out the flowers for a ball or dinner-party? The very smell of the wet moss, the cool feel of the stalks, the bunches of pliant fern, the baskets ready to be unpacked, every circumstance is in itself a pleasure, but it is not so nice if you are hurried and interrupted. Better by far is it for very busy people to think out the scheme of decoration with one of the above-named fairies, who will appear exactly at the right moment, while you are resting, and scatter your board with beauty.
One of the most experienced among these lady-workers has told me that, of all colour-schemes, the best for lighting up well at night is pink and silver. Pink Roses in silver bowls are lovely, but invisible receptacles, meandering about a table, are pretty too. Sometimes, at the last moment, the particular flower desired will not be procurable - the market has been cleared - and pink Sweet Peas or Pelargoniums must take the place of Roses, purple Stock do duty for Pansies, or Scarlet Geranium for fallen Poppies. It is anxious work.
The lady decorator is wonderfully quick. She has to be. James the First - all the Jameses, indeed - plushed, powdered, silk-stockinged, and calmly insistent, say, "You cannot have the table till such-and-such an hour." Very well; then all the flowers must be prepared before they are packed to bring - every single leaf and every blossom, all must be wired. This makes them go much further, besides keeping them in their places, and it does give the effect of lightness; but it is a thing to which I am never able to reconcile myself. You take a Lily-of-the-Valley from its vase, attracted irresistibly by its scent, and find it fast set in a corsetihre of steel - each leaf and stalk, almost each separate blossom, wired. This gives you a horrid feeling; you idly untwist the cruel bonds, and then the poor flower droops or falls to pieces.
In the ballroom dreadful things are suffered by the Roses. Fancy a curtain all made of these lovely flowers, wired together in long trails to match the festoons that wave softly overhead!
The lady decorator is pleasant to work with; she will use your own flowers if you like, so that one's country-houses can send their quota, and one always enjoys the things from home. She is equally ready to fill your window-box or balcony, to furnish your dwelling-rooms with flowers both cut and growing, to smarten up your concert-platforms or theatrical scenes, to dress your bazaar-stalls for you, to make your Court bouquets, or sprays for hair and dress; she will even help you to decorate your churches; and, after once experiencing the delight of skilled assistance, few ladies in the world of fashion take these graceful duties entirely on themselves. A lady flower-decorator is almost as much wanted as a lady type-writer, and has a far pleasanter time of it But, like all trades, this one has to be learned. I believe an apprenticeship of two years is considered necessary.
It is at a wedding, perhaps, the flower-lady is at her best. The entire dwelling of the bride is made whitely beautiful, and the church becomes a green and scented sanctuary. Palms and Ferns are lent. I hope I am right in saying that the lady decorator never dyes her flowers. I am certain she would not do so except to order; but the present year, which promises to be one of Eastern magnificence and gorgeous colouring, has begun badly in the matter of flower-dyeing; even the simple spring flowers have not escaped the ban. Early in March, when pacing Regent Street, and pausing, as one cannot help doing, to admire the display of flowers in certain shops, it was with a shock of horror one beheld dyed daffodils! They formed the upstanding group of blossoms in crosses and garlands, the groundwork of which consisted entirely of Wall-flower; and the dye that reddened the Daffodils, leaving some of the petals their natural colour, matched the red-brown of the Wallflowers exactly. For one moment it was a puzzle - only one.
Shade of Herrick! who could mistake a Daffodil? A dyed Daffodil is several degrees more agonizing than a green Carnation, and nearly as bad as a blue Rose.
The fashion for certain flowers and colours at different seasons is quite harmless, though one may smile at it; but Sometimes there is a reason behind the mode. For instance, one could understand the use of national colours in Coronation year, and yearly is London brightened by St. Patrick's Day, St. George's Day, and the unforgettable day of the Primrose.
It is human nature, and ever has been, to use flowers as symbols; they express our feelings better than anything, and more pleasantly. Happily, the "wearin' o' the green" is a privilege no longer denied to any of our Irish soldiers. It is a smaller thing, but still worth noticing, as a proof of the part flowers play in daily life, and the way they illustrate feeling, that at the Eton and Harrow cricket-matches it is a flower that is worn for party-colour - a Corn-flower or a Parma Violet - and in a less degree, two shades of blue in flowers stand for Oxford and Cambridge colours on boat-race day. Herein we do but follow the fashion of our forefathers and of days still older, when crowns of Olive, Myrtle, Bay, and Violet were worn symbolically. Time was when rival Roses, red and white, grew wild, and soldiers gathered them for badges, where now the Temple Gardens stand; and every nation has its patriot flower - for France the Lily, for Germany the Linden, and for us the Rose. It is unfortunate that St. George's festival of Roses comes so early in the year.
April Roses are plentiful enough in florists shops, but not elsewhere; few of them have been grown in England. Primroses come more seasonably; of them we need only wear true home-grown blossoms, nor need a scarcity be feared while country hedgerows continue to provide such yellow millions. Primrose Day in London, independently of its meaning, is always enjoyable;
"That subtle smell the spring unbinds - The faint sweet scent of Primroses" is everywhere, and Primroses, like Violets, want no arranging, but look their best in simplest bunch or basket.
Bulrushes And Bog Beans In Small Tank In Garden
An Irish poetess sings a song about it, which I give, as it is always a pleasure to see London through a poet's eyes.
"Make me a song for Primrose Day. Along the streets of London town A Primrose snowstorm settles down, And makes each street an amber way. Here are tall baskets that o'erbrim With posies bound for one day's whim. Here are shrill voices that would drown All singing, crying their gold wares; And many buy, if no one cares How lonesome are the country places Deserted by these Primrose faces."
Thus it has been for more than twenty years on April the 19th, and whether the pretty flower was really loved best by its hero as a salad or as an ornament does not matter. The Primrose, so plentiful, so popular, as a memory-flower is perfect, none the less so because Shakespeare has pervaded it with a touch of sadness.
Floral trophies are, in my opinion, little to be admired; dreadful things are done in their name. Flower hearts and harps and crowns, and cushions with cords and tassels, made by stripping Violets from their stalks and stringing them on lengths of wire like beads - how terrible are all these! And so it is to see in Christmas churches chains of Holly-berries hung about like rosaries, though of the two one would rather stab a berry than a Violet.
Ballroom bouquets are less fashionable now than in early and mid-Victorian days, when a pretty girl would have as many as a dozen sent her on one evening by different admirers. What changes, too, in the method of arrangement! Instead of the trailing posy or picturesque bunch, every flower individualized, one had then stiff circles of blossoms tightly packed. Violets and white Camelias thus arranged were very popular, and one Camelia, with a glossy leaf or two, would be worn upon a smooth and shining head of hair, dressed in bandeaux (bandolined - that is, gummed down if necessary), long, loose ringlets (the Alexandra curl), or rolled back a p Imperatrice. The prettiest nosegay of that period was the ample bunch of pink Moss-rose buds; nothing modern could be lovelier than that, nor sweeter.
I have often wished that London's bevy of street-selling flower-girls were more picturesque. Why cannot the Society for beautifying London do something in this direction? The snowy caps of the grisette, or the Italian kerchief - anything would be better than the feathered hat and grimy jacket, and I would like neat shoes instead of boots. W. E. Henley, another poet who finds inspiration in London streets, has sketched her with vivid pen "Forth from Drury Lane, Trapesing in any of her whirl of weathers The flower-girl foots it, honest and hoarse and vain. All boot and little shawl and wilted feathers. Of populous corners right advantage taking And, where they squat, endlessly posy-making.11
If we watch the working-up of the button-holes - a thing I have often done - what a joyless, monotonous task it looks! Two ivy-leaves picked from the stalk with as little joy as if they were oakum, wired together, and flung into a basket like malefactors' heads. Two more, and then two more, ad infinitum. When the basket is quite full, to each pair of leaves a little cluster of Violets is added, or a Rose-bud, or a few Pinks, or a Primrose or two, according to the season. Later on, it will be sprigs of Maiden-hair. Oh dear, that Maiden-hair! When will it cease to remind of Harry and Harriet? Neither of these good folk feels fully dressed without the spray of Maiden-hair; yet it soon dies, and its latest breaths are bitter - we know exactly the smell of it, in its death-throes, mingled with that of cheap tobacco-smoke.
But the love of flowers is such a good thing that one must, one should not, begrudge any one of its manifestations; there is something beautiful even in the worst of them. The bunch of violets is a natural and graceful gift, the birthday posy an offering the most fastidious will not refuse, the basket of flowers the sweetest present to the debutante or the diva. In a French town I once saw a skeleton parasol, trimmed with flowers, opened and handed to a lady-singer on the stage. I did not admire that, but the general applause was deafening, and it was impossible to repress a smile as the encore song was gravely given beneath its shelter.
There is room in our towns for both the lady decorator and the flower-girl; to both we cry a welcome!