Flower Arranging as an Art
By “Awake!” correspondent in Brazil
A BUNCH of flowers, though beautiful, is still only a bunch of flowers. But with a little imagination and by following certain principles of design, you can transform the random collection into an elegant and artistic flower arrangement. And this will add beauty and color to your home.
What do we mean by design? It is the pattern of the: flower arrangement, and it embraces the basic elements of line, form, color and texture. Slender flowers or branches supply line. The variety of the plant world itself furnishes form and color. Surface quality of the material is called texture. For example, chrysanthemums are coarse, whereas gladioli are smooth. Woody stems and leaves, too, show different textural characteristics.
Your design may be circular or triangular, or it may follow a vertical or a horizontal line or an S-curve. A pyramid, cone, oblong, or ellipse design also may be used. Once the main arrangement outline has been chosen, design calls for a planned relationship among all the components, that is, among the flowers, leaves and any other material, as well as the container or vase.
Interesting effects are achieved if the spaces in the composition vary in size and shape. When some of the plant materials in a grouping extend forward and others backward, the impression is three-dimensional.
Observing the Principles of Design
First, balance is important. It relates all the parts to one another. A well-balanced arrangement does not appear to be in danger of tipping over. In fact, a lopsided, top heavy, or leaning flower arrangement would evoke a feeling of tension something to be avoided.
Design stability depends on color as well as the size of the plant materials. Dark colors look heavier than lighter ones. Hence, a dark-red rose “weighs” more in an arrangement than a pale-pink carnation, although they are of about the same size. Therefore, if you do not want the arrangement to be “top-heavy,” care must be taken to avoid massing dark colors at the top and light colors at the bottom.
Symmetrical balance is created by placing similar flowers in the same positions on each side of the vertical center. An unequal distribution of flowers and leaves on either side of the center, but with equal visual weight, produces asymmetrical balance. Its effect is more casual and natural than symmetrical balance and often more desirable and pleasing.
Therefore, dark forms and large forms arranged low on one side of the design balance a larger area of lighter and smaller forms on the other side. Likewise, the higher a form is placed in the composition, the heavier it appears to the viewer. This principle applies also to the distance from the center.
Contrasts of large and small, light and dark, and rough and smooth also add variety to the arrangement. Moreover, a composition generally has a dominant or focal area. This is the center of visual interest to which the eye is naturally drawn. It may be a solid grouping of plant material along the center and just above the rim of the container, or an area of strong color or very light colors. One or more large flowers or leaves, a blend of both, or a cluster of smaller flowers of the same kind, compose such areas of dominance.
The repetition of a particular shape, or the combination of related color values, creates a flowing line, or rhythm. The principle of scale, too, must be observed. This means that there must exist a fitting relationship between the sizes of the plant materials and the size of the container, as we will consider later.
Proportion also is important. The Encyclopædia Britannica states: “Proportion has to do with the organization of amounts and areas; the traditional Japanese rule that an arrangement should be at least one and a half times the height of the container is a generally accepted use of this principle. Proportion also relates to the placement of the arrangement in a setting. A composition is either overpowering or dwarfed if placed on too small or too large a surface or in too small or too large a spatial setting.”
Harmony is a sense of unity among all the components. According to The Encyclopedia Americana, it is “a happy appearance of being completely in tune—the flowers and foliage with each other and with the design; the colors harmonious and the container well selected for spirit, texture, shape, and color. A successful arrangement must also be in harmony with its surroundings. A bean pot of geraniums does not appear happily at home in a formal drawing room, nor is a porcelain vase of rich exotic blooms well placed in a simple cottage room.”
Plant Materials and Preparation Techniques
Plant materials used in floral decorations include flowers, foliage, grasses, grains, branches, seeds, berries, nuts, cones, fruits, vegetables, shells, stones, driftwood, and so forth. Cut-plant materials, such as flowers, need special treatment. For best results, flowers are picked a few hours before they are arranged, and always in the cooler parts of the day. The tips of the stems are cut on an angle, put in deep lukewarm water, and kept in a dark cool place for several hours, preferably overnight.
Woody stems are best split up several inches, then left to soak in hot water. Sealing of milky stems, such as those of poppies and large dahlias, is done simply by placing the tips in boiling water or over a flame for a few seconds. For protection, the stems are inserted through a hole in a newspaper, which is then pulled up over them.
If you buy the flowers at a florist’s shop, their stems probably have been sealed over. By recutting roses and other woody-stemmed flowers and then standing them in hot water, they will most likely revive. However, for long-lasting beauty, only flowers and foliage in perfect condition should be worked into an arrangement. Also, a simple tip to prevent bacterial decay, and the resulting bad odor, is to remove the foliage below the waterline when you start on your arrangement.
Says a Woman’s Realm booklet: “Do not change the water daily but always keep the level topped up. Sometimes, water for long-lasting flowers such as chrysanthemums becomes discolored and even smelly. Take the arrangement to the sink and let fresh water run in, forcing the impure water out. This will save disarranging the flowers. Search the bonfire site in the garden for charcoal and use this to put in vases where long-lasting materials are used—this will help to keep the water sweet.
“One rose grower sells a preservative which helps to keep roses and other shrubs and flowers with tough stems fresh for a long time. You can also help by placing a lump of sugar or a saltspoonful of honey to each pint of water in your vases. If flowers or foliage wilt inexplicably this often means there is an air lock in the stem. To remedy this, stand the stem ends in an inch of boiling water and leave the flowers there until the water cools. Then arrange them in fresh, unboiled water.”
Containers and Other Equipment
A flower arrangement includes, not only the flowers themselves, but the container that holds them and the base on which it may rest. A wooden base can add visual weight at the bottom and also protect your furniture against moisture stains.
The container must match the arrangement in scale, color and texture. For this reason, many decorators prefer to use simple, unadorned vases of such neutral colors as gray green, antique white or pale gray.
Additionally, consider the texture of the container. Coarse, heavy plant materials usually are displayed in a heavy container of copper, pottery, wood or pewter. More delicate flowers and foliage are arranged in porcelain, silver or glass.
The size of the container also is of importance. It must be of the right size so that the plant materials do not “overpower” it. On the other hand, the container itself should not dwarf the arrangement or divide the viewer’s attention between the flowers and the vase. Only very small flowers go well with a miniature vase. Similarly, a massive floral arrangement in a substantial container is in scale on a heavy table in a large room.
In tall containers, flowers often are displayed without any support. If necessary, to hold them upright, the container can be stuffed with privet or other fine evergreens, such as juniper or fern, which are then cut across the rim of the vase. More often, crumpled wire netting is used for support. Then, too, water-absorbing plastic foam also has become popular as a support. Cut this to shape and soak it in water. Then simply push the stem ends into the wet plastic.
The most generally used support, however, is the needlepoint holder, a heavy metal base covered with metal pins. It is available in various sizes and shapes. Stems pushed down onto these points are held securely; and the holder itself is held in place on the bottom of the vase with floral clay (Plasticine). In silver vases, melted paraffin is preferred, since it will not tarnish the container.
A pair of sharp shears, transparent tape, rubber bands and wire complete the customary equipment of the floral decorator. With these, stems or branches can be held together in places concealed from view. In fact, hidden wire serves to strengthen or shape stems.
Tips for Beginners
Although far from being strict rules, the following simple tips are useful to the beginner.
(1) Use tall sprays of small flowers and closed buds to furnish long lines. They also serve for filler material.
(2) For weight and stability, place large flowers and dark materials low in the composition.
(3) Do not place one bloom directly above the other. Except in modern symmetrical compositions, avoid geometrical precision.
(4) For harmony, always use colors in masses or clusters, never scattered thoughtlessly.
(5) Always take care to build three sides of your arrangement, since the viewer can see the front and the two sides.
(6) Give the arrangement a three-dimensional effect by turning some flowers and foliage sideways. Large compositions look richer with some clusters of flowers and leaves turned to the side and curved backward from the central section.
In addition, for cut flowers such as gladioli, the book Flower Arrangements recommends: “If possible, soak the ‘glad’ stems for at least an hour in a tall pitcher full of water, adding two or three ice cubes. This helps your flowers live longer.
“A primary rule in flower arranging is: have the courage to cut stems. . . . To do the very simplest kind of a flower arrangement, step A is to place all stems in a row on your desk or work table. Grade the flowers: keep thin buds and smallest blossoms for the taller stems, more open flowers next, and save the very largest bloom for the shortest stem.”
So, why not try your hand? Follow these suggestions, or diagrams published in literature on flower arranging. Begin with a simple arrangement. You will derive much pleasure from the immediate results. And soon you may improve your skill so much that your flower arranging will be an art.
[Pictures on page 21]
1 First set the height and width of the arrangement
2 Add variety of elements to fill in and add balance
3 Add solidity to the center and fill in the gaps