Arrangements Using Flowering Shrubs And Fruit Blossom

Thanks to pioneers, numerous flowering shrubs and trees are now available for use in arrangements. Blossom is usually white, white flushed with pink, or pink, as in the case of cherry, pear and apple respectively. These three are the old established fruit trees which today have been supplemented by ornamental cherries, prunus and so on. Colour in azaleas and rhododendrons is so varied as to defy description.

Early summer is the time for azaleas and rhododendrons and now there is a wide variety of these two valuable shrubs. What an addition to an arrangement a cluster of rhododendron or a few sprays of azalea can make, especially when a certain colour effect is needed. Both these shrubs are reliable for cutting, and so I think it is worth trying to grow at least one or two examples of each, even if it means replacing some soil with extra peat and leafmould.

Perhaps the most delightful azaleas for cutting are those with a delicious honey scent. With such a wealth of choice it is often a good idea at this time of the year to go to a nursery garden which specialises in these shrubs and decide from the ones that are in bloom. Another suggestion is to pay a visit to the Savill Gardens in Windsor Great Park, and in particular to the Kurume Punch Bowl, where the shrubs are at their best during the first fortnight in May. Here is one of the greatest shows of colour in the British Isles with every possible colour and shade of azalea.Arrangements Using Flowering Shrubs And Fruit Blossom

The rules for treating branches of blossom or shrubs are similar to those for other wooded stems. The base of the branch must be smashed, hammered or split up, and the leaves must be in good condition, any that are eaten or torn must be cut away. Lastly, the branches should have a long, deep drink before being arranged.

Mock orange ( Philadelphus) is one of the loveliest of all flowering shrubs. The flowers are a pure white and their scent is strong enough to fill the average sized room. In England the earliest variety usually comes out in the last week of May, that is if it is grown in a sheltered position with plenty of sun. It will thrive on chalky soil and should be pruned after flowering, since it is important to cut out the branches which have flowered. Mock orange is one of the few examples in flower arrangement where the leaves should almost be stripped off to allow the flowers to last longer and to be seen.

A valid criticism of mock orange is that it drops quickly, but if cut when still in bud it will come out in water and last quite well. Again as with all woody stemmed flowers, it must have the base of its stalks smashed, or well slit up, to allow a greater intake of water. Philadelphus is especially associated with weddings and is very popular in bridal bouquets and church decorations.

Thinking in terms of using fruit blossom — cherry, pear, apple, quince, japonica — for arrangements one sometimes comes across two points of argument. The first is that cutting fruit blossom is wasteful and may also be detrimental to the shape of the tree. The second is that blossom drops quickly and is not, in any case, worth the trouble of arranging.

The answer to the first argument must be settled by personal opinion. Surely two or three branches cut from a well grown apple or quince will not greatly diminish the amount of fruit to come later on in the year, and if the shape of the tree is studied and a few branches taken where they can best be spared, judicious cutting can be as effective as good pruning.

The second point is of more importance from the flower arranging point of view. To answer it adequately I shall later quote from The Flowers of Japan and The Art of Floral Arrangement by Sir Josiah Conder. For blossom has a special significance for the Japanese.japan blossom festival

In Japan there are blossom festivals. Trips are organised to visit orchards and gardens where there are fruit trees — especially cherries and plums. These trees have been planted extensively over hundreds of years, and in early records mention is made of the plum even before the cherry (this, in fact, is not mentioned before the reign of the Emperor Richiu, in the fifth century).

Sir Josiah Conder wrote: ‘The plum blossom being the earliest flower of the year, is held in high esteem for floral arrangements. The hardiness of the plum tree, the duration of its blossom, its sweet perfume, as well as the austere type of its beauty, all help to make it even a greater favourite for flower composition than its more showy rival the cherry tree’.

It must be admitted that fruit blossom does on the whole drop quickly. However, there are, as with most flowers, a few simple rules which help it to last long enough to make it worth while cutting.

First blossom should be cut whenever possible while the flowers are still in tight bud at a cool time of day. It can even be cut in the early weeks of spring when there is little sign of the flowers and leaves to come and brought on rapidly in a warm room. (This method is especially successful with forsythia.) In this way I have used early cherry blossom for church decoration at Easter, which only had to be tidied up later on in the week, and I also prolonged the life of long branches of japonica in a large pedestal arrangement. This particular group lasted nearly three weeks, but the water level had to be watched carefully and the container frequently filled up to the brim. Also, when flowers died they were cut off and the remaining buds came on in their place.

As in the case of all branches, the wooden stems should be split open or crushed with a hammer.

Reverting to the Japanese outlook on flower decoration one realises that special emphasis is placed on the shape and line of the arrangement to be composed of the blossom; the branches to be selected are studied with care before any cutting takes place. Branches must lean in the required direction or take on a certain shape, since the whole design of the group is thought out beforehand and a clear picture of it is in the arranger’s mind.

The finished arrangement must look as though the branches are actually growing.

Since blossom is so often found on beautifully curving branches only two or three sprays are needed for certain types of arrangement. (This applies especially to a wall bracket or a group standing against a mirror.) Too many branches spoil the outline and give a muddled effect.

Most branches are heavy and must be anchored firmly at the outset. They will lose all their dignity and beauty if they wobble about. Should wire netting be used for this purpose it must be fixed in position before starting to insert the branches. If using a pin holder it must be heavy in itself, anchored with Plasticine, and also held in place with a double layer of wire netting which slips down over the sides of the vase.

To return to some of the other flowering shrubs.

Berberis, so well known, and grown in most gardens, is reliable and uncritical of its situation, it obliges by growing sturdily almost anywhere.

Camellia is rather a different matter, although it is more hardy than was thought previously. William Robinson, writing in the late nineteenth century, remarked even then that he did not consider it difficult, its greatest enemy being a fierce wind ‘which beats it about’. A camellia can sometimes be quite conveniently grown in a tub, but as it seems to catch the wind where the main stem goes into the soil, it is helpful either to wrap a piece of sacking or to tie bracken round the base of the stem to keep the frost out. Apart from this the idea of a camellia growing in a tub in a small area of garden, perhaps in a town garden, is a most attractive one. The foliage, which lasts well, is a great asset both in winter and in spring decorations. (If branches are cut which have small flower buds in the leaf axils there is the possibility of flowers coming out later on in the warm temperature of a room.)

The usual pink flowering currant, Ribes sanguineum is covered first with fresh green leaves, which are pleasant in colour but are sometimes too heavily scented to have indoors. Then the racemes of deep pink appear (a difficult pink for flower arrangement) still accompanied by the rather stuffy smell. But if bare twigs are cut in late January, brought indoors, put preferably into a dark cupboard, and then stood in water, it is like waving a wand and getting rid of both the overpowering scent and the difficult pink. Then there is no noticeable smell and the flowers come out early in a beautiful creamy white.

So if you were thinking of digging up your rather despised flowering currant bush, do try this idea first and perhaps you may feel that it is worth keeping after all.

It does seem ungrateful to write about flowering shrubs without mentioning three very old friends, so old that they may almost be taken for granted amongst so many new introductions. These, are lilac, laburnum, and bridal wreath ( Spiraea arguta ). ‘But they don’t last’ I can hear you reply. ‘They drop all over the place’.

Well, I would like to contest this point of view. Lilac, I must agree, is liable to fade quickly. The only hope of prolonging, its life is to cut it just as it is coming out, for the ends of its woody stems to be smashed and some of its foliage stripped. But I think it is worth the trouble, not only for the reward of its exotic smell and soft, rich colouring (the simple charm of the pale single lilac, like that of an old fashioned sunbonnet print—or the beauty of the white, Marie Lemoine), but also for the beautifully shaped leaf, especially in the autumn when it turns and becomes like copper and bronze valentines.

Laburnum is another matter. Given the same treatment as prescribed for lilac, I have found it lasts reasonably well. And it is hard to get the same effect of two or three slender branches, with their pendulous pale yellow flowers, in any other material.

The bridal wreath shrub has thin arching branches which look almost as though they are constructed of black wire. In the spring, usually a stage or two ahead of laburnum and lilac, these branches are almost covered with clusters of small white flowers and fresh green leaves. This is a hardy shrub and will grow in most ordinary soils, though it does rather enjoy a good feed of manure either in the autumn or early spring, before flowering. Once it gets going bridal wreath will develop into quite a large bush and should, if possible, be given a position where the curving branches can spread themselves, perhaps at the corner of a bed or at the back of a rock garden. In either case the branches will not be squashed up against other shrubs but will stand out and show off their charming white sprays to perfection. Sometimes, the tips of the branches may droop a little when cut if they are not immediately put into water. When this happens, the usual treatment of a long drink (having first had their stems snipped and crushed at the base), should put the matter right.

One of the loveliest plants to be introduced to England is the Chilean gum box ( Escallonia) so called after a botanist named Escallon (a pupil of Mutis, chief of the botanical expedition to New Granada). It comes from the mountainous part of Chile and now seems to be quite hardy, at any rate in more southerly gardens. (There are, in fact, situations where they are planted as a wind break.) It flourishes in a mixture of loam and peat, and when in season usually flowers profusely, sometimes breaking out into bloom again later on in late summer. Part of its attraction is the curving line of the branches and the way that the shining leaves are arranged along the stem. The Chilean gum box will form spreading bushes although they will also grow against a wall or form a hedge. Some need protection against frost, but only a little extra care is called for in special cases or in more exposed situations in a colder climate.

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