Arrangements Using Summer Flowers

White Shasta daisies are effective, long-lasting, and adaptable. They mix well with other flowers, looking particularly charming with forget-me-nots, or can be used on their own quite happily. Blue cornflowers look pretty mixed with white daisies, or two or three red roses, or a spray of scarlet geranium. Just a small bunch will go a long way and give a broader effect if the stems are cut to different lengths. The pink and white ones do not always seem to last quite so well but they do help to make up subtle colour schemes if mixed with other flowers, especially sweet peas.

This is the time for elder flowers, which can look very delicate when still in bud and arranged with sweet rocket, mock orange ( Philadelphus), columbines and peonies.

A few short flowers of white astilbe cut from the garden with some wedding grass will make an arrangement by themselves, as will branches of honesty seedpods (still a clear green) with bright tulips.

Early summer is also the time for mock orange. It doesn’t have the reputation for lasting well, but the delightful sight and smell of its flowers make it worth trying. Mock orange will last better if it is cut when still in bud. Chilean gum box ( Escallonia ) is rather a prickly shrub to arrange, but it, too, is well worth the trouble.Arrangements Using Summer Flowers

More than anything this is the time for roses. One of the smallest members of the Compositae family, known as feverfew (not the yellow leaved variety sometimes called Golden Feather) is exceedingly pretty, of simple shape, and lasts well. It looks effective broken down into small sprays either on its own or mixed together with other flowers — like white phlox, and white Shasta daisies.

For a mixed arrangement of garden and wild flowers, summer jasmine with everlasting peas and wild parsley is most successful.

Pink larkspur mixes well with pink cornflowers, and poppy heads rescued from the wheelbarrow on their way to the compost heap contrast well with soft purple-grey allium heads, a bunch of carnation foliage, and two New Zealand flax ( Phormium ) leaves. Golden rod and gladioli go together well but both are equally good on their own. Golden rod need not always be used to the full length of its stem. It looks more delicate cut quite short, with the longer sprays of flower stripped from the main stem and arranged individually. In this way it can be combined with even shorter flowers, white antirrhinums and white larkspur being especially good (it looks prettier with white than almost any other colour).

There should be no difficulty if you decide on gladioli. Nowadays there is hardly a week throughout the calendar when it is not possible to buy or have growing one of the many different kinds of gladiolus. But this has not always been the case. During the seventeenth century only three common kinds and two rare ones were mentioned.

Alice Coats in Flowers and their Histories quotes Sir Thomas Hanmer on one of these: ‘The Aethopian . . . which was brought from the Cape of Good Hope in Africa . . . It hath light red toward scarlet flowers . . ‘ later on she tells of the history of the plant. G. primulinus was found by Sir F. Fox, engineer of the bridge across the Zambesi at the Victoria Falls. The plant was growing close to the spray from the tumbling water of the Falls.

Only fairly recently have the possibilities of the gladiolus been appreciated in flower arrangement. Tall sprays of white gladioli are extremely useful for large wedding groups, and coloured gladioli are often indispensable for interior decoration at parties, dances, receptions, and so on when height is an essential factor. But should a low arrangement be required it can be cut shorter and be just as effective. One cannot say too much in favour of its lasting qualities, for gladioli is reliable under conditions where many other flowers would droop.

One American writer, Matilda Rogers in her book ‘Flower Arrangements’, chooses gladioli for her first lesson for beginners. She writes : ‘If you want to impress your family and friends with your first arrangement, start with six gladioli and a few sprigs of lemon leaves. They are available at florist shops most of the year, are inexpensive, last fairly long and are easy to manage effectively’.

The name ‘gladiolus’ derived from the Latin word for sword, was earned by the stiffness and shape of the foliage. This, in itself, is an indication of a certain formal line and feeling to be expected from a gladiolus arrangement.

Who has not seen gladioli planted in gardens in regimented stiff straight lines? Often they are propped against the wind by equally straight bamboo sticks. A better arrangement would be gladioli planted among lupins, to have their stiffness broken by the softer lupin foliage.

Obviously something similar can be done when arranging gladioli by introducing other material of more spreading and delicate habit. Grasses help to reduce this rather stiff effect, I think.

When large and heavy spikes are used for the outline or background of a group it is specially important to arrange other material close up to them. Gladioli are rather large flowered for an outline, (as the whole spike unfolds, its separate flowers soon look heavy), unless the group is built up well from the centre out towards them. Sometimes gladioli come with curving stems, this is a gift if they happen to curve in the right direction. I have found that it helps to hold the stem in one’s hand to make sure which way the natural curve goes and then to put it in the vase at the same angle.

If using gladioli for a smaller group, cut their stems in graduated lengths and arrange them on a pin holder with the shortest and fullest flowers towards the centre, and the taller, thinner spikes forming the top and edges of the group. Each stem must be fixed firmly in position before the next is added. The pin holder itself standing in a shallow dish, must be a large and weighty one, kept in position with Plasticine. In this case the spiky gladioli foliage is most useful, although one may still need a few larger, round or oval-shaped leaves (geranium, bergenia, camellia, ivy, laurel or magnolia) towards the centre to conceal the pin holder.

Gladioli flowers can be used individually. It is quite possible, given one full flowering spike of gladiolus, to make a complete arrangement by using the separate flowers as though they came from individual stems.

An original idea using the gladioli foliage is one from America: ‘The leaves were separated from the stems to make the flowers last longer and to create green areas of interest’, says Patricia E. Roberts in Flower Arrangements Through the Year.

As with most other flowers, the container plays an important part in the arrangement of the gladioli. Gladioli in a tall pedestal group:

Here the flower spikes will be of the large and heavy variety at the end of long stems and will need a container which will give enough water and enough support to stop them becoming top heavy.

Gladioli used individually makes an attractive group for a dining table, if a flat plate or a shallow dish is used as a container.

I have also seen individual flowers used to decorate candles which were standing in small containers holding water. The flowers were so arranged that the candles seemed to come from the centre of two or three of them.

Yarrow (Achillea) is one of the most economical flowers one could wish for. It goes on and on throughout the summer months, until it finally dries in the autumn, after which it can be used for winter decoration. Some have very long stems and big heads and others are quite short with smaller flowers. A touch of their very deep chrome yellow goes well with purple asters and with certain shades of antirrhinums. It also goes well with most delphinium blues.

An attractive arrangement can be made of sea holly (Eryngium) with godetia. The soft blue grey of the sea holly is a good foil for the rather deep salmon pink of the godetia cut very short so that the full beauty of the flower centres may be seen. Both these plants last well, the sea holly for weeks and the godetia for a long time if the dead flowers are removed at once to allow the buds to come out. Godetia can also come in many shades of pink, deep red, and purple.

Clematis is useful for small arrangements, which can be gathered from a garden. They come in different tones of blue, purple and pink, and the flowers almost arrange themselves, and last well. Lovein-a-mist (Nigella) with blue flowers looks charming with the clear yellow double African marigold cut short. White love-in-a-mist arranged with white larkspur, and two clove carnations added towards the centre make a good arrangement, the clove colour contrasts sharply with the rather greeny white of the love-in-a-mist flowers.

Japanese anemones come on at about the same time as gladioli. With their tall, straight stems and soft pink or clear white flowers, all emerging from a mass of dark, spreading green leaves they make wonderful clumps either in the border, by a wall or at the edge of a bank of shrubs. These flowers are sometimes regarded as being unsuitable for arrangements because of their habit of drooping their heads when cut and put into water. This is contrary to my own experience, as only occasion-‘ally have I found them to be slightly unreliable, and this is usually when they were older flowers and ready to fall anyway. In fact, I have often used them in church decorations and been grateful for their colouring (either white or pink, whichever was needed) for their height and for their dignified and beautifully-shaped foliage.

The tobacco plant (Nicotiana) is another lovely summer flowering plant, but this time, an annual. It comes in deep rose or starch white or lime-green, all of them sweet smelling, with fine, fresh green foliage. For cutting they are most admirable, lasting well and going on into the autumn months with still a hint of summer about them.

Lilies are among the best of all summer flowers. Agapanthus is not a true lily, but is often known as the African lily, and is a splendid flower for cutting. It comes either in white or in a rather deep purple toned blue, with lily like foliage to set it off. The African lily is one of the most long lasting of all plants suitable for tall flower groups. It looks especially attractive when contrasted with deep cerise coloured gladioli and blue globe thistles.

Delphiniums, yet another summer flower, are all great. The yellow meadow rue (Thalictrum) is a good contrast with delphiniums.

Dahlias and zinnias are both summer flowers. Sweet peas are among the sweetest smelling of all summer flowers, the best for cutting and one of the most exciting and exotic where colour is concerned. Arranged with some of their tendrils and buds they give a charming feeling of lightness to a group of flowers. White sweet peas are especially charming with Iceberg roses and white snapdragons.

Coneflowers (Rudbeckia), chamomile (Anthemis), nasturtiums, phlox are all valuable flowers in their different ways, depending on the colour needed or the type of arrangement one has in mind.

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