Blue Flower Arrangements

One of the usual difficulties about a blue arrangement is to bring it to life. Blue as a colour is impossible, I think, to define. It varies from dark purple-blue, ultramarine, or deep cobalt, to soft dove-grey, and palest sky blue. In between these extremes of colour are all the variations to be found when one looks closely into a cornflower or a scilla, a gentian or a forget-me-not, a bluebell or a delphinium.

How is it that these flowers never look lifeless in themselves? I think the answer is simply that there is always some form of contrast — either a coal-black pistil, creamy-white stamens, pinky mauve outer petals or the shading of a blue petal from quite a deep colour to almost white. An example of this is the scabious with soft grey-blue petals — though perhaps the field scabious is slightly more blue than mauve—set off by numbers of stamens, some of them pearl coloured and some of them off-white.

The contrast of green leaves is something which one is inclined to take for granted, but which has the effect of throwing up the blue tones and giving them a different emphasis. This point reminds me of the occasion when I saw the painting by Jan Van Eyck of the Arnolfini Portrait, for the first time after it had been cleaned. It was then that the blue and green of the woman’s dress made a definite impact, and since that time I have often arranged these two colours together. Delphiniums with hosta foliage or bluebells with wild arum leaves, chimney bellflowers (Campanula pyramidalis) with lupin foliage, field scabious with foxglove leaves—any of these suggestions illustrate the point foolishly imposed. Surely the business of the blue garden is to be beautiful as well as to be blue. My own idea is that it should be beautiful first, and then just as blue as may be consistent with its best possible beauty’. Then Miss Jekyll adds a painting note learnt from her student days: ‘Moreover, any experienced colourist knows that the blues will be more telling—more purely blue—by the juxtaposition of rightly placed complementary colour.’Blue Flower Arrangements

When is a blue arrangement likely to be required? There are certain decoration schemes and certain occasions which demand a blue group. Cornflowers and delphiniums can be effective against a primrose wall and can also look particularly cool against a lime green background. Mention of cornflowers reminds me of the decorations for a wedding some years ago. The colour scheme was to be blue and white. I had suggested a touch of scarlet to bring some life into what seemed to me a rather cold colour scheme, but this idea was refuted. The bride’s father was the late John Drinkwater and his favourite flowers had always been cornflowers. Vor this reason no other flowers were to be used in the church or at the reception afterwards. Imagine my delight, when, just as I was leaving to go to the church for the service, the caterers arrived carrying large trays of the most delicious looking strawberries. This was exactly the colour I had had in mind to introduce into the flower decorations. And so the touch of warmth was there, after all, although not quite as I had thought of it.

Miss Jekyll, one of the greatest lady gardeners, was trained first as an artist. She had an exceptional feeling for the right use of colour, and clearly stated her views on this subject in relation to planting a blue border or blue garden. What she writes has only to be translated into flower arrangement terms and applies in the same way: ‘It is a curious thing that people will sometimes spoil some garden project for the sake of a word. For instance, a blue garden, for beauty’s sake, may be hungering for a group of white lilies, or for something of palest lemon-yellow, but it is not allowed to have it because it is called the blue garden, and there must be no flowers in it but blue flowers. I can see no sense in this.

Weddings and cocktail parties, dances and receptions often impose rather rigid restrictions in the field of colour, and have to be dealt with tactfully. One is told that the bridesmaids are wearing dresses of blue organdy and require the flower decorations to be blue to match them. Or that a dance hall is to be decorated in ‘Cambridge’ blue or a reception for a film star must be done in blue because the leading lady is wearing an Ice-blue’ dress. A twenty-first party may require blue arrangements as the young woman in question has always thought of blue as her favourite colour. These are all possible reasons for a blue flower group. The same reasons obviously apply to many other colours, but blue may be more difficult than most of them as one is not able to fall back on roses, chrysanthemums, or even carnations to any extent, whereas with most other colours these flowers are a safe standby.

Depending on the time of year, there are various possibilities which may be helpful. Delphiniums spring to mind, coming as they do in various heights and in every conceivable tone and shade of blue. If arranged when they are still in bud they will last well. Cornflowers, bluebells, scabious, love-in-a-mist (Nigella) hydrangeas, bellflowers, clematis, Californian lilac (Ceanothus) globe thistle, hyacinths, iris, larkspur, veronica, monkshood and beard tongues (Penstemons) are others which will introduce a lively variety of blues. With certain of these it would be interesting to introduce either two or three Madonna lilies, the pale yellow pot marigold (Calerdula), clove carnations, or the striking contrast of a bright Zephirine Drouhin rose.

A blue arrangement can also be helped by the colour of the container. White vases give a lightness to blue flowers (which they may badly need) or one may try a complete contrast, such as arranging deep blue delphiniums in an orange coloured container or softer toned blue scabious in a lemon-yellow vase. Pale blue flowers such as flax or love-in-a-mist can show up well in a lime-green container and the deeper purple-blue of monkshood or larkspur looks attractive and is considerably lightened by copper or brass.

Then there is the question of background and also the considerable problem of artificial light. Both these can make blue arrangements lifeless and undistinguished.

Remember that a blue group will always show up best against backgrounds of yellow or pale lime green or white, and can even look attractive against a clear red — although this tends to give a purple tone to the overall effect. But it is a waste of time putting blue flowers against a darkish ground, with no brightness in the colour itself. An exception is dark wood, which if it shines and gleams can be most successful.

Artificial light is well known to be difficult for blue; and if blue flowers are being arranged specifically for an evening event of some kind it is wise to introduce plenty of white, yellow or bright red.

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