Sooner or later there comes a grand occasion, a special celebration, when a flower arrangement just a little different from the usual run of things is required. It may be a christening, a wedding, a birthday, or a Christmas party. Flowers will play their special role in conveying good wishes, imparting an air of festivity, giving a welcome, or creating a feeling of gaiety.
All parties, for any age group, need a flower centrepiece which makes a talking point. This focal point of the room need not be the table, which will already be bright and colourful with good food and drink. Elsewhere in the room, place a flower arrangement which is both striking and original.
For the Birthday Tea
If the party is for youngsters, it’s a good thing to keep traditional-style flowerto a minimum. If you do have them, place them on something solid, and well out of reach. Anything pretty or fine in design will be lost on children; the younger the children, the more vividly coloured the decorations need to be. Red, orange, and bright yellow will make more of an impression than the pastel shades.
For very young tots, don’t bother with realat all. They will be much more impressed with bigger-than-life-size ‘ ’ cut out of stiff card. Coloured card can be bought quite inexpensively, and it is not difficult to cut
out the simple shapes of bluebells, daisies, snowdrops and daffodils. Then use drawing pins or sticky tape to fasten the flowers andto made from lengths of green plant stakes. Arrange them in a sturdy pottery vase with real leaves for the best effect.
Both boys and girls like a silver tree at a party. Make one by filling a large well-scrubbed plant pot with Poly-filla and inserting a shapely, twiggy branch, minus its foliage. Paint tree and pot silver, gold or white.
When the paint is dry the tree can be decorated with sweets in shiny papers, tied on with cotton, and with real or marzipan fruit. Stand the tree where it catches the light, or place it opposite the door of the party room, where it can be seen at once. Smaller trees, similarly decorated, can be made to stand on the tea table. Being twiggy they don’t obscure the view, and being tall they take up very little actual table space. Instead of a table-cloth, use coloured crepe paper or silver kitchen foil.
For Older Children
Small boys aren’t very interested in flowers as a rule, but 1 once made an enormously successful table centre at a party for ten-year-old boys. In a shallow pottery cooking dish with a pinholder at one end I arranged reeds and bright yellow iris; the pinholder was covered with stones. In the remaining area of the dish two live goldfish swam about.
As small girls grow up they notice flowers more, especially if encouraged to arrange them. They like pretty flowers, and this often means small ones. At one party, for 12-13 year-old girls, I made an individual Victorian posy for each place setting, to match a larger one in the centre of the table. Each nosegay had the stems cut rather short, so that they sat comfortably in a little water dish hidden
by a napkin ring. Ribbons connected the various posies to the centrepiece.
Informality is the keynote of the teen-age party. Maybe there’s a barbecue, or else food is served straight from the kitchen or in the garden from an informal buffet table. Kitchens can be made to look very gay with bowls of fruit, checked gingham cloths, strings of onions, flickering candles in empty beer and wine bottles, and perhaps an arrangement of garden flowers and vegetables in a basket.
One of the best designs of this kind I have ever seen was a low arrangement of white daisies, red geraniums, and yellow snapdragons, which exactly picked up the colours in salads of ripe tomatoes, sliced hard-boiled eggs, and spring onions.
Out of doors, hang lamps and lanterns decorated with leaves, fruits, and flowers. A parcel of damp Florapak in foil is tied to each lamp to take the stems. Candles or electric torches inside the lanterns provide the light if wiring from the house is too difficult.
A large trug basket of potted geraniums is wonderfully effective on an outdoor serving table. If you’re lucky enough to have a garden pool or fountain, turn it into a giant flower arrangement by floating pale yellow or white flower-heads on the water.
Weddings, birthdays, christenings, and Christmas parties have natural focal points in the traditional iced cake. You can make unusual and extremely beautiful cake decorations by crystallising fresh flowers. Any flower which is sweet-scented is edible. If carefully stored,
crystallised flowers will keep for many years; I know of some which have been kept successfully for ten years.
Delicate pink and blue cornflowers look lovely when crystallised, as do primroses, delphinium ‘,’ pansies, forget-me-nots, daisies and sprigs of heather. For the process you need cake colouring in the same colours as the flowers, caster sugar, granulated sugar, rosewater and gum arabic. Mix together two parts of caster sugar to one part of granulated, on a saucer, and carefully add drops of the appropriate colouring. Crush with a spoon and put through a sieve to remove lumps. Next mix three to four teaspoonfuls of rosewater to one teaspoonful of powdered gum arabic.
With a fine camel hair brush, paint the front and back of each flower with the rosewater and gum arabic solution, carefully supporting the flower on your third finger as you work. Don’t be too heavy-handed with the solution. Finally, sprinkle both sides of the flower with the sugar mixture. Then all you have to do is leave the flowers to dry out on a wire cake cooler for about a week, afterwards storing them in cardboard boxes or tins with air holes in the lids, in a very dry cupboard.
A Golden Wedding …
A golden wedding celebration naturally suggests making the fullest use of golden flowers and golden leaves, arranged in gilded or white containers. There are many glorious flowers of golden hue, and it is a good idea to plant extraof yellow and gold in a year when a golden wedding is to be celebrated in the family. This is the kind of occasion which demands big, sumptuously joyful flower , so you can’t have too many flowers. There are dozens of different golden leaves, from such
striking plants as eleagnus, golden holly, golden privet, variegated periwinkle, variegated ivy (several varieties throw gold-splashed leaves) and variegated New Zealand flax.
Silver weddings can be more difficult, and the tendency is to end up with an arrangement of pastel-coloured flowers which can look very ordinary. There are, however, many grey leaves which look enchanting when arranged with white flowers, and some of these are as near silver as makes no difference.
Shrubby convolvulus (Convolvulus Cneorum) is a special pet of mine for dining table decorations, and at certain times of year it has a really silvery sheen to its. Pussy willow, too, looks silvery, and many clematis seedheads have the soft glow of old silver. When the blue flowers of Cupid’s Dart ( Caerulea) have fallen they leave behind a little rustling silver shuttlecock which dries and keeps its colour admirably and is well-suited to small arrangements. The bud is silver, too.
Other silver and grey foliage plants include garden ragwort and plume poppy (used back to front, to show the reverse of the leaves), carnation, pink, southernwood, grevillea, lavender, lamb’s ear, catmint, rosemary and some varieties ofrex.
Pressed filigree ferns and preserved sweet chestnut leaves can be painted silver and arranged with sprays of silvered honesty. Add shimmering artificial flowers made up from pink nylon organza, and you have an original and eye-catching arrangement. The artificial flowers are made quite quickly. Cut out petal shapes from the fabric and, with a long length of fine fuse wire or florist’s wire, attach one petal at a time to a thicker strand of wire,
until there are sufficient petals to suggest a full or budded rose.
Flowers for a Dance
For a private dance, one large pedestal arrangement as a welcome in the hall, foyer, or entrance, a second in the ballroom, and a third, smaller, design in the ladies’ room are possibly all the flowers you will require. In the ballroom, flower arrangements should stand high so that they can be seen. Deep containers are a must, for the warmth of the hall will quickly evaporate the water, especially on a summer evening.
If there is to be a principal lady or guest of honour it is a happy thought to work out the flower colour schemes to complement her dress, if the colour of this is known beforehand. I once arranged the flowers for a dance at which Rosalie Ashley, the model and television commere, was to present the prizes. We took our keynote from her own pink and white colouring, and we learned also that she was to wear a silver-pink dress. So all the flowers were of delicate pastel pinks and white, and when she arrived we presented her with a matching posy.
Arrangements for the table
Modern dining tables are not usually large. The days of big families and long tables have gone, and flower decorations for them have shrunk, too. Plenty of room must be allowed for place settings and serving dishes, and it is better to have the flower arrangement a little too small rather than too large.
Awith a short , such as a low candlestick (with a candle-cup holder for the flowers) is ideal for a dining table centre. Everyone can see the flowers, but very little table space is taken up. For all tables, of course,
you must have a design which does not obscure the view. If only two or three people are using the table, a rather different layout can be made, with the flowers arranged at one end rather than in the centre. In thisquite a tall design is possible, perhaps balanced by a bowl of fruit at the other end of the table.
Though a modern table demands a rather slick-looking flower arrangement, a table which is antique or just old-fashioned dark polished wood will happily take almost any style of arrangement, depending on the other table appointments. My own antique dining table can one day appear rather grand with silver candelabra, fine china, and crisply starched napkins, and the following day be completely different, with sturdy modern pottery, woven straw mats in gay colours, and riotously bright flowers and leaves arranged to catch this mood.
Whenflowers for a dining table, take care that their colours (and that of the container) go with the decor of the room. Your material must always be in first-class condition (no drooping flowers here) because it will be seen at close range.
Flowers for a Wedding
If you are asked to do the flowers for a wedding (I don’t mean the bouquets and buttonholes) take the earliest opportunity of looking round the church, and ask the vicar to enter your name on the church’s flower rota for the day of the ceremony. This is advisable to avoid clashing with the church’s own regular flower arrangers. In the church, decide where you will put your arrangements, how many flowers will be required for each container, and how tall your designs will need to be so that they can be seen even when the congregation is standing. Take account of whether the flowers will be seen against dark or light
backgrounds, so that you can use appropriately contrasting tones.
Find out whether the vicar allows flowers on the altar, or whether he has any views about the placing of the arrangements generally. When I did the flowers for my sister’s wedding, I remember, I used a large pedestal design against the pulpit, little dreaming that on such an occasion the vicar would go into the pulpit to preach. But he did, and he had the greatest difficulty squeezing past the arrangement and avoiding sending it cascading in a broken wet mess to the floor.
What Colours To Use?
Flower colours for a church wedding depend to some extent upon the time of the year and whether your budget runs to out-of-season blooms. As a principle, try to use flowers in colours which blend with the bride’s or bridesmaids’ dresses. For a white wedding, white flowers always look stunning. If the bride does not like all-white flowers in the church, use white ones plus some in the same colouring as the bridesmaids’ gowns. Lilies are particularly suited to such an occasion, and even if you cannot use them elsewhere try to have a few on the altar.
If you are going to use flowers from the florist, do order them well in advance. A good florist will always try to get exactly the varieties and colours you need, and will be helped by snippets of dress material which you may wish to match. Have the flowers delivered in good time the day before the wedding so that they can have their pre-arrangement deep drink.
A pedestal arrangement is indispensable to any occasion
which requires a tall, elegant, or dominant design and
which needs important flowers. All pedestal arrangements require flowers and leaves in abundance—long branches, big leaves and flowers full of character, rather than dozens of small-sized blooms and leaves. The arrangement must be conceived on the grand scale.
What about the pedestal itself? In essence, this is merely a tall stand of wood or metal with a bowl or trough at the top. Specially made ones, with a trough incorporated, can be bought, or a blacksmith will make one to your own design. A handyman could convert one of those tall stands made to hold birdcages, or could adapt an old standard lamp. Junk shops and auction sale rooms sometimes have tall wooden plinths (often made like classical columns) which used to hold marble busts, and the same sources may yield quite cheaply, a Victorian floor-standing oil lamp in wrought iron or brass. For a low pedestal arrangement, a wine table is ideal. What really counts most is that the pedestal should be well-balanced and not easily tipped over. Weight at the base is an advantage.
Before commencing a pedestal arrangement it is absolutely vital to see that the thing is standing firmly and that the bowl or trough is really secure. Remember that it has to carry a lot of weight, most of which will be towards the front. Inside the container I always use a large pinholder as well as chicken wire, to grip those important back stems. As you work, step back frequently to view the effect from the other end of the hall, down the aisle, or across the room.
A strong, firm outline shape is essential. More often than not, pedestal flowers are arranged to triangular or fan-shaped silhouettes, but there is no reason why you should not have a large Hogarth curve. When two pedestals are to stand either side of a doorway or stage
they can well be arranged as assymetrical triangles or as opposite crescents.
Some flowers and leaves should be brought below the level of the container (which must always be hidden), and it is a good idea to bring some out at the back also. This gives the arrangement depth, helps to balance the weight at the front, and looks well when the arrangement is seen from the side.
Use fruit, sprays of berries, seedheads, and even driftwood in pedestal designs. At Christmas or party time, painted and glittered material is effective. Any plant material with a built-in downwards growth is ideal for placing low down in a pedestal arrangement—things like trails of hops, vines, old man’s beard, clematis, Virginia creeper, and rambler or climbing roses.
People often ask how tall a pedestal arrangement should be. The only guide is to study the height of the room and then make your arrangement of an appropriate size. A room or hall with a high ceiling will take a very tall arrangement; a long, low room necessitates something smaller. It’s a matter of relying on your eye.
Giving a Present
On many occasions a gift of flowers is more appropriate than an expensive present. Happily, even a few homely garden flowers can be given the million-dollar look when cleverly arranged. To congratulate a new mother after the birth of a baby, take her an arrangement of pink and white flowers if it’s a girl, blue and white for a boy. A knot of ribbons among the flowers gives the expensive look. Arrange flowers and foliage in moist Florapak.
Many florists sell small wicker baskets with lids, and these make attractive containers for the smaller flowers. Or you can buy pint-sized canework cots and prams,
complete with tin linings to hold the water for flowers; these can be made up into the prettiest things imaginable if you place the flowers inside so that they resemble the baby in its cot. From small white flowerheads (such as snowy arabis) make the shape of the pillow and the turn-down of the sheet, and use forget-me-nots or pink stocks for the coverlet. Suggest the head of the baby with a pink rosebud on the white pillow, and add a bow of ribbon and a card to complete the gift.
A Victorian posy of small, sweet-scented, pastel-coloured flowers can be made by threading the stems of the flowers, in rings of different colours, through the centre holes of a plastic doily. The edge of the doily is left to form a frill. The posy always starts off with a rosebud, and is finished off with a ribbon bow and trails at the back. If you put the doily on the top of a water-filled jam jar before commencing the arrangement you will find this keeps the stems in position while you work. Bind the stems with a rubber band or florist’s wire, and finish off with a wrapping of silver foil.
Once won over to the notion of giving a flower arrangement instead of just a bunch of flowers as a present, many fresh ways come to mind. When visiting a new mother and her baby, for example, do the arrangement in a container which is in itself a present for the baby—a christening mug or a silver spoon, for instance.
A Miniature Garden
For a sick person or a mother-to-be, make a miniature garden. Take a large plate or a meat dish, and fill with peat or moist earth. Plant such things as a tinytree, bits of rockery plants just coming into flower, a small fern, or any little subjects which are almost in flower. Pop in a few well-shaped stones or pebbles to
resemble rocks, and sink into the earth one or two empty fish paste jars which will hold water for a few little cut flowers. Cover the earth and the jars with moss.
A little imagination and ingenuity will enable you to work many variations on this garden-in-a-plate idea for all sorts of occasions. These gardens will last for some weeks if kept in a good light and watered only when the soil feels dry to the touch.
To Cheer the Sick
Flowers always make a delightful gift for anyone who is ill, at home or in hospital, and how much more attractive they are when made into an arrangement. A simple, compact design and a container which can be easily transported are needed, and the use of Florapak or Oasis means that you have no water problem. (But don’t forget the deep drink first.) Fruit, especially black or green grapes, and eggs can be worked into the arrangement instead of being taken in a paper bag.
When taking flowers to the sick, avoid the very strongly-scented, which may seem heady and cloying to an invalid. I prefer to use slightly-perfumed flowers, adding leaves which give off a fragrance when pinched. Herbs such as balm or marjoram (and of course lavender and mint) are a refreshing addition to the design.
Don’t use lilies (still associated with funerals in people’s minds), or red and white flowers together, for many nurses have a superstition about these two colours together.
Time spent during the summer and autumn in pressing
and preserving leaves and seedheads brings its reward at
Christmas, when they can be painted gold, white, and
silver to make enchanting decorations. Paint colourless nail varnish round the edges of some leaves and along some branches, and while it is wet sprinkle it with sparkling ‘frost,’ bought from the chain stores in packets. Be careful not to get this near food, as it is usually made from powdered glass.
Artificial snow, which is strong enough to hold leaves and other preserved materials in a container, can be made by mixing soap powder to a very stiff consistency with a little water. The mixture goes quite hard, but is afterwards easily washed out with hot water. Another quick-setting holder for stems is Polyfilla (Alabastine is similar). Bits of hollowed-out log, empty dog meat tins, little foil dishes which have held frozen food, are all expendable containers which can be used for Christmas arrangements and afterwards thrown away.
Generally speaking, glittered material does not blend comfortably with fresh flowers and foliage, so the two should be kept apart.
The traditional evergreens last without water throughout the Christmas festivities, and there are many ways of using them. One of my favourites is a low basket or garden trug filled with holly, ivy, etc., with the rich dark greens setting off the merry colours of shining Christmas tree baubles, apples and oranges.
Glossy evergreens look specially Christmassy if lightly brushed with shoe whitener, bought in a tube. White, gold, and silver paints come in spray cans nowadays, and these are handy though not very economical.
Fruit, with all its fresh, mouth-colour, can take the place of flowers in all kinds of designs made with evergreens and preserved leaves. Baskets, silver dishes, and any containers made of glowing brass or copper are perfect settings for fruit arrangements. If the container is
large, fill it first with chicken wire and pile up the fruit on top.
Grapes, both green and black, give distinction to a fruit arrangement, and indeed I find them so decorative that I sometimes make a design purely from grapes. As with all fruit arrangements for the home, one just doesn’t have to mind when the family start nibbling at them!