Flowering Arranging Clubs and Flower Shows

To derive the fullest delight from arranging flowers I would certainly advise everyone to join a club. There are scores of these, all over the country, and in them one meets women (and men) who are keen to explore and develop the art in all its forms.

If your club is anything like mine, you’ll meet lots of pleasant people, as well as finding that you learn very much more painlessly than if you struggle on alone.

Most clubs meet monthly, and programmes generally consist of demonstrations, talks, practice evenings, films and so on. Shows are held by clubs individually and in collaboration with one another. Often the ordinary monthly meeting includes an exhibition, or competitive classes of members” arrangements.

Many clubs, too, run a sales stall at their meetings, at which you can buy pinholders, chicken wire, flowers, plants and dried material, and other useful items at a little below shop prices.

If your club has a monthly competition, or a small competitive exhibition at each meeting, don’t hesitate to take part. These little shows are fun, they test your ingenuity, provide you with ideas, prevent you getting into a rut, and prepare you for even bigger and better shows and competitions. Usually, club shows are divided into sections for ‘Novices,’ ‘Intermediate,’ and ‘Advanced’ members —so you are always certain of a fair chance right from your


earliest days and you move from one section to the next when you gain the required number of points.

Try for a Prize

When you have belonged to a flower club for a time and have gained confidence by taking part in the monthly competitions, try out your skill at a bigger show. In time you can progress to the big national shows, such as those run by the National Association of Flower Arrangement Societies, the National Rose Society, and many others. You can join the various specialist societies, such as the National Rose Society, for a few shillings a year, and they are excellent value not only for the chance of exhibiting your favourite flowers but also because of their various facilities and publications.

Study the Schedule

Before sendingi n your entry for a show, study the schedule (or programme of classes) carefully and select the class or classes which you feel able to tackle most confidently, and for which you will have containers and material available on the day of the show. Don’t attempt too many classes.

When you do your arrangements it is essential to abide exactly by what the schedule says—the judge certainly will! For example, if the class is ‘An Arrangement of Leaves and Berries’ you are allowed to use only leaves and berries, not flowers. A wise old show motto is ‘When in doubt, leave out.’

Unfortunately, some schedules (especially at very small shows, church fetes, and similar functions) are badly and ambiguously worded, and both exhibitors and judges are left wondering exactly what the committee had in mind. If in doubt, ask the show secretary to get a ruling.

As a judge, I know that many otherwise praiseworthy


entries have to be disqualified at almost every show because they are ‘not according to schedule.’ No judge likes having to disqualify, but it is the only way to be fair to those exhibitors who have taken the trouble to study the schedule and abide by it.

‘Arrangement’ or ‘Composition’?

The first thing about which you must be certain is whether the class you are entering is for an arrangement or a composition.

An arrangement is defined as being of natural plant material in any container, with or without a base. A base is anything on which a container stands (wood, metal, fabric, etc.).

A composition is an arrangement with the addition of one or more accessories. An accessory is an ornament, plate, figurine, candle, drape, or similar piece of non-plant material. Stones, shells, and similar objects of non-plant material are usually considered as accessories unless otherwise stated in the schedule. If you place two arrangements together (as one exhibit) they constitute a composition.

Incidentally, if you belong to a recognised flower arrangement club or society you can get a copy of a booklet, Schedule Definitions, published by the National Association of Flower Arrangement Societies, which is an invaluable guide for compilers of schedules, exhibitors and adjudicators.

Aids To Show Work

If you do much show work, a plastic sponge-bag with a zip or press-stud top is handy for carrying all your bits and pieces, such as flower scissors, rubber bands, modelling clay, stub wires, spare pinholders, pins, a tape measure, a


roll of sticky tape, and a duster or absorbent cloth for mopping up water. Pop in your purse, hanky and make-up and you won’t need to take a handbag.

A small sheet of transparent plastic placed under your container will keep the table (or your drape) clean and dry while you work.

Preparation Pays

For your first show, aim at doing a simple, neat, well-designed entry in just one class. Get to the show tent or hall in good time, and quietly set to work. Don’t rush. Don’t be discouraged if the exhibitor next to you is doing an absolutely superb piece of work—one always tends to think one’s own work is inferior, especially early in the day. When you return later, the arrangement always looks better than you thought.

One of the secrets of successful show work is careful preparation on the day before the show. Choose the flowers and container and any accessories unhurriedly. If you intend to do more than one arrangement, keep the materials for each in separate buckets or jugs.

Sort out your containers, and secure wire netting or pinholders firmly inside the chosen ones. Put with them a small watering can with a long spout. Check up to see that you have everything you need.

Working at Home

I have found that if a show is not too far from home it is best to do the arrangement at home, rather than in the show tent. (That is, unless the schedule and rules of the show specify that all work must be done on the spot.) If you are at all nervous or highly-strung you will prob

ably work best at home. At most shows you will have to put up your exhibit early in the morning (usually before 11 a.m.), so an added advantage of doing the work at home is that you can do it the previous evening and avoid the risk of an early-morning scramble.

In such a case, the flowers and leaves need to be picked or bought the morning before the show, any buds tied, a long drink given throughout the afternoon, and the arrangement produced in the evening. The completed design should have its water level checked and should finally be placed in the coolest and darkest spot you can find. In hot weather, sprinkle the flowers with water.

Enthusiastic beginners have been known to arrive at a show bearing two arrangements for one class, having done the two at home and then found it impossible to decide which to enter. They often ask whether they can submit both, but this is rarely allowed. Some shows even limit entries in each class to one person per family, so as to be scrupulously fair to all competitors.

A Popular Class

To judge from many hundreds of letters I’ve received, one of the most popular show classes ever devised is ‘An Arrangement for a Hot Day.’ But though it is such a favourite with organisers and committees, many exhibitors ask ‘What does it mean? ‘

The title simply means an arrangement of flowers in cool, refreshing colours, such as white, blue and green. Any colours and textures, in fact, which make you feel cool. The hot colours (orange, red, deep pink, tan, etc.) are unsuitable.

The container for this class is an important consideration. Remember that silver looks cooler than brass or copper. A mirror, as a base under the container, reflects


light and gives an impression of coolness and tranquillity. Water always looks cool, so you could use a long shallow container with the arrangement at one end, leaving an expanse of clear water.

Where Ideas Come From

How does one get ideas for show exhibits ? People new to the hobby always ask this question. After talking to exhibitors at very many shows I have collected a variety of ways of producing ideas. One competitor said she read her schedule last thing one evening about a fortnight before a show—and invariably woke up next morning with one or two good designs in mind!

Another exhibitor assured me she had her brightest ideas in the bath, and yet another while ironing. I have a friend who always rides her bicycle into the country on the day before a show to gather leaves, wild flowers, fungi, and other wild material, which she finds a constant source of inspiration.

A more practical method than any of the above is to walk around the garden or go along to the florist’s shop a week before the show. You then get a good idea what flowers will be available when you want them, and seeing flowers like this will probably suggest just the right idea.

When you have the germ of an arrangement in your mind, don’t be tempted to over-elaborate it and make it too clever. The most successful flower showpieces have a clear-cut idea portrayed with simplicity. Don’t try to cram too much into an arrangement—you can spoil the whole thing by not knowing when to stop.

Think Systematically

A proved way of summoning ideas to mind is to write

down every thought which comes into your head about the



class you have chosen to enter. For example, the class might be entitled ‘Housewife’s Choice—An arrangement of any natural material, suitable for a sideboard.’ Think systematically around this theme.

‘Any natural material’—This can include fruit, leaves, flowers, driftwood, or anything else which is growing or has grown. Plenty of scope here.

‘Housewife’s Choice’—Perhaps this suggests a busy woman with many jobs on her hands, so a rather simple design might be more suitable than an intricate one, with common garden flowers preferable to more exotic blooms from the florist.

‘Suitable for a sideboard’—This certainly calls to mind colourful, luscious fruit, and rules out fungi, poisonous berries, and similar material.

Now you have something to work on. Gather the material together, pick out one or two containers, and ‘play around’ with them for a while. Soon a design will begin to form—the best kind of design, for it will be dictated by the material and container themselves. This is always better than trying to force the material and make it fit some vague notion in your mind’s eye.

Ideas by Accident

Ideas come rolling in to me from all kinds of places. The other day, for instance, one of my dogs brought me a stick to throw for him, just when I was trying to think how to do a design for a show class called ‘An Age of Man.’ The stick was twisted and weather-worn, and it at once was reminiscent of old age. With suitable accessories and flowers, the twig was used in my arrangement to put over the feeling of age.

In general, however, I find that my own best inspiration comes from seeing and handling flowers, or from finding


just the right colourings in a few well-shaped leaves. With practice and experience it is possible to turn out a presentable and attractive arrangement every time, but occasionally a really great idea presents itself, the right flowers bloom to perfection on the right day, and the design almost literally arranges itself.

Flowers Aren’t Funny

Flower arranging is fun—but it never pays to try to be funny with flowers; they are not suited to it. I recall a ‘Mood’ class in which an exhibitor had thrown a few blue flowers into a niche with a brown drape and a vase and the title ‘Fed Up.’ Well, it wasn’t a flower arrangement.

The craziest show I ever entered had 20 classes. One was entitled ‘Fun with flowers—An arrangement to make you laugh.’ The winner had done her design in an old boot with a bit cut away to show a corn flower in place of a corn plaster.

Is It the Right Size?

Show schedules usually state the amount of space allowed for exhibits in each class—for example, ‘To be staged in a niche 36 inches wide.’ Beginners are sometimes puzzled by such directions, and wonder why they loose points when their arrangement is either too large or too small.

A niche is reserved for each arrangement, the niches being made from neutral coloured pieces of thick card or corrugated paper. Niches are put up by the show committee and will be in position when you arrive. Niches, or some similar background setting for the exhibits, are known as the backing.

When doing an exhibit at home, before a show, 1 pin a tape measure to the table to show me the exact size of the


niche. If I do an arrangement at the show itself, I work in the niche.

Never allow your flowers or leaves to touch the sides of the niche, nor, on the other hand, make the design so small that it looks lost in the centre of the space allowed. Always think of your arrangement as a picture; the space you leave round it is the frame.

The arrangement should always be in good proportion to the size of the niche. An arrangement which is too small can be made to look larger if raised on a base.

A symmetrical design looks well when the container is placed in the centre of the niche; it often looks even better just off-centre. With other designs, try them in various positions in the niche to see where they have the best effect.

Using a Drape

The schedule may say that in a particular class drapes are allowed. A drape is a piece, or pieces, of fabric chosen with care to complement or make a background for the flowers, leaves, etc., and the container. One is always allowed to use a drape, even if the schedule does not say so specifically, when the class is for a ‘composition.’

A drape is easily secured to the niche or other backing with a straight pin, a couple of paper clips, or merely by draping (hence the name) over the top of the backing. I once bought a tall, old-fashioned wooden hat stand from a millinery shop which was closing down, and this has proved invaluable for holding up a drape behind an exhibit. The little round cushion at the top, where the hat used to go, is ready-made for pinning the drape in position. Friends with handymen husbands have had similar supports made from pieces of dowelling fixed to a firm base.

About a yard and a half of material is required to make


a useful drape. For small arrangements you may get away with a yard, but unless the material is rather wide this can prove inadequate. Drapes and swirling bases may be made from a variety of fabrics—velvet, silk, cotton, rayon, fine woven straw, tulle, organza, etc. The soft furnishings and dress fabrics departments of the big stores—at sale times!—are the best and cheapest places for buying drapes. Always buy one good-quality piece of material rather than two cheap ones. The better, heavier materials drape into rich folds, they last longer, and they have an altogether more satisfying appearance.

When the schedule says that a class is for an arrangement (as distinct from a composition), it is always permissible to place a piece of material under the container. If you bring the drape behind the arrangement the design becomes a composition.

Points may be lost if your drape or base is creased and crumpled, so carry it to the show in a rolled up newspaper or wrapped around a cylinder of cardboard (most fabric departments will be only too pleased to make you a present of these cylinders if you ask).

Try to build up a collection of drapes in different fabrics and different colours. You can’t have too many; you never know when any one of them will be just right for a given arrangement.

Be Sparing with Accessories

An accessory is something extra—a figurine or other ornament, perhaps—used with the flowers and other plant material to enhance the design or to give it special point. You will remember that if an accessory is added the design becomes a composition.

Accessories can be delightful but they can also be a danger, for so many people have a weakness for adding


lots of bits and pieces, the result being a design which is messy and cluttered. It is like wearing too much jewellery on a flowered dress.

The point to bear in mind is that the accessories should always be secondary to the flowers. A drape, one figurine and a title card will in most cases be all that is needed. The larger the niche, the larger the arrangement, and the larger the accessories can be.

Take care when using driftwood, nuts, or fruit in an exhibit. If any of these is placed separately from the main design the whole thing becomes a composition instead of an arrangement.

The Driftwood Vogue

There’s a vogue for driftwood in flower arranging nowadays. As explained earlier, any piece of wood which has weathered naturally is called driftwood . . . it’s not necessary to have found it on the seashore! I once had a letter from an old lady in Scotland who asked where she could buy driftwood; the only thing she could find was half a tree blown down the river in a gale! I wrote to her, and heard later that she won first prize in her class at a show, using curved branches of burned gorse, blackened in a fire on the moorland near her home. With the charred branches she used scarlet geranium flowers and pieces of wild clematis in seed.

Grey and brown driftwood always associates well with dried or preserved materials as well as with wild flowers, berries, leaves, fungi, etc., and with stones, wooden figurines, and many garden flowers. Choose a piece of wood with a good shape and it will set your imagination going and be a fruitful source of ideas.

Before starting an arrangement turn your hunk of driftwood around in your hands; look at it from every angle.


If it has a natural curve, let your flowers, leaves, seedheads and so on follow this shape. You will sometimes find a piece which resembles a bird, animal, or human figure, so play up to this and accentuate it—build your arrangement round it.

Title Cards

Show schedules often require that each exhibit be given a title, or else a card stating the theme and perhaps naming the varieties of flowers used. Exhibitors sometimes lose points by writing on scrappy bits of paper or grubby card. Again, cards are frequently out of scale with the arrangement (too large or too small), or so badly placed that they make too much of themselves and spoil the appearance of the whole exhibit.

Why should such a small detail be so important, you may ask. Surely if the flower arrangement is a good one, the judge will overlook something so small and insignificant as the title card. And so she may at a small show of the kind put on at a village fete, but at a show organised by a flower arrangement club or one of the specialist horticultural societies you are up against keen competition, with judges trained to observe the smallest details. In fact, when two exhibits are equally good it is the most minute considerations which finally decide the award.

I always feel that it is important to pay attention to details, on the principle that if a thing is worth doing it is worth doing well. Take care of the small points, and the standard of your work will automatically be raised.

The title card should be planned as part of the exhibit,

not added as an afterthought. It should be neatly and

clearly lettered or typewritten. Thin card looks better

than paper. The colour of the card must be taken into



account; it should tie in with the colour of the flowers, leaves, or container, or with the colour of the backing.

I save Christmas cards and birthday cards and cut them up for title cards. Quite frequently, a bit of the printed design on a greetings card—a pink rosebud, say—will prove exactly right to match an arrangement. I find, too, that a wavy edge to a card is better than a straight one, so I always cut mine to gently curving shapes.

Title cards look best if tilted slightly towards the eye. A favourite prop of mine is a rose pink, velvet-covered Victorian pin-cushion shaped like a heart (bought for sixpence at a jumble sale). This makes a charming background for a title card on many occasions.

Remember that if you use a card (unless it is specifically demanded in the schedule) it makes your exhibit into a composition, since the card then counts as a secondary placement or accessory.

Nerves at Showtime

Most women suffer a temporary affliction known as show nerves when they first take part in a flower arrangement show. It’s stage fright, and it passes off quite quickly, as any old hand will tell you. An aspirin and a hot drink the night before the show, last thing, will help you to sleep well. At the show, suck barley sugar while you work, and have a break for a hot drink from a vacuum flask.

A final word about competitive flower arranging—don’t take it too seriously or take failure personally. If you don’t win a prize, be nice to the more successful exhibitors. Never argue with the judge; hers is a difficult task, not lightly undertaken. And remember there’s always another show.



Organising a Show

If you begin to take an active part in the life of your flower club or society you will probably find yourself taking part in organising a show.

I happen to prefer shows in marquees rather than in halls during the summer. The diffused light under canvas is kind to flowers and foliage, and there is none of the distraction of strong sunlight pouring through windows. True, the canvas may flap in windy weather and knock down arrangements or backing—but not if a sensible space has been left between the tables and the tent wall. Backing won’t blow down if it is pinned to the table or fastened to wooden battens driven into the ground behind the table.

When you’re helping to put up a show in a marquee borrow a spirit level to make sure the tables are level. Because of uneven ground and wobbly tables 1 have found it wise to use only firm, heavy containers when showing under canvas. Tall, slim containers or pieces of delicate china are best kept for an indoor occasion.

At two-day or three-day shows, or in hot weather, proper arrangements must be made to replace faded blooms and to top up the water in all containers. After all, it should be a point of honour to present the public with a sight worth seeing whether they come in immediately after the opening on the first day or five minutes before closing time on the last.

The British climate being what it is, most shows are sensibly held indoors. Good facilities for the exhibitors to do their arrangements are a must. I hold painful memories of shows where exhibitors were not allowed to work in the hall itself, but only in a cramped backstage area. A word with the hall caretaker may be necessary to ensure that the hall heating is suitably regulated; the hall


must not be so warm that the lasting properties of the flowers are endangered. At one autumn show put on by my flower club an over-keen caretaker got the place so hot that the white plastic table coverings began to bubble.

Sunshine portends well for a show (if only because the public are more likely to turn out in fine weather), but flowers open quickly in the warmer weather, particularly those belonging to the exhibitor who finds herself with a position in full sunshine. A single sheet of newspaper makes a very good sunshade if gently placed over a completed arrangement until it is time forjudging to start. If the arrangement is not too big, place it in the shade under the table until judging time.

Sprinkling flowers and leaves with a hand dipped in cool water decidedly helps in hot, dry weather—but be careful not to mark your drape. Some people use light, fine spray atomisers to provide humidity for their flowers in an arrangement. Plastic spray bottles which do the same job can be bought quite cheaply from the chain stores.

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