It seems to me to be a great pity thatfor a dining table should only be attempted when entertaining. I personally always like to see flowers on a table where one is having meals, whether it be the kitchen table or a polished Regency table in a large dining room.
The tradition of elaborate table decorations has been handed down to us from the days of the epergne, (this may well be the reason why people sometimes feel they have not got the time or money for flowerfor the table on an everyday basis.) Decorations then often included fanciful ornaments filled with exotic flowers placed at intervals on damask cloths. Elegant colour schemes were worked out in coloured glass, heavily crocheted lace, candles and napkins, and these were picked up by the flowers. A glance into an early edition of Mrs. Beeton’s cook book will show what I mean.
Nowadays this kind of domestic splendour would be impossible to keep up, our mode of living dictates a very simple form of decoration. Almost more than anywhere else in the house, it seems to me to be vital to arrange flowers for the dining table in. How can you tell what two little silver egg cups full of snowdrops are going to look like with silver candlesticks beside them unless they are where you are finally going to need them. They will look quite different on the kitchen table or the pantry draining board. And so polish your table top as much as you like, and then do the flowers in their positions, laying a small dust sheet on the table beside them to ensure that no spot of water, or petal will fall upon your polished surface. Let us now concentrate on ideas which can be carried out simply, quickly. And economically.
There are a few general rules for table decorations, whether for a dinner party or for breakfast :-
1 The flowers andmust be in perfect condition.
2 The means of anchorage must be disguised.
3 A decoration should not be big enough to necessitate peering round or over the flowers in order to engage in conversation.
4 The colour schemes of the flowers, candles, containers, and table napkins must be considered, but it is possible to introduce some variety by the use of silver or plain glass, porcelain or coloured glass, as the occasion demands and as one’s possessions will allow.
5 The need to use long lasting flowers does not arise for a dinner party, and, for example, come into their own here. Phlox, cut right up to the flower head, can be charming, and poppies, though they may drop the next day, can provide just that touch of colour which fits into the scheme.
The smaller the quantity of material used the more essential it is that it should be in perfect condition. If, for example, there is a bunch of yellowin a glass and a leaf is crushed or one of the flowers is beginnifig very slightly to droop, their slight defects might not be noticed. But where there are only two iris, a few , or a spray of clematis any defect, however small, would be very noticeable.
The means of anchorage must be well concealed. This is an obvious fact, but it is not always easy to carry out. It is simple enough to hide a pin holder when it is only seen from one angle or at a distance. But on a dining table it must stand up to close observation from all directions. There are various means of subterfuge. Sometimes moss or stalwartare used, or the flowers themselves are cut short towards the centre.
Leaves are easy to find during the summer months. At other times geranium and bergenia are both available (this is one of the uses of keeping a geranium through the winter and not throwing it out after taking) or else one or two flat globular eucalyptus leaves cut from the lower , if you already have some in the house. From the garden a short spray of camellia or rosemary or garden ragwort might provide the cover needed. When selecting leaves for this purpose it is important to think of them not only for the purpose you have in mind but also in relation to the flowers. Otherwise they will look just what they are, a camouflage, and not an integral part of the arrangement. Still another method of deception is the use where suitable of a small piece of bark.
On one occasion when only a single spray of spurge (Euphorbia fulgens) was used on a yellow plate, a silver thimble was kept inwith yellow Plasticine, and held enough water for the evening.
If wire netting is used in a table decoration it can be helpful to paint it either white or green, according to the colour of the container and the flowers. I have found white most useful on many occasions, but if a lot of foliage is used green would be less obvious a colour. Small containers, like silver egg cups, do not require anchorage of any kind and this saves a great deal of trouble.
The size of the decoration in relation to the size of the table is also a main consideration. A small table dictates a small arrangement, but with a bigger table there is more scope for variety. It is not always necessary to have one central decoration, and some hostesses have found that two or three small matchingarranged at intervals, either down the centre or towards the corners of the table, make an interesting change. Small porcelain troughs are excellent for this purpose. They do not take up much room or use many flowers and much interest can be achieved by the way in which they are grouped on the table.
One way of making a small decoration larger is by the use of a strip or circle of mirror. The amount of reflection obtained is not great, but it is enough to give an extra emphasis to the flowers.
If length is required, as on a long, fairly narrow refectory type of table, it is wise to remember the importance ofstems into different lengths. Using short flowers towards the centre.
Colour schemes of flowers, candles, containers. Etc., are so personal that I hesitate to make suggestions. They are fun to think out oneself and satisfying when complete.
As we have already said, flowers used for a dining table need not be long lasting, neither do they need to come in any specific size, shape or colour. But there is one restriction, they should not have a strong perfume. The smell of the food should not have to compete with the perfume of heavily scented flowers. Furthermore, a scent which appeals to one person may not do so for another, and the warm atmosphere of a dinner party will bring out the scent even more.
Small flowers are, of course, especially suited to small arrangements, though one or two single large blooms, cut almost -up to the flower so that one can see right into them, also make excellent decorations. One of the most successful of these I have found was a head of giant cow parsley, cut right under the umbel. This was arranged on a flat plate that had been painted black, and showed up the white clusters of the smaller umbels like so many stars.
Violets are invaluable for many reasons. They have a faint, sweet, rather woody smell, which is not likely to offend anyone. They are cheap, and obtainable at almost any time of the year and if they are given a good drink through their heads before(they like being submerged upside down) they will retain a sparkling look throughout the evening, as though they have been sprinkled with dew.
I should now like to discuss briefly larger groups for a buffet or side table or for a dinner party of some size.
One of the best containers for flowers on such an occasion is a dish from an early dessert service with a pedestal, or a glass tazza. The former may have some depth to it and be capable of taking water, if this is the case a great deal of trouble is removed. Otherwise, as in the case of the flat topped tazza, something to hold the water has to be included. A shallow sandwich cake tin is quite suitable for this purpose and may be held firmly in position by covering it with wire netting. This type of pedestal container means that the flowers are seen well above the dishes of food, etc. and by having one or two such arrangements quite a lengthy floral decoration can be achieved.
To sum up, although dining table decorations need not cost a lot of money, or use a lot of flowers, or take up a great deal of time, they require some thought to be successful.