Gardening for flower arrangement

Ideas carried out in the garden, either in the contrast or combination of colours in a border or in the way in which they grow together can often give ideas for using these same colours or plants when they are cut for indoor decoration.

This seems to me to be another excellent reason for visiting gardens that are open to the public, either through the National Trust or for various charities. So often when wandering round such gardens one comes across a bit of planting which arrests the attention.

Perhaps it is a certain clematis climbing into a rose; a sowing of mignonette beside a clump of lamb’s ears (Stachys lanata), white bluebells coming up against forget-me-nots; a good, red polyantha rose against a deep blue delphinium, love-in-a-mist growing close to a cherry-red sweet william; tall spires of wine-red bergamot in a mist of Alchemilla mollis; Euphorbia epithymoides growing near to grape hyacinths.

Then there is the fascination of contrasting shapes in foliage and interest of a tall, spiky iris or gladiolus leaf against rounded bergenia, oval hosta or pointed false fig (Fatsia japonica) leaves.Gardening for flower arrangement

I myself have found certain ideas emerging from gardens of this kind which provided the basis for many other flower arrangements—not just the one which comes to mind immediately. I saw for instance, in at least two or three gardens a white flower planted close to dark, evergreen leaves. In another garden there was a planting of the white form of Cyclamen neapolitanum under a walnut tree, this in turn was interplanted with green leaved forms of ivy which the white flowers showed up before their own leaves put in an appearance, and in yet another garden a white rose, Rosa moschata alba climbing over a well grown dark green holly. (The white cascade through the dark leaves could almost give an impression of a waterfall.) Then again there was the white rose, Rosa filipes clambering through the dark branches of a well established oak, and flaunting long white streamers through the thick foliage of the tree.

All these varied plantings in different gardens lead to the same idea, that of using white with dark green. For flower arrangement this may be interpreted in many ways—snowdrops with ivy leaves, candidum lilies with camellia foliage, Iceberg roses with the shining green oval leaves of laurel, white delphiniums with branches of the evergreen Californian lilac (Ceanothus).

A different idea for using white comes from the grey and white gardens to be seen at Nymans, Sussex, and at Sissinghurst Castle in Kent, England. Here, white is used with grey or silver-grey foliage and this in turn opens up vistas of possibilities, such as white pinks with Helichrysum splendidum or white border carnations with garden ragwort (Senecio laxifolius) or the pure white roses of Virgo or Iceberg with sprays of Senecio cineraria.

Then we come to ideas for using different shades of one colour, sometimes in one flower, as in the planting of gentians.

In one garden there are various clumps of gentians and among the Gentiana sino-ornata and G. acaulis there is also planted a light Cambridge blue strain which is called Drake’s strain. This is followed by the usage of one colour to highlight another as in the case of blue with yellow. The pale yellow of Thalictrum glaucum with certain shades of blue delphiniums is a colour scheme that is worth remembering.Gardening for flower arrangement 2

Such schemes can also be used in a garden if vivid colours are wanted, but perhaps would be more suitable for a flower arrangement (which can, after all, be changed often.) In some gardens, where the softer tones of harmonising colours are preferred, vivid contrasts of planting must be omitted.

One of the most usual arrangements of garden flowers might well be described as the ‘mixed bunch’. There is a great deal of charm about a mixed garden bunch, arranged as naturally as possible. I have often heard it said at flower group meetings and discussions that what really gives the greatest pleasure is a bunch of flowers from the garden arranged as if they were picked in a basket. This does not necessarily mean that it must be a large arrangement, using a great quantity of flowers —far from it. But it does mean that the foliage of the garden is brought into the house and in this way a mixed bunch helps to forge a link between gardening and flower arrangement. It is, after all, almost impossible to cut for the house what is in season without getting to know about such things as habitat, flowering time, lasting qualities, and structure of the plant as a whole. All this is of the greatest value when arranging flowers, because respect for the material becomes more important than a dramatic effect.

This brings us automatically to the question of foliage, and here are one or two selections of leaves for foliage arrangements which it is possible to produce from a garden of no great size and of reasonably small upkeep.

First of all there are rosemary and berberis. These two are valuable and, I should say, essential in any garden. The same could be said of periwinkle, both plain and variegated. For lightness, I choose the ever useful lavender cotton ( Santolina ). Then there are two kinds of hellebore which give excellent contrast of shape whilst the hosta leaves provide a good broad outline at the base of any one arrangement.

An alternative in the way of something solid would be bergenia, the good old-fashioned plant often used in Victorian gardens as a border or edging, and effective when grown in clumps in front of shrubs.

Next come three plants which are rather more special either because as shrubs they are half-hardy or because they are more expensive to buy. These are skimmia, Eucalyptus gunnii and the elegant clearly shaped leaves of Pieris forrestii. The last two are not found growing frequently or very generally in England but once established they will amply reward the trouble or expense spent on them.

Eucalyptus will grow in a fairly exposed garden and is a treasure for flower arrangement. The skimmia provides bright scarlet berries in quantity, which makes it particularly useful at Christmas time. It once was necessary to have two shrubs, male and female, but now there is a new form, Skimmia .foremanii, which provides both.

The Pieris forrestii is a most exciting addition to a garden, producing bright red, new leaves which are both decorative and unusual. These have all the qualities of a poinsettia flower, pointed and fiery red. The flowers themselves are creamy white and hang in clusters, appearing in the spring. This shrub may seem almost too exotic to try in the uncertain climate of England but as long as it is protected from frost in the winter and spring by a packing of straw or bracken, and given lime free soil, it will flourish as well and as heartily as some of the better known hardy shrubs.

Naturally each garden will produce different material, but the fundamentals of an arrangement should be the same : a varied selection of colour, shade and especially of shape. In this way one will have an interesting and economical decoration at any time of the year. During the winter evenings ideas for the introduction of different material, either in the garden or the arrangements, are provided by the countless tempting catalogues prepared for our enjoyment.

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