History of flower arrangement

It is known that there was an interest in flowers and plants as far back as 3,500 B.C., and that wreaths were made in the Sumerian kingdom, that carvings of the lotus flower have been found in Egyptian tombs dating from about 2,400 B.C. And garlands of flowers (consisting of the compositae family) in tombs at Thebes dating from about 1,500 B.C. These are the early beginnings and background of flower arrangement, but the actual development seems to hang on the fancy of a dream.

In A.D. 61 the Emperer of China, Ming-ti, because of a dream that he had one night, sent two messengers to India to collect books and bring back teachers of Buddhism. As a result, Buddhism spread from India into China, and from there to Japan by way of Korea. (Few dreams can claim such realisation.) So it was that in Japan certain Chinese Buddhist priests were responsible for the first teaching of flower arrangement.

The same Buddhist doctrine which forbad the wanton sacrifice of life is said to have suggested the prolonging of life in flowers. By cutting and bringing them into their cool temples and then putting them into containers of water, the monks preserved the life of the flowers which, otherwise, would probably have died in a day owing to the intense heat of the climate. The Buddhist priests whilst being faithful to their rules of conduct were, at the same time, laying the foundations of flower arrangement, knowingly or unknowingly.history of flower arranging sumerians

The early style of arrangements was free and flowing, without any artificial bending and twisting branches or fixing of blossoms. As has always been the case in Japanese arrangements, foliage was given importance and ‘attention was paid to the bends and curves of leaves so as to reveal their front and back surfaces in a well balanced contrast’.

But it was one of the first and most important developments of flower arrangement — flowers were deliberately being put into vases for decoration.

There was then a pause and little development occurred beyond the original ideas of nearly a thousand years before.

So we can see that the various schools of Japanese floral art did not develop rapidly. Progress did not occur until, in fact, the fifteenth century when the Tea Ceremony was inaugurated. Sir J. Condor says: ‘It was mainly with the object of contributing to the Tea Ceremonial that the first modifications in the flower art took place, and the chief reformers were the CHAJIN, or Professors of Tea’. The reign of Yoshimasa (1436-1490) was a period of cultural awakening and as the scroll picture and the flower arrangement were the only ornaments in a Japanese room, there came about a renewed interest and study of this art. Mary Averill in her book Japanese Flower Arrangement says: `Yoshimasa finally abdicated the throne in order to devote his time to the fine arts. It was he who said that flowers offered on all ceremonial occasions and placed as offerings before the gods should not be offered loosely, but should represent time and thought. Rules then began to be formulated’.

victorian flower arrangment

In England the first record of flower arrangement is to be seen in the painting by Holbein (about 1530) of ‘The Household of Sir Thomas More’, which contains three large vases filled with flowers. Later, in the 1633 edition of Gerard’s `Herball’ the title page is decorated with bouquets of flowers. Then came John Ray the pioneer of modern botany with his ‘History of Plants’ in 1665. (In China in 1688 a book was published, written by a retired government official who had apparently taken up gardening late in life. This included a chapter about cutting and arranging flowers, with suggestions on how to make them last well.)

Thomas Fairchild in 1722 wrote: ‘I find that most persons whose business requires them to be constantly in town, will have something of a garden at any rate’. He also mentioned several of the flowering trees and shrubs then to be found growing in London — syringa, guelder rose, and lilac in Soho Square; a vine bearing good grapes in Leicester Fields; figs in Chancery Lane; lily of the valley at the back of Guild Hall. Fairchild, as well as writing The City Gardener, was a member of The Society of Gardeners, (this was a society which met at Newhall’s Coffee House in Chelsea every month for five or six years. Each member brought plants of his own growing and the names and ascriptions were registered).

Later in Samuel Richardson’s popular novel Pamela published in 1740, there is a reference to flowers in the house. ‘I beseech you to stick me into some posy among your finer flowers — and if you won’t put me into your bosom, let me stand in some gay flowerpot in your chimney-corner’. In 1745 some of the first wall brackets for flowers were made, and designed often in the shape of shells or cornucopias.

Towards the beginning of the nineteenth century, flower arrangement was probably stimulated not only by the appearance of vases being specifically made to hold flowers, or by the more scientific heating and ventilation of houses, but also by the number of new flowering shrubs and plants being brought back to England by explorers. The first plant of wisteria came from China in 1818, and David Douglas, according to Alicia Amherst’s A History of Gardening in England, sent clarkias, blanket flowers (Gaillardia), godetias, beard tongues ( Penstemon), Californian poppies, ( Eschscholzia) and lupins from North America and California in the 1830’s.

Edward Sayers, writing in the American Flower Garden Companion in 1838 says that ‘it is now an almost universal practice to have cut flowers in rooms as natural ornaments’, adding ‘some hints relative to the management of them perhaps be of service to their fair patrons’. He suggests methods for prolonging the lives of various flowers, mentioning points still suggested today. He describes one of these in graphic terms — trimming an inch off the stems which have become ‘closed with glutinous matter that had exuded from the stem when first cut’.

From now on various magazines on both sides of the Atlantic took up this latest craze with equal energy. In America Godey’s Lady’s Book was eagerly awaited month by month for details of how to care for flowers, which ones to grow and how to make fancy embroidery as a supplementary adornment with vases of cut flowers. Cassell’s Household Guide in this country did much the same and Mrs. Beeton’s Cookery Book carried on the good work in the matter of table decorations suitable to her groaning dining tables. ‘Take two dozen eggs’ meant to cookery what six dozen carnations meant to flower decoration, and ‘enough was never as good as a feast’. The Victorians wanted more and more, both in delectable dishes and in the numbers of flower vases filled to overflowing with greenery and flowers from their recently constructed greenhouses.

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