International flower arrangement

Can anything in the world be more international than flowers, trees and flowering shrubs? One has only to turn the pages of horticultural magazines, and see the articles about plant hunting, discoveries, and pioneering, to realise how world wide this interest in plants is.

To support this point one may read some of the lectures given at the Royal Horticultural Society of Great Britain, to articles written for them, or to photographs illustrating one or the other. A lecture on Plant hunting in the Triangle, North Burma by the late F. Kingdon-Ward, 0.B.E., V. M . H., told of the discovery ‘Of rhododendrons, berberis, primulas, lilies, prunus and iris. A written account of plant hunting in New Guinea (further west still and just north of Western Australia) describes the quantities of orchids and rhododendrons to be found there. Then a description of the National Botanic Gardens of South Africa at Kirstenbosch, where there are fig plants or ice marigolds (Mesembryanthemum), spurges, proteas, heaths, treasure flowers (Gazania), dimorphothecas, nerines, gladioli, lilies etc. photographs of another visit, this time in spring show drifts of the arum lily growing wild in the fields as well as many brightly coloured treasure fl3wers and Cape cowslips (Lachenalia).

Another account, this time about the Himalayas, Tibet and China, and the plants to be found there, which include anemones, asters, columbines (Aquilegia), bergenias, cainpanulas, orchids, gentians, delphiniums, spurges, flea-bane (Erigeron) and geums. (This is only part of the list.) Admiral and Mrs. Furse penetrated into Iran and Afghanistan and found not only rare plants of all kinds, including brightly coloured tulips, tall fox-tail lilies (Eremurus), varieties of lilies, but also the familiar wayside flowers such as clover and St. John’s worts, vetches and peas, stinging nettles, thistles and members of the hedge-parsley (Umbelliferae) family.australian flower arrangement

Going on with this round-the-world tour. Keukenhof, in Holland, comes next and here, as one would expect, one is told about the bulbs—the carpets of daffodils, tulips, grape hyacinths, and late jonquils, which have all been heralded into flower by plantings of crocus. (The grape hyacinths are planted so extensively that in the distance they look like a sheet of water.) North America is the country now. Here various botanical gardens have been visited, they include the Morton Arboretum in Illinois, (especially famous for lilacs), the Niagara Falls Parks (which extend for thirty five miles and which produce wonderful examples of magnolias, maples and lilacs, the Royal Botanical Gardens at Hamilton where there is a newish and large rock garden, the New York Botanical Garden containing over 4,000 woody plants along the Hudson river, and the Morris Arboretum at Philadelphia where there are wayfaring trees (Viburnum) witch hazels (Hamamelis), magnolias, lilacs and azaleas.

Many of us tend to connect gentians and blue moon wort (Soldanellas) with Switzerland; wisterias and oleanders with the Dordogne and the South of France; bear’s breeches (Acanthus), myrtles and Jerusalem sage (Phlomis) with the Greek Islands; sheets of poppies streaking across the golden cornfields of Normandy ; bird of paradise flower (Stretlitzias) and eucalyptus with Australia, and so on. But when you realise that eucalyptus groves flourish in the Western Highlands of Scotland, that camellias and rhododendrons thrive in the west of Ireland as well as in the west of England, that lilies from Tibet, gentians from Austria and Switzerland grow happily in gardens all over Western Europe, and that almost all these plants are grown in different areas in America, there can be no doubt about the universality of flowers.

But there are noticeable differences in the flower arrangements of various countries, depending to an extent on the flora of that country, as well as the way of life. This is what makes the spirit of international flower arrangements alive and worthwhile.

Books of typical flower arrangements from each country are fascinating for they show not only the types of local arrangement but also the flowers and foliage used.

For instance, Japanese flower arrangement is known for its simplicity of style and emphasis on ontline, and these two characteristics shine out from every page. First there is an arum lily, with curved branches of broom, or three chrysanthemums with camellia foliage. Then a different kind of arrangement showing plum blossom in a hanging bamboo basket and followed by yet another type—iris standing in a shallow trough of water with bamboo. This typifies the Japanese love of showing plants as they grow. This is the essence of good flower arrangement—to be characteristic, to use the locally grown flowers and to make the most of them. (The same principles apply to good architecture.) Therefore, in England one expects and hopes to see garden flowers arranged as naturally as possible, whereas in America, there are so many different influences at work, (this is because some parts of America are much influenced by Japanese and Chinese ideas, and some show a strong Mexican influence.) New England, for example, is similar in many ways to Great Britain, where its trees and flowers are concerned and many flowers are common to both but there are other parts of America with a totally different flora and so there is a greater variety of taste and less chance of something emerging which epitomises the United States of America as a whole.

In Holland and Belgium the love of flowers has always been pre-eminent, (the great flower paintings of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries bear witness to this,) and contemporary flower arrangements in these countries often still show the influence of paintings of Van Huysum, Van Brussel and Jan Van Os.south african flower arrangement

French, Italian and Spanish flower decorations are inclined to depend on the use of brightly coloured flowers interspersed with pot plants, whilst the Scandinavian countries are well known for their use of indoor plants and gardens. Australian flower arrangements often include bamboo flowers and foliage of bird of paradise flower and curled banana leaf. (The first two materials, though not typical, are sometimes used in England and can be most dramatic for certain kinds of arrangement.)

I should now like to mention an occasion which illustrates the international aspects of flower arrangement. The home of the Marquess of Bath (Wiltshire, England) was decorated for an exhibition in October 2003, in aid of the Royal Commonwealth Society for the Blind. The arrangements were carried out by thirty four West of England floral arrangement societies. One of the leading arrangers described the arrival from various countries of some of the flowers used in the decorations. ‘It was terribly touching’, she said, in the shipment of anthuriums, toy balloons were filled with water and fixed on to the stems with rubber bands, then covered with gauze and each stem was wrapped in cotton wool. The orchids from Ceylon came in little test tubes and the swamp orchids from Uganda were packed in banana leaves. Talk about the biggest aspidistra in the world—you ought to have seen those banana leaves. They were as big as the boxes’. Seventeen Commonwealth countries had contributed flowers, and one arrangement was made up of buds from Ceylon, Nigeria, Trinidad, Australia, Singapore, Saint Vincent, and Granada’. (The Illustrated London News—October 2, 1999.)

Flower arrangement is undoubtedly an international and a universal link and so it cannot be too much to hope that it may help to promote understanding between the countries of the world. There are small instances of this happening which give one encouragement. For instance, in this country there are gardens open to the public and many of the visitors are from abroad. And a contingent of Florentine gardeners are coming over specifically to visit the Chelsea Flower Show and are being entertained by various groups of people who in their turn, will probably visit some of the gardens and flower shows in Florence in other years. Within the last three years “The Garden History Society” has been established in Great Britain with members from many other countries.

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