Line Flower Arranging

I once knew someone living in the country who was fortunate enough to have a small orchard as part of her garden. Not only was it beautiful with the blossoms of the pear, cherry and apple trees in it when they were in season, but during March and the beginning of April, clumps of daffodils and narcissi burst into flower under the still bare branches of the fruit trees. Inspired by the sight of so much spring colour she would cut great bunches of flowers for the house.

But she would never take any trouble about arranging these flowers, being inclined to regard the whole business as ‘too much fuss’. Then one day she remarked to me how delighted she was with a new idea she had invented. ‘I cut the narcissus stems to different lengths and the flowers really look much better and show up properly’, she said, rather surprised.

These particular flowers are, to my mind, some of the most difficult to arrange, and, of course, they benefited from being seen at separate levels rather than all being at the same height. This principle applies to other flowers too, and simple though it is, it makes all the difference to the final effect.

Another reason for varying the length of stem is that a small amount of material will go farther.

Take, for instance, a bunch of cornflowers Line Flower Arrangingbought in a shop. Just a small bunch will go much farther and give a broader effect if the stems are cut to different lengths, quite apart from the fact that each flower benefits from being seen separately.

Varied cutting of the stems gives not only width but also depth to the group if those placed towards the centre are cut much shorter than the outside ones. If some are cut almost to the flower this should help produce the in-and-out effect which is so necessary when arranging a quantity of the same kind of flower.

This fact also applies to naturally tall flowers such as gladioli or chrysanthemums. Try cutting some of the stalks much shorter than their full length—in this way one avoids having an array of thin stems with a uniform line of rather top heavy flowers. Other flowers which seem to me to benefit from this kind of cutting are golden rod, tall campanulas, Achillea The Pearl, delphiniums and Michaelmas daisies.

The most important reason why one ought to cut the stems at different lengths is to achieve a good ‘line’. (In England we have possibly been much more concerned with colour than line, although the comparatively recent interest in Japanese flower work has awakened us to the importance of this factor.)

A good line arrangement can be difficult to achieve, for it has to have a certain kind of background and position, otherwise it will be completely wasted. Basically it needs, I think, a great deal of patience and skill in selecting material. To my mind, a natural arrangement, typical of an English garden, is difficult to improve on, but it must be based on a skeleton outline that is essentially good. One could liken the necessity for a good skeleton outline to the necessity for good draughtsmanship in a painting or good structure in the erection of a new building.

Correct judgement is important when cutting the stems. If one or two cornflowers are cut too short they can easily be replenished. But if you have only five roses, or three carnations, and they cannot be replaced from the garden, or are too expensive to buy, then it is most important not to make a mistake. It is always better to cut too little rather than too much. I personally find it most helpful to hold the flower in position against the arrangement before cutting it.Line Flower Arranging 2

Like every art, flower arrangement has certain rules, and the ones connected with line are very basic ones. Here is a short summary of them :

  • The stalks must come from a central point and not cross each other, thus giving the effect that the flowers are still growing. They must all spring from the same base, wherever it happens to be in the arrangement (i.e. if it is a central arrangement. They will spring from the centre). If, as in some long, flat dishes, there are two separate groups of flowers or branches, they must be arranged as two distinct arrangements, with the stalks emerging from a central base in each one.
  • An uneven number of flowers should be used whenever possible.
  • The stalks should be cut in different lengths.
  • The height of the arrangement should be about one and a half times the height of the container, except where a very wide base gives added balance.
  • Heavy flowers should never be used towards the edge of an arrangement. They should be used towards the centre, and not in a straight line one above another.
  • Flowers should be seen separately, except, perhaps, in an all round arrangement where this may be impossible.

The general effect when finished should be as natural as possible, and there should be no need to contort branches or to strive after dramatic appeal. (A stylised effect can sometimes be interesting, but very soon looks contrived and artificial.)

These are all very simple, uncomplicated rules, which will come so naturally after a time that one will not need to think about them consciously. Like most rules they can, and should, sometimes be broken—all except numbers 1 and 3. I have found myself using an even number of flowers on one occasion, which seemed to look right (but I think this very seldom happens). I have, also, seen a rather dumpy arrangement of heavy flowers look effective in a tall container. (There is the still life by Chardin where a tight bunch is arranged in a tall, thin vase, and, of course, looks perfect). On the other hand, I have never seen crossed stalks look quite right, or flowers and branches cut exactly the same height.

It is important that rules are not misused, otherwise stereotyped results could well result. Rules are there for the guidance and development of personal style and taste, rather than their eradication. It is the ‘line’ in a group which is the sole creation of the arranger and as such should be expressive and characteristic of the individual. This can never be culled from all the flower books in the world.

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