Shells, I think, without question, are some of the most delightful flower containers. They are charming to look at, interesting to arrangein, since they offer so many possibilities of shape and colour, and economical, as they hold only a small amount of material.
First, let us consider their shape and range of colour. Between shells there are obvious differences in shape and texture, some are wrinkled round the edge, others are waved round the edge, others are semi-circular, oval, upright, others again are smooth edged, rough edged, covered in bumps, striped, smooth, glossy, rough etc. But colour is another matter. ‘Shell pink’ in most people’s minds is quite a definite colour, but what is ‘shell-pink’? This might refer to the insides of some shells, which seem to change into different shades of pink as one looks deeper down into them, though not all shells have this particular colouring. When the shell is pale pink or creamy-white it is a suitablefor off-white or pink flowers, such as pinks or roses, especially Carol and the small frilled Grootendorst, and when slightly apricot in colour, they encourage the use of blue-grey foliage, for example rue or lavender, with perhaps two or three small buds of an apricot rose such as the floribundas Alison Wheatcroft or Circus.
Then there are yellow shells with an orange tint. A small cluster of yellow, apricot, off white flowers with just a touch of orange make an excellent toning of colour scheme. Cream roses such as Message (white faintly shaded to cream) with two or three yellow carnations, and their grey-blue foliage, a few yellow and orange ranunculus, or, instead of the roses, creamy yellow polyanthas with some of the deep copper coloured ones to give depth, and a fewof garden ragwort ( laxifolius) are also an attractive decoration.
In a large shell which held a good many, an arrangement with curving branches of copper berberis looked attractive, with blue hydrangeas cut short towards the centre and a few cream coloured carnations. The long open shape of this particular shell was suitable for the finished spreading outline and the deep curves on its lip were admirably placed from which to arrange them. The flowers seemed to fall quite naturally into place.
Shells, especially small ones, make most attractivefor a dining table and can be used to extend an original decoration or to form the whole of a new group, and this can be done by using matching shells, one large one, or four small ones—one at each corner of the central group. If these smaller shells are filled with the same kind of flowers that have been used in the large group, they all link up and form one extended arrangement. In the case of flat round shells, a candle can be placed on the centre of one of these and a holder for flowers may be fixed over the candle, resting on the base of the shell. Flowers can then be arranged on this, spreading out over the flat shell itself, with the candle rising up in the middle. Two, three or four of these, lit up for a dining table, can make a most attractive arrangement.
Small shells can be an integral part of an arrangement, but, like driftwood, etc. should be used with discretion. They must not only be perfect and sparkling but also a suitable shape and in proportion to the main group. It is worthwhile whenever one is anywhere near the sea to look about and make a collection of shells which are not only interesting to look at and a delightful reminder of days spent on the seashore, but which will also produce, when required, something suitable for almost any type of arrangement. One will probably find that certain kinds of shells can only be found on the shores of certain coves. In much the same way different kinds of stones with a particular marking often predominate in just one section of the shore. Stones may not legitimately come under the heading of shells but they do sometimes serve the same purpose as that of additions to a flower arrangement. White ones are especially useful and I have found that in the case of a favourite colour scheme of dark brown and white—perhaps white foxgloves or white tobacco plant against either copper beech or the deep purple-brown prunus arranged on a dark brown dish—a white stone will pick up the white in the group and will show up well in the dish, especially if there is water in it. (The stems might be arranged in a small container on a dish, if it is completely flat, but it is well known that stones look quite different when they are wet and just a small amount of water which even a flat dish will hold may just make that difference.)
The use of shells and stones as additions to an arrangement is not a new idea and takes one back to the days of the Dutch flower paintings when they were often depicted along with caterpillars, cherries, butterflies, and lizards. In one panel painting by Balthasar Van der Ast, there is only a rose, aof lily-of-the-valley, two crocus and a few carnations, but there are quantities of stones and shells. When shells or stones are suitable for arrangements, then it is quite in order to use them. But if they are not suitable, then it is a mistake, and only one’s own taste and judgement can make this decision.