White Flower Arrangements

White flowers are no longer thought of purely in terms of weddings or funerals, nowadays, in fact, coloured flowers are often ordered for both these occasions. But there is no doubt that a white arrangement seems to have a certain distinction of its own which in some mysterious way is denied to other colour schemes.

Apart from aesthetic reasons the usual preferences for white is this—a white arrangement goes with any colour scheme in any surroundings and with any background. This means that a certain economy can be practised at a time when flowers are scarce and expensive, for a white arrangement can be moved from room to room with confidence.

A white group almost always gives a cool effect, and white flowers mixed with fresh green foliage can be as refreshing to the eye on a hot summer’s day as a cool drink is to the palate. Think of Madonna lilies, or the single white moon-daisies, of lilies-of-the-valley, or Iceberg roses — all give an impression of stillness, calm and serenity, but one must remember that they might tend to give a chilling effect on a cold day in a room without sunlight.

If white flowers are small they give a feeling of lightness and, in the case of Queen Anne’s lace and the single philadelphus, have an almost fairylike quality. White Flower Arrangements

What about white flowers with green, grey or yellow foliage? Solomon’s seal (one of the most enchanting of all green plants suitable for flower arrangement) arranged with other white flowers immediately turns the colour scheme into a striking green and white one. The addition of a grey, like lamb’s ears ( Stachys lanata), garden ragwort ( Senecio laxifolius or Cineraria maritima) is most effective and there is something appealing, I think, about white roses with immortelle, or the spiky curry plant (Artemesia) with white sweet peas. The foliage of Con volvulvus cneorum is dark grey green and goes most attractively with white bluebells or white campanulas. Finally a yellow green colour such as the tight buds of meadow sweet (before the flower begins to open) is immensely pleasing.

Numerous white flowers exist, from rare lilies and old roses to herbaceous plants and wild flowers. Here is a list of some of them, which includes now and again a variegated leaf, only if it is a green and white one : —

  • Anaphalis
  • Mock orange (Philadelphus)
  • Aster
  • Myrtle ( Myrtus)
  • Broom (Cytisus albus)
  • Mullein (Verbascum)
  • Californian tree poppy (Romneya coulteri)
  • Ox-eye daisy
  • Christmas rose (Helleborus niger)
  • Peony
  • Chrysanthemum
  • Phlox
  • Clematis (e.g. C. armandii, Pieris floribunda, C. montana)
  • Plantain lily (Hosta)
  • Columbine (Aquilegia)
  • Plume poppy (Macleaya)
  • Everlasting pea
  • Privet ( Ligustrum)
  • Fox-tail lily (Eremurus)
  • Rhododendron
  • Guelder rose ( Viburnum opulus roseum)
  • Russian vine (Polygonum baldschuanicum)
  • Gypsophila
  • Snapdragon (Antirrhinum)
  • Honeysuckle (Lonicera)
  • Solomon’s seal
  • Horse chestnut
  • Star of Bethlehem
  • Iris (Ornithogalum)
  • Lilac ( Syringa)
  • Summer flowering jasmine (Jasminum officinale)
  • Lily (e.g. L.regale, L. candidum, L. auratum)
  • Tobacco plant ( Nicotiana)
  • Magnolia
  • Marguerite (Chrysanthemum frutescens)

There was a time, known as the ‘white period’ when white flowers on their own, or with only a few leaves, were the fashion. Cecil Beaton describes this in his book The Glass of Fashion:

‘Those who had white rooms considered white flowers a desideratum. The craze for pristine whiteness became so exaggerated that even the green leaves had to be peeled off the branches of white lilacs and peonies. This stripping process, though a lengthy one, produced its surprising metamorphoses, and a bunch of syringa denuded of its leaves became something finely carved out of Japanese ivory’.

Another fashion of a more recent date and of rather a different kind, has been the vogue for the white vase. Whether this does, in fact, derive from the ‘white period’ already mentioned is difficult to decide, but it is true that the vogue for white was not, at that time of the early twenties, confined to flowers.

Even before these years, Mrs. Earle, author of Pot-Pourri from a Surrey Garden advocated the use of white paint in houses for bookcases, panelling and woodwork. This must have been something of a revolution at the time, as a great niece of hers remembers the interest she aroused and how unusual it was. Much later Mrs. Constance Spry recommended giving the walls of a sitting room, coats and coats of whitewash to make a good background for flower arrangements. She first noticed this idea carried out in Tunisia and ‘saw afresh the beauty of flowers set against whitewashed walls.. .. it certainly gives full and true value to every flower and leaf set against it’. ( Flowers in House and Garden).

In exactly the same way a white container makes an effective background for most flowers and it is also a way of introducing white into an arrangement. There is an extra emphasis if white flowers are arranged in a white container. A very special and subtle effect is obtained.

Although white flowers are no longer connected only with weddings, they are, nevertheless, of great value on these occasions. The bride is often dressed in white and likes to carry white flowers, and some of the decorations will probably be carried out partly in white, although their chief colouring may be that of the bridesmaid’s dresses.

White Flower Arrangements For Winter

Flowers available during winter months vary according to the climate and the country where one lives. The problem is which flowers will survive the heating, whether it be a wood fire with flames leaping up from cheery logs into the wide recesses of an early cottage chimney, coal burning in a neat modern grate, oil stove heating, or the less dramatic but possibly more effective means of central heating.

White Flower Arrangements For Winter

It seems to me that the two most obvious solutions are: The use of foliage and/or chrysanthemums, and dried flower arrangements. Now I shall suggest ideas for typical winter arrangements, using evergreens, a few flowers, early branches of fruit trees, berries, pressed or preserved leaves and a few house plants which can also be useful for cutting.

The most important thing is to have as large a selection of the above mentioned material as possible in your garden. It is often just a question of making the most use of a small space. Periwinkle with its shining dark or variegated leaves, will grow on most shaded banks, and the dramatic Christmas and Lenten roses will produce their magnificent foliage almost all year round, demanding only a cool place for their roots and not too much sun on the bed. Then there is variegated holly—with a dark leaf like laurel or camellia—a wonderful contrast. Golden privet is another possibility for most of the year and Portugal laurel always has branches of beautifully pointed dark leaves.

Rosemary and garden ragwort go bravely into the frosty weather, as do Garrya elliptica with its grey green catkins, and Pieris japonica whose leaves grow in fan like clusters with racemes of white flowers. These will add interest and give variety of shapes and colours. Also very useful are bergenia and bay which take up very little room.

In the shops one can buy eucalyptus, and silk-bark oak (Grevillea), branches of pussy willow, bunches of pittosporum, laurel, yew and box. The two most important things to remember about this particular material are that the tips of the branches must be split open or smashed to allow a greater intake of water, and the water supply must be kept up well.

The contrast of one kind of foliage against another, either in colour, texture, or shape, can give interesting outline material. Arrange, for example, two or three short sprays of dark camellia foliage with branches of golden privet, or some long thin branches of broom with either three or four fat leaves of bergenia towards the centre of a group or with clusters of hydrangea foliage. Garden ragwort rather solid and velvety, and rosemary, grey green with an etched outline, show up well against copper beech, (if the copper beech leaves have not fallen) or the brown of beech leaves which have been preserved in equal parts of glycerine and water.

It is possible to collect as many as fifteen different types of dried material during one summer from quite a small garden. (The only exceptions are the great reed which comes from dykes — it grows abundantly in any flat area, especially in Cambridgeshire and Romney Marsh and East Anglia — eucalyptus and the yellow cud-weed (Gnaphalium). Cud-weed is usually grown in France and imported. Sometimes it is bleached and sometimes it is dyed but yellow is the natural colour.)

One finds that there are some misconceptions about dried flowers as a whole. First of all, it is said they are only suitable for certain positions in the house and for a definite period of time in the year i.e. winter. Secondly, that they are not as suitable for table decorations as for a large group, and that certainly one should not have too many of these arrangements about at once.

In defence of dried flowers I should like to say that they are excellent in November and towards Christmas time and that they come in most attracfive and interesting soft shades. But I would suggest that they should never be arranged in groups of over a dozen of one kind (the variety of seedheads and flowers is part of their charm). Ferns and bracken are especially suitable for wall brackets on account of their beautiful outlines and almost paper like flatness, here they can be seen to their best advantage. However, I have seen them used most successfully in a large vase as a background to hydrangeas of various colours. Sprays of crimson and wine Virginian creeper may add interest and colour to a dried group.

Dried flowers will also decorate a large corner or fill up a gap in a hall or on a landing at a time of year when fresh material would be either expensive or almost impossible to procure. They do not flinch under the sometimes stuffy conditions of central heating, and they can be easily packed away, to be brought out the next year looking as fresh as eyer. (Anything which has crumpled can be replaced by a newly dried spray, perhaps of delphinium or larkspur, Which will at once give a new look to the whole group.)

Then there is the material which has been dried off by allowing it to drink up quantities of water and glycerine. This may include branches of bronzed beech, leaves of Persian iron wood ( Parrotia persica) in a rich chocolate brown, and bear’s breeches (Acanthus) flowers, hydrangeas, wild rose foliage, eucalyptus (which may go a deep wine colour) and sweet chestnut. Poppy heads may also be dried off in this way as an alternative to the usual drying in a warm room or cupboard, with varying results, some of them interesting.

In conclusion, I feel that with a little forethought during the summer and autumn, and with the help of one or two valuable evergreens, it is possible to produce at least one large decorative arrangement at little cost to last through the winter.

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