Throughout changing times, flower arrangements have consistently represented our love for nature and appreciation of life’s beauty. Each vivid creation is a work of art that brings about a lively, pleasant ambiance practically anywhere it’s placed.
But where did flower arrangements begin? Whose idea was it to place flowers together and for what purpose? What did flowers mean to folks in the olden days? How did styles in floral design evolve over time? What caused these changes?
Today, we’ll address all these questions as we get a short but fascinating glimpse into the wonderful history of flower arrangements!
If you want to learn more from a formal course or get certified as an expert on everything related to flowers, we highly recommend looking into professional bodies and colleges in floristry such as the American Institute of Floral Designers of the AIFD (www.aifd.org), the Society of American Florists (www.safnow.org), the American Floral Endowment (www.endowment.org) and other similar organizations offering programs specializing in floristry.
The earliest documented history of flower arrangements goes way back to around 2500-2600 BCE in Ancient Egypt. By examining paintings, sculptures, tomb decorations, and artefacts, historical experts determined that Egyptians were the first to artfully place flowers in a vessel.
They were generally used for festivities and religious ceremonies, as well as to honor the deceased in burials and processions.
Lotus flowers are widely acknowledged as the most important flowers of that era, as Egyptians strongly believed they were sacred to the goddess Isis. In numerous artefacts of Egyptian art, men and women were oftentimes depicted holding lotus flowers in their hands.
Similar attitudes towards the religious values of flowers were found in Ancient China. Confucian, Buddhist, and Taoist believers laid cut flowers on altars. Florists were held in high regard and given great respect. Ancient Chinese art also often featured florals in paintings on their vases and scrolls, needlework on silk, and carvings on bronze and ivory.
Flowers and leaves were also typically placed together based upon what symbolisms they held. Peonies embodied abundance and good fortune, which is why they are famously recognized and celebrated as the ‘king of flowers’. Tiger lilies and orchids signified fertility, while pear and peach trees signified long and bountiful lives.
In Ancient Greece and Rome, on the other hand, flowers were primarily used for lavish decor and adornment in a show of elegance. They weaved blossoms and foliage into wreaths and garlands for merry festivities. Their love of flowers is widely known, since they were often depicted in art and written into mythology.
Wreaths also noted the celebration of victories. In Ancient Greece, they were awarded to champions of the early Olympic games– a tradition that continues to this day.
They also indulged in flair and innovation with flowers. Historians trace the first mixed flower arrangement to Romans from a second century mosaic, portraying different blooms artfully arranged in a basket.
The Byzantines continued the floral design traditions and designs of the Roman empire with specific focus on perfect symmetry and polished compositions. They adopted garland-making, but alternated flowers with fruit and foliage that resulted in twists and curves, making sophisticated tree-like designs.
Gold and jewel tones were popular during this era, closely influenced by the mosaic tiles and art that were prevalent at the time. Famous flowers included carnations, cypress, daisies, and lilies.
After the Roman empire collapsed, there was a major cultural decline in the Middle Ages, which sadly affected floral design. There’s very sparse documentation of what flower arrangements were often used then. Tapestries presented their use for religious purposes in monasteries, as monks were the only ones to continue the art of floristry. It was closely influenced by Oriental style, with most flowers put in Chinese vases.
With the spirited rebirth of culture, knowledge, and society, the admiration for beauty and life in all forms was widespread through Europe during the Renaissance period. Italians were the first to convey their newfound eagerness for creativity in floristry. Full, ornate flower arrangements were mainly featured in festivals and celebrations, as well as common decor for homes and churches.
Renaissance floral design was often concerned with pristine beauty and symmetrical compositions. Vivid and bold color triads were in vogue, crafted with arc, ellipse, and triangle shapes. Influenced by Roman styles, flowers were also commonly paired with different kinds of fruits and vegetables. These arrangements were set in a variety of vessels, from bowls to baskets to vases. But they were all precisely designed to tuck away the stems and only display the blooms.
People of this time also alloted special meanings to flowers, especially religious symbolisms related to love, purity, and virtue. Among the most popular flowers of this period were carnations, daisies, irises, lilies, Lily of the valley, marigolds, roses, and violets.
Wealth, luxury, social graces– these were the defining traits of the Victorian Era. Flower arrangements emerged as a means to show off wealth and good breeding, which means they became exceedingly posh and elaborate. High class homes had ornate vases brimming with exquisite masses of flowers. Ladies were considered refined when they were educated on the art of flower arrangements as part of their training. It was also during this period that floral arrangements were officially taught and studied as a form of art.
Floral design in the Victorian era set itself apart from other periods in that people weren’t interested in harmony, consistency, or color schemes. They were more occupied with how many flowers were in a vase rather than with how they appeared, which means arrangements were often crowded and overflowing.
Vibrant, heavy shades like purples, blues, reds, and browns were in style for floral design. Flowers were usually arranged in a rounded shape, coupled with foliage and herbs for more fragrance and texture. Roses, tulips, carnations, azaleas, daffodils, forget-me-nots, baby’s breath, and lilacs were among the most preferred flowers.
Interest in flower arrangements piqued in the USA during the 1930s, where it was formally recognized to have its own set of practices by the Women’s Garden Club. Classic designs were interested in evenness and symmetry, resulting in clean, harmonious bouquets. They also provided texture and depth, but with a specific pattern that most florists adopted.
Later on, free-style arrangements became more popular. With no set patterns, there was more freedom to try out different color combinations, rhythms, asymmetrical sizes, and plant materials in unique ways. There were more naturalistic arrangements that integrated rocks, branches, and several foliage. Japanese influences were also emphasized in this style, marked by simplicity and openness.
Today, styles in flower arrangements continue to develop into various styles and limitless creativity. They draw inspiration from other eras in design and experiment with different ways to present them with a more modern look. There are flower arranging practices and patterns that remain relevant to this day. But now, there are endless options for floral design that embody everyone’s unique tastes and style!
Photo by Megan Markham