Introduction to the book
Floral Style


Flowers engage our senses, evoke strong feelings in our hearts, and connect our spirit with the natural world in a pure, profound way. We see their beauty, smell the fragrance, touch the delicate blossoms. Then the flower wilts, withers, and is gone. Their ephemeral nature makes the gift of flowers all the more precious. We sense our own divinity and our own mortality in the company of flowers.

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Baskets harmonize with most species of flowers, though they must have a water container and a block of floral foam. This arrangement is well-suited to its rustic container. Flowers and photo by Vena Lefferts.

People love to work with flowers because of their dual nature: they are transcendent, but they are also very real. Everyone has favorite memories of walking through a garden or field, surrounded by exquisite beauty, and choosing flowers to bring to a friend, or to take home to place in a vase. Do you remember being in an overgrown cutting garden, ever in your life? Flowers face-high on all sides, soft sunlight, buzz of insects. The blossoms press into the pathway, you turn around, petals and leaves brushing your skin, your perception of reality takes a shift, the moment is truly rapturous. Then it's back to earth, cut some flowers, and leave the garden.

Floral design is one art form that people understand, appreciate, and value. A beautiful arrangement brings joy and meaning into people's lives. A floral gift is appropriate for any occasion, and always welcome.

Most beginning designers have an innocent and spontaneous approach to creating an arrangement. They make wonderfully loose arrangements without being drawn to a predefined shape or line, a refreshing contrast to the work of a practiced, and possibly more reserved, eye. In fact, professional designers often achieve design liberation by relaxing the "rules," by stretching traditions, and by abandoning habits.

Don't be afraid that you don't know how to begin, or that you aren't sure what looks best. Trust your own instincts. When an arrangement pleases you, it will please other people as well.

If you are confident of your ability to design a traditional mounded centerpiece with carnations and baby's breath, try designing a contemporary floral arrangement with tropical exotics, or creating a large arrangement with unusual varieties of flowers or using an unusual container. The sheer adventure of trying something new is what will stretch your creativity. Try to begin with all of the innocence of a child who knows nothing, then try again--you can use the same flowers--with all of the intellectual aspects of design in mind. See which approach you prefer. It might depend on how you're feeling today. In a group, if ten different people use the same materials to make an arrangement, they will create ten different results.

You begin to interpret the flowers when you choose which ones to cut or buy. These decisions go beyond choosing fresh stems with blooms of the right color. If you know who the arrangement is for, what is the occasion, and where it will be placed, you know the context of the arrangement. You have a place in that context, so your feelings about the recipient can direct you to the most appropriate flowers.

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Radiant spikes of pink larkspur burst forth from this charming arrangement of lilies, roses, limonium, lisianthus, and waxflowers. The clear glass ginger jar, an essential accessory for the floral stylist, gives shape to the arrangement without jangling its subtle palette of colors. Flowers by Vena Lefferts. Photo by Maureen DeFries.

Just as often, you may buy a gorgeous bouquet on impulse, then wonder what to do with it. One good response is to find a vase and place the flowers on the dining room table or the kitchen counter, or anywhere else it will give you pleasure. Another is to present them to a friend, just because. Floral gestures like these resonate through the fabric of daily life.

The process of conditioning the flowers not only prepares them for the longest possible vase life, it also puts you into close contact with your material. The plan of the arrangement thus begins to form, somewhere below the level of conscious thought, before the placement of a single flower. With experience, you become able to bring this aspect of style into focus. You can see the arrangement in the bunches of cut flowers. You know without thinking about it what kind of container will work best.

Arranging the flowers in the container can be an analytical process, or an emotional one, or an experience that intertwines both thought and feelings. It's very helpful to study the elements of design and to learn how these ideas about form, line, and color apply to flowers. However, whenever you are not sure how to proceed, always go with what feels best to you.

When you arrange flowers for your family and your friends, you have a luxury that professional designers cannot afford. You can take all of the flowers out of the vase and start over. You can hunt up a better vase, and give the arrangement a different shape. You can go back to the garden or the market for more snapdragons, or for roses of yet another hue, or for the expensive, out-of-season tulips you resisted in the first place. You can experiment and play.

You may choose to hire a professional floral designer for some special occasion needs, or even for casual everyday arrangements, but even then you need to be able to express what you want. The more information the designer has the better the finished result. Informal, casual arrangements can be kept simple enough to grace your home every day. A varied selection of cut flowers and foliage will enhance your environment and your life in inexplicable ways. Flowers on the dining table or breakfast nook brighten mealtimes, and you can fuss with them whenever you like.

When you begin to work with the flowers, your eyes delight in the lovely colors and shapes, you feel their softness on your skin, you smell and taste their fragrance. And you respond to their beauty, intellectually and emotionally. Now you trim the stems and arrange them to make the most of the beauty that you sense. You interpret the flowers in the choices you make--and what you do is always different from what anyone else would do. This is your own sense of floral style. This book can help you gain access to it, and may inspire you to express it. Your deepening relationship with the flowers can forever change your life.


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The bride and groom said their vows under this floral arch of Dutch hybrid delphinium,
Osiana roses, and long vines of ivy. Flowers and photo by Vena Lefferts.

Return to Floral Style (the book),
the Contents page
or to the HLLA Reference Library.

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