During a wedding consultation, the bride tells you she is going to be wearing something as extravagant as her Grandmother’s victorian style gown in most cases. A florist has to be thoughtful when selecting which flowers to select and which style of bouquet you would suggest she carry in her wedding. In order to be successful in today’s field of custom flower bouquet composition, florists must be knowledgeable about the history of floral art. A deeper understanding of the history and significance of each particular type of flower allows these custom florists to create the most attractive and appropriate designs possible for their clients.
Since the beginning of history, humans have always shown an appreciation for nature and the beauty it holds. Different cultural and historical traditions and ceremonies have involved the use of flowers for decoration, adornment, or symbolism. Each distinct historical period of floral design has influenced and contributed to the contemporary floral design styles we see today. Over two million years ago, the cave people depicted different types of flowers and plants on the walls of their caves.
The appreciation of flowers and natures beauty remained a part of human nature as different civilizations emerged, and the Ancient Egyptians were one of the many civilizations to frequently use flowers and floral arrangements. In 2800 B.C., the Ancient Egyptians began using flowers for a variety of reasons. They were given as offerings during religious ceremonies and burials. Floral bouquets paired with a traditional Egyptian vase became a popular gift to show appreciation or congratulations. The Egyptians also wove flowers, fruit, and foliage into decorative robes, wreaths, and garlands. Chaplets, a smaller version of a wreath, was commonly worn on the head of leaders and highly ranked officials. Some of the most popular flowers found in the Nile River Valley were iris, gladiolus, rose, lily, and their sacred lotus stems. Many of these flowers are still very popular in today’s contemporary custom floral bouquet market.
The Greeks and Romans were highly influenced by the practices of floral gifts more than any other civilization before them, and this cultural influence permeated into their floral decoration. The Greeks and Romans all used flowers at religious and civil events to honor their gods, heroes, and ancestors. During festivals and celebrations, the Greeks would arrange flowers and fruits in an upright cornucopia instead of a vase and would give these to people as gifts. Today, the cornucopia is a well known symbol for abundance and well being. The Greeks and Romans valued the diversity of flowers, for their different shapes, sizes, and colors all held different meanings.
European culture has had one of the most profound impacts on modern floral art and design. Over the centuries, different European cultures have employed different styles and techniques to arrange and display their floral arrangements. During the Middle Ages, the only reference to floral design is in Persian art. Paintings depict floral arrangements displayed in intricate porcelain vases imported from Asia at the end of the Silk Road period. These paintings and the vases within them are decorated in a very naturalistic style, depicting various types of foliages, florals, and wildlife.
A thousand years later, the Renaissance period brought forward a burst of floral influence into European society. The Renaissance is known as a time of rebirth and change, and during this time period, passions for gardening spread from Italy to other European countries. People began cutting flowers and arranging them for every day events instead of only for religious ceremonies of celebratory festivals. Many of the symbolic gestures we use flowers for today came from this time period. People would often give roses to show love, while they would give white lilies to symbolize purity at weddings. Design styles during the Renaissance period ranged from a single stem rose in a slender vase to massive symmetrical arrangements displayed in urns.
The Victorian Era is when things really began to take a turn for the individuals in the floral design business. It was not until this period that florists were recognized as artistic professionals and began to receive more recognition. The Victorian Era is also known as the Romantic Era, and is distinguished by two different floral design styles. The first design style consisted of large, compact, and busy masses of flowers arranged in decorative vases with intricate designs. The second style was popularly given on informal occasions and was simple and lightly arranged. The overall feel of these Victorian Era bouquets is very stuffed and busy, often without a specific focal point or center. Victorian florists started the addition of different foliage to the bouquets to add texture, depth, and variety. The foliages developed their own significance and meaning, just like the different types of flowers centuries before.
Various Asian cultures have been very influential in floral design, especially Japanese techniques. The Japanese art of floral design known as Ikebana began in 1470 A.D. and adheres to a strict set of rules when it comes to bouquet construction and style. Traditional Ikebana aims to use flowers and plants in the way they appear in nature. The Ikebana design placement features three main line placements. The first line is called “shin” and represents heaven. The second is called “soe” and represents the human race. The third and final line placement is called “hikae” and represents the earth and all its beauty. The Ikebana design aims to emphasize the positive and negative spaces between the three aligning elements in the arrangements, and this technique has been highly influential in contemporary design techniques.
Fast forward about five hundred years to the colonization of the Americas. The new American colonists had very little time for the decorative arts when they first arrived. Once the colonizers had dominated the natural resources of the Americas, floral arrangements became a popular centerpiece in the colonizer’s homes. The design style used by the American colonists was greatly influenced by the European styles, especially the techniques from the Victorian era. The bouquets displayed in homes were often composed of wildflowers and indiginous foliage, giving off a whimsical feel. It was not until World War II that a distinctive American floral design style began to evolve. The style was influenced by both the European styles to the east and the Japanese Ikebana style to the west.
Flower arrangements and floral designs have played important roles in cultural and personal decoration and enjoyment throughout the centuries. Today, people include floral arrangements in a wide variety of daily activities and locations. The legacies of civilizations’ past live on as floral arrangements play a role in different cultural celebrations and religious events. The history of floral design reveals the various cultural and historical influences that have shaped the contemporary floral design world. When a modern-day custom florist is well versed in the history of floral design, they are able to make educated and thoughtful decisions when it comes to how to best meet their client’s needs. Professional custom florists must be knowledgeable of the past while staying up to date with current trends to be more creative and professional. The combination of this knowledge and creativity will allow our modern-day florists to continue to influence and change the floral design world.