Horizontal, Vertical, Natural, Crescent, or my personal favorite “Formal Linear”…… just a few of the many styles of floral arranging. Like everything else in today’s modern world the “art” of flower arranging has been broken into categories with technical sounding names. Literally dozens , if not hundreds of books have been written on the subject with detailed instructions on “how-to”. However this was not always the case, flower arranging has a long history, much longer than most of us realize.
In fact, the earliest examples of flower
arranging date back to around 2500 BC in ancient Egypt. Highly stylized arrangements (often in vases) were used as table decorations, and during burials. The Egyptians chose flowers based on religious significance and symbolic meaning, for example the water lily was considered sacred to the goddess Isis. Ancient Egyptian carved stone reliefs and painted wall decorations have been uncovered which feature examples of arranged flowers in everyday life.
The ancient Greeks and Romans also enjoyed flowers, however they tended to prefer garlands or wreathes over vases. The wreath was so important to the Greek lifestyle,
books were written on the proper way for wearing them along with the appropriate flowers, foliage, symbolism and styles. Winners of athletic competitions (think….Olympics) in Greece were presented Laurel wreaths (commonly known in your pantry as Bay Leaves). The Romans crowned the commander in a military victory with a Laurel wreath in honor of his triumph. The Romans extensive use of garlands and wreaths gave rise to the need of having a great number of people to make these garlands and wreaths. The garland makers no doubt were also the flower arrangers of the their day. Roses were grown by the acre and for many different purposes, perfumes, oils, jams, and decorations for feasts and festivals being the more prominent uses. As the demand for flowers increased Roman gardeners were cleaver enough to develop areas heated with hot water and with this method large quantities of roses and other flowers were provided all through the year!
Stepping forward in time to approximately 200 BC we can find examples of the Chinese arranging flowers as well as using flowers in medicine and religious practices. They often placed fresh cut flowers in water on alters in their temples and houses.
Even further along the time line starting around 500 AD we find the Byzantine Empire doing it’s part for the art of flower arranging. Arrangements generally featured a cone shaped design in an urn or chalice. Typically flowers used in these flower arrangements included carnations, daisies, lilies, and cypress or pine. Ribbons were also frequently used.
During roughly the same period and a continent away the Japanese were developing Ikebana, which translates as “flowers kept alive” or “living flowers”, the artform was first practiced in Buddhist temples. Early Ikebana emphasized the pointing of flowers and stems toward heaven. This style was called “rikka” or “standing flowers” and different flowers and positions had different symbolic meanings
The Dark Ages were not a good period for flower arranging as the known world underwent a religious change from Pagan to Christianity, which resulted in a more spartan train of thought and life in general. It wasn’t until the end of the first millennium (about 1000 AD) that flower arranging started to show up in Europe. As crusaders returned from the Middle East they often brought back with them new plant species, resulting in European “floral designers” have new varieties to work with. The art of flower arranging really started to roll out during the Italian Renaissance when new styles of flower arranging were developed. By the Middle Ages flower arrangements were fairly commonplace.
For today’ s flower lover things couldn’t be easier with local flower shops in virtually every neighborhood with qualified floral designers . For those wanting to play the role of “do-it-yourself” the internet features hundreds of video explaining flower arranging.