Developing your philosophy of design

Putting flowers together

in a vase is an intensely pleasurable and personal act, even if you do it in public. It can be called flower arranging or floraldesign, and you may think either phrase pretentious, but what would you
call it? (“Oh,it’s nothing, just a little something I threw together.”) We are taking flowers off of the plants that produced them and putting them into containers in combinations we like,and our language has to express the act somehow.Floral design has often been considered a second-class profession. It is certainly more undervalued economically than any other art form. Flower arranging is not considered a fine art, although what is created is often recreated in paintings and photographs that become inexplicably expensive. Where in the signature of a painting by a Dutch master is the name of the florist who created the bouquet? We might assume the painter created the floral display, but this may not necessarily be true.Floral designers must accept that they are toiling, for the most part, in anonymity.Florists rarely become famous. And yet when a floral display graces a gala event at a gallery or museum, the living beauty of fresh flowers easily upstages static art.You may think it highfalutin to talk about floral design as art, but art it is. A flower arrangement is an intimate, sensual expression of creativity, always meant to be enjoyed by at least two of the senses. A florist in a shop, much more so than any other artist, is forced to produce works of art—using a highly perishable medium—on demand. Florists are performance artists whose creations grow and change and decay,and the entire process must be seen as an evolving continuum of the medium (flowers)in order to be fully appreciated. Learning to create fine art of this type takes time,and learning to appreciate it takes even longer. So if you think I’m talking twaddle,don’t be too hard on yourself.If floral designers have insults heaped upon them by the artistic community, they meet with equal if not greater disrespect among horticulturists. It is an interesting conundrum: many of the world’s renowned gardeners, garden writers, plant explorers,nursery purveyors, and plant collectors scorn florists as horticultural idiots, and yet these same people think that by some divine gift they can cut a few flowers and branches from their famous gardens or nurseries and overwhelm you with their innate ability as flower arrangers. All the while, they have done nothing to the flowers to increase their longevity, enhance their beauty by inventive combination, or enliven their presentation with a container more exciting than a mason jar. Is floral design

so vastly inferior a pursuit that only an ignoramus would do it for a living? Or is it immensely complex and challenging and rewarding and a well-kept secret?Well, I can tell you only this: good gardeners make better florists, and florists who garden create more beautiful bouquets than those who do not. Find the balance. The more you know about plants and the cultivation of them, the better floral designer you can be. Your intuition will become refined, your mind will open to the latent possibilities in any plant, and you will develop a naturalistic style that best enhances any flower. At the same time, learning how each flower and leaf can achieve its greatest longevity will make your bouquets more satisfying.Folks who do not know a daisy from a delphinium and make bouquets with mundane flowers according to preplanned recipes, producing perfect geometric shapes or—heaven forbid—a Hogarth curve (S-shape), are not true and thorough floral designers. I can paint by number, but this does not make me a painter. The other extreme is also true: just because you can create an environment in your garden to grow the most capricious and recalcitrant plant in the world does not mean you know how to put five stems together in a vase and create a pleasing result.But art design is garden design is floral design, and the basic concepts of balance and proportion and color harmony are the same throughout.

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