The art of arranging blooms, branches, and other ephemera from nature has long been an art form: Bas-relief carvings in the tombs of Egyptian pharaohs depict lotus and other flowers in vases, the ancient Greeks’ talents were on full display with their celebratory wreaths and garlands, and the Byzantines were known for incorporating fruit and vegetables into their elaborate floral displays. In China, flower arranging is believed to have begun as early as the Han dynasty, which was the early 200’s B.C.E. Florals were used for medicinal purposes and as a religious act—blooms were a way to decorate altars by Buddhists, Taoists, and Confucianists.
Ancient Romans used blooms for many religious ceremonies, but also loved them for parties, and were particularly fond of roses. It is said that rose petals would be scattered (sometimes knee-deep!) over floors during celebrations, just as done during wedding ceremonies, albeit less dramatically, today. The Romans also loved wreaths, like the Greeks, but incorporated more exotic flowers for the time, like ivy, crocus, and oleander. In Japan, during the 7th century, it became tradition to offer blooms to Buddha, and the Ikenobō school, the oldest to be founded for studying floral art, was started by Ono no Imoko, a Japanese envoy to China.
During the Renaissance period, the art of flower arranging became more precise and even more elaborate. Low, tight bouquets and pyramid shapes became popular in arrangements, while during the 17th century, explorations of new lands introduced new plants to Europeans, making horticulture a popular pastime. Arrangements of blooms became immortalized in still-life paintings, particularly in those done by artists like Jan Brueghel, Van Beheren, and William Kalf in Flanders and Holland. During the 18th century, arrangements being created in England and France became smaller and more delicate in design, as entertaining of guests were done in salons of homes. The Rococo movement in France also resulted in a more feminine and dainty style of bouquets so as to match the dress of that time.
During the Victorian era, it became part of a young lady’s education to master the art of flower arranging, as it was customary during this time to refresh a home’s florals once a week. Small bouquets, called nosegays, were carried by ladies, and flowers were assigned meanings, allowing for messages to be passed between friends and lovers with even the smallest arrangements. In 1907, Gertrude Jekyll penned Flower Decoration in the House as a guide to the at-home arranger, and the popularity of garden clubs as a social and horticultural outlet and the availability of flower shows in the United States began to rise during the 20th century.
What is it about a thoughtfully-curated arrangement that can soften the senses and immediately transform an interior? Even a simple vase filled with flowers cut straight from the garden transports its viewer and lifts the spirits, and it is this desire to constantly be close to nature, especially within our homes, that makes the art of floral design so important. Not to mention, they are used to mark every special occasion and celebration. So, how do floral designers today take the past and incorporate these styles into their work today? We tapped five top-tier luminaries from around the world to reimagine the arrangements of different time periods for today.