Wednesday, November 24, 2010


Imagine, if you can, that just one hundred and one years ago plastic was invented (and I am talking about the material, not the financial vehicle!), and since then the evolution of technology has grown at a mercurial and Moore-ish rate. Consider, that just prior to this seminal event Einstein published his "Theory of Relativity"; Freud published his "Theory of Sexuality" and Ford produced the first Model-T automobile, all in 1905. In 1906 Kellogg's introduced cornflakes and in 1907 Picasso introduced Cubism along with Georges Braques. It is quite staggering that in two or three generations we have moved so far and so quickly in every realm of human endeavor.
In contrast, one might conclude that our industry, based on recent history,  has only recently has access to the esoteric and unusual ingredients one now sees in contemporary floral design. Yet this could not be farther from the truth.
I am an avid collector of flower books, and on my last trip to Great Britain I picked up a copy of "British Floral Decoration" by a certain Robert Forester Felton, published in 1910. Judging from many of the pictures in the book, Mr. Felton appears to have been the Preston Bailey of his era, having executed many elaborate decorations for various members of the Royal Family, as well as decorating Claridge's for Royal visits by such luminaries as the Japanese Emperor.
Some of his observations are sobering, especially when he states that: "It is fitting that the greatest of modern Empires should be represented by a flower which has taken all the world for its province, and is itself the monarch of flowers". I mean, that was only written one hundred years ago, and not only has Great Britain been eclipsed as a world power, but there is talk that the USA, which coincidentally has also taken the rose as its national flower, may be witnessing the sun setting on its world dominance.
Just as sobering, and also showing how ephemeral the things that we create really are, he also writes: "Neither has the Rose been forgotten in the world of song: hence we find, among many more or less popular airs taking Roses for their theme, 'The Last Rose of Summer,' and 'She wore a Wreath of Roses,' two songs which will live forever. (My italics!)
FOREVER? I used to think that Elvis and the Beatles songs would last forever, and now I see them decomposing in the manure of history and fashion. It is the way of the world, and each successive generation embraces new inventions, fashions and styles, and quite rightly so. However, it is patently obvious that after a few generations, that which has been forgotten is often introduced as novel and original; distinct and daring, especially in the arenas of fashion, art, science and music. And this applies to the flower industry, as we are in fact entirely influenced by the whims of fashion.
Anyway, please share in my surprise when I encountered this floral arrangement from 1909 featuring;
Gloriosa Rothschildiana;
Gloriosa superba;
Japanese Honeysuckle*;
Lily of the Valley;
 Francoa ramosa;
Buff carnations;
Caladium argyrites
and Lonicera japoonica "variegata".
One hundred and one years later, most wholesalers would struggle to procure most of these items, yet they are surprisingly at the height of current fashion. Honeysuckle vines are becoming much in demand, especially for their divine fragrance, although the flowering one illustrated here looks more like *Lonicera sempervirens than L. japonica. Also of note is the use of the trailing variegated cultivar. "Buff" carnations (yellow-brown) would also pose a problem, because while this color is very much in demand I am not aware of a cultivated carnation filling this bill, although roses such as "Combo" come close, Francoa ramosa is a very cool flower but which is hardly cultivated at all these days. It is a native of Chile, and I have asked some growers there to do some trials. We shall see. It is a beautiful upright line flower with white flowers along the stems like a cross between liatris and veronica. Back in the day it was called "Bridal Wreath", which gives you an idea as to it's romantic nature.

I leave you with the opening paragraph from "A Tale of Two Cities" by Charles Dickens which so succinctly shows us that while many things change, human nature does not:

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way- in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only."

Happy Thanksgiving.

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