Floral arrangements have developed and evolved from a long history dating back as far as 2800 BC. The floral arrangements we know today represent a combination of two basic styles: the European/New World style and the Oriental style.
European style arrangements, referred to as “mass arrangements,” are filled with large numbers of flowers in various rich colors. In contrast, the Oriental style arrangements are simplistic, emphasizing lines rather than masses and are referred to as “Line Arrangements.”
Holland is the center of floral production, followed by South America (specifically Columbia), where there are great areas of flowers in production today.
How our ancestors used flowers can be seen through the respective periods of floral designs.
Egyptian Period (2800 B.C. to 28 B.C.)
Florals during this period were used for temple offerings and banquet table decorations, and at times for garlands, and wreaths for guests. The primary flowers used were Lotus, Acacia, roses, water lilies, violets, Madonna lilies, narcissus, jasmine, poppies, and especially the sacred lotus blossom. The style was clarity-ordered simplicity and repetition of a particular pattern. Numerous types of containers were used and a typical design was a single flower with a single bud or leaf on either side, repeated as a unit.
Greek Period (600-150 B.C.)
Flowers were used more for adornment during this period, and herbs were used with the flowers in garlands, and wreaths. Flowers were also often strewn on the ground. It was during this period that the Horn of Plenty or Cornucopia was introduced. Triangular and symmetrical arrangements were typical, usually with one or a limited number of colors. White was common, because it as a sign of purity. The primary flowers used were roses, hyacinths, lilies, iris, narcissus and violets, along with grape leaves, herbs, and seed pods.
Roman Period (28 B.C. – 325 A.D.)
The Roman Period continued with the Greek Period customs, but the wreaths and crowns were more elaborate than those used by the Greeks. Flowers were arranged in baskets and cornucopias and the crowns and garlands were tapered and emphasis was made on the fragrance of flowers.
Byzantine Period (320-600 A.D.)
This period continued with the Greek and Roman styles with the addition of fruit with the flowers in a twisted effect in the garlands. Foliage and flowers were used in large baskets, goblets, or low containers and were highly stylized, and neighboring hues, such as green, blue-green, blue, and violet were used with complementary accents of red, red-orange, orange, and yellow.
Medieval Period, The Middle Ages (476-1400 A.D.)
Not much is known of the floral art during this period. The information that is available was gathered from Persian paintings, rugs and tapestries. There was a definite Oriental flavor. Flowers were used for religious functions, and numerous types of containers were used.
Renaissance Period (1400-1600 A.D.)
There was a continuance of some of the characteristics of the Greek and Roman styles during this period. Fruit, cones and foliage (such as olive, ivy, and laurel) were arranged with flowers. The primary flowers used were dianthus, daisies, lily of the valley, lilies, violets, roses and primroses, and the Christmas wreath was introduced during this period. At the beginning of the Renaissance period, designs were very naturalistic; however, they became more ornate during the later years.
Baroque Period (Flemish) (1600-1775 A.D.)
The Baroque period followed the Renaissance. Styles were influenced by the works of Michelangelo and adopted by designers in Holland and Belgium. The early Baroque styles were symmetrical, but later became more asymmetrical. During this period, English painter William Hogarth introduced the S-curve (Hogarth Curve) which is still popular today. Large containers held extravagant arrangements of many different kinds of flowers, such as iris, marigold, lily, peony, canna lilies, narcissus, hollyhock and roses. This is evident in the works of artists of this period, and accessories were often incorporated in these arrangements.
French Baroque and French Rococo (18th Century)
The topiary along with symmetrical designs with no focal point was introduced during this period. The designs were informal, fragile, and delicate and were predominantly arc and crescent-shaped.
Louis XVI (Late 18th Century)
Delicate, cool colors were used in floral arrangements before the French revolution, with the revival of the Classical Period following the French revolution.
Empire Period (1804-1814)
During this period military symbolism was often used in arrangements, associating emblems and figures with the emperor. Many of the designs were simple and triangular in shape.
English Georgian Period (1714-1760)
During the 15th and 16th Century and the collective fortresses of England, houses were smaller, and flowers were brought into the homes more for their fragrance than their beauty. Arrangements had flowers simply crammed into sturdy containers, with little or no concern for design; however, during the later portion of the century, arrangements had a greater sense of design. Some of the containers were made specifically to hold flowers, some with holes or openings to maintain the stems at angles. This period also introduced the nosegay or the Tussy Mussy as it was called in England. The favorite flower in Great Britain was the rose, so roses were abundantly used in floral arrangements.
Victorian Period (1820-1901)
Great Britain and its great empire had an important influence on all art forms, including architecture, clothing, and home furnishings during this period. There also was a tendency to move away from classicism toward romanticism and comfortable individualism. Floral designs became more lavish, almost to the point of overflowing. The containers most commonly used were flared vases or urns of alabaster, porcelain, silver or pewter. Arrangements almost always contained roses. The flowers most commonly used during this time were tulips, lilies, anemones, dahlias, fuchsias, asters, bleeding hearts, and other common garden flowers along with the roses.
Early American (Colonial) Period (1620-1720)
During this period the early colonists generally produced plants for food or for medicinal purposes. The time they had for arranging flowers was spent on simple arrangements to decorate their very modest homes. However, in the Central and Southern Colonial areas, flowers were made into simple mass forms using numerous colors in the arrangements copied from the English Georgian and French Empire periods.
Colonial Williamsburg (1740-1780)
During this period, the colonists became established in communities, trade developed, and a cultural evolution arose in the areas of Virginia and Maryland. This introduced the art and architecture of distant lands. Mixed floral bouquets of the Williamsburg tradition predominated, and garden flowers such as anemones, lilies, roses, Dutch bulbs of all kinds, hollyhocks, phlox, sunflowers, violets, bachelor buttons, marigolds, strawflowers, daisies, dianthus, and snapdragons were all used along with field grasses and foliage. They were arranged in fan-shaped styles and used fine, feathery material on the outside to contrast the solid masses of blossoms in the center. When fresh flowers were sparse during the fall and winter, dried materials such as cockscomb, lunaria, strawflowers and ornamental grasses were used.
American Period (1780-1820)
The Neoclassic and Empire styles (evolved from Europe) and the delicate French style had a great influence on the styles used in late colonial America at this time. The charm of individual flowers with fewer blossoms was used in containers, and floral arrangements containing masses of mixed bouquets were used less often.
American Victorian Period (1800-1920)
The English Victorian period began to spill over into the United States during this period. Many different kinds of materials were used for ornate containers which were filled to overflowing with blossoms of cool colors and an abundance of white. Rich purples, magentas, and dark blues were also used in the floral arrangements. In the deep “South,” as in England, the Tussy-Mussy was popular.
Modern Period (Contemporary) (1910-Present)
A style of flower design called the “New Art” rapidly replaced the Victorian style. This new style spread throughout the United States after the end of the First World War, and an increased interest in flower arranging developed. The floral designers of this time developed a style combining the Oriental line arrangements with the European mass arrangements. Flower shows became very popular.
During the 1950′s and 60′s there was a significant increase in interest in the use of flowers to decorate the home. Today the new “Dutch Style” is increasingly popular. It exemplifies naturalistic garden style arrangements with groupings of similar flowers and parallel lines. Use of new tropical materials and perennials is also increasing as well as hand-tied bouquets.