A Flemish Floristry Arrangement - inspired by the old Dutch master painters! Flowers of the Past

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Today is the beginning of a wonderful new series in which I’m going to share how to create designs of a bygone era. There have been many requests and I am delighted that finally after all
these years the opportunity has arrived to recapture the beauty of long forgotten grand designs or should I say early botanical’s records started by the Dutch, French and English master painters.

History is a marvellous thing and I like to say, if you know your history, then you will not get lost in your present. The answers to everything can be found in the past. These oversized magnificently lush designs give us an historical glimpse back in time when the British and Dutch merchants of the 15th 16th & 17th centuries travelled the world gathering and discovering not only flowers, but plants, spices and pretty much anything else they could lay their hands on.

The word Flemish, which is the first in this new series, was the name given to the medieval people of Flanders, now known of Belgium France and Holland.

As the botanical’s arrived it was the painters who recorded the latest discoveries we see in the paintings of the time. Tulips & roses from Persia, peonies from Japan, camellias from China, dahlias from the Americas, orchids from tropical places, snowballs, iris, gladioli, carnations etc from all corners of the new world.

These often high rounded or oval floral arrangements of mismatched botanical delight are fascinating. Imagine how exciting it must have been to see the very first gloriosa or hippeastrum? They got to see them first!

As the times changed, wars were started lost & won, wealth changed hands and many times nations have risen only to fall. Has much changed? Here we are globally suffering the aftermath of a worldwide pandemic, life is harsh for so many, and to be honest, when words are not enough flowers really say it all… what joy to find the floral fragrances of spring, or the heady waff of a mid-summer rose. That’s magic!

With a world-wide shortage of flowers and before we lose them again, I reckon we should consider an ancient pass time of planting flowers in our gardens to seasonally enjoy.

This is how a Flemish floral design works.

These marvellous floral arrangements or composition took months to complete. The focus was on wealth so accessories were a must. Rich highly woven and intricate tapestries and silks. Jewellery, bird’s nest, insects, shells, fruits and vegetables were incorporated to convey splendour and what I find interesting, the most highly priced finds being always positioned at the top of each painting to be viewed and admired.

STEP ONE is to find the right container. I like to reach for the classic shaped Grecian urn. To add more opulence, give the urn a dusting of gold. Gold wax is the quickest but if you have the time and patience gold leaf gives a brighter more lustrous sheen.

STEP TWO – flowers/foliage & accessories – anything and everything, but you don’t need many stems of each variety, just a few. As a general rule, the more you can incorporate the visually better the end result.

Design tips – as mentioned, the styles were often oval in shape purposefully done to draw the eye’s attention quickly with prominent flower at the tops and sides. Flowers may face all directions because the painters wanted to show their beautiful profiles. Additionally, they loved to show imperfections as found in nature. Leaves and flowers often featured bug holes, spots and even bugs themselves.

DEPTH is another important factor in creating these mass elaborate compositions. Flowers/foliage’s can cascade over the edges of the container. This adds further to dimension of the design giving interesting contract achieved by height length and width of materials being placed.

COLOR – once again anything goes, but from what I discovered, they were typically warm hues such as yellow, orange, reds and rust. Whites, pale pinks and other pastels being used less often. However, you will see touches of blue, especially Delft blue & of course the very highly prized rich purples.

Things to gather:
- Classic Grecian urn
- Gold leaf or wax
- Twisty willow or fruit tree branches
- Ivy and tropical leaves
- Flowers – the choice is limitless. Dahlias, roses, orchids, delphiniums, hydrangeas, peonies, tulips, camellias, berries, birds of paradise, anthuriums, along with spring flowers
- Accessories – tapestry, silks, brocades, birds’ nests, birds, butterflies, grapes, apples

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