Read an Excerpt
Nothing lights up a room like flowers. A strategically placed bouquet has the power to create a mood and make us feel special. We use flowers in massive numbers to celebrate the most important occasions in our lives and in tiny nosegays to brighten a gloomy day. The return of flowers in the spring, after the harshness of winter, is always a miraculous event. Flowers give beauty, color and fragrance, strength and continuity, in a world that is increasingly difficult, hectic, and often indifferent. When flowers give us pause, and we consider them in all their glory, if only for a moment, we taste the sublime. Our reactions to flowers are so powerful that flowers must possess many of the qualities our souls long for.
As a child in rural Missouri, one of my favorite pastimes was to play "florist" during summer visits to my grandmother's home. Her farm with mounds of Red Blaze roses, rows of hollyhocks, stalks of towering sunflowers, and patches of sunny marigolds gave me plenty of fodder to create one bouquet after another.
My grandmother also helped me to understand and appreciate the unique relationship that flowers have with their containers and how each should enhance the beauty of the other. I learned that the strong and bright colors of country flowers such as zinnias and dahlias look best in big earthenware jugs and farm baskets, and that delicate, diminutive flowers like violets and lilies of the valley are wonderful in a tiny silver vase or a pale vaseline glass bowl.
I think of flowers in the same way that I think of fashion design in termsof color, texture, composition, taste, style, and budget. Just as haute couture is exclusive and expensive, certain flowers are extremely rare and costly. But there are even more beautiful varieties that are affordable, and others that are so overused that they are no longer considered fashionable yet if properly used become chic.
Flowers are by no means limited to those who enjoy real wealth or rank. As a fledgling assistant starting out in my career and earning $126 a week, there was no money to indulge myself. Still, I always managed to have one or two cut flowers in a small vase at home. Such an arrangement cost very little, yet lasted the week, and improved my quality of life enormously. Even today I enjoy bouquets that are simple and budget-conscious in addition to more opulent arrangements.
I had the great fortune to work as an assistant to designer Oscar de la Renta, the person I most admired in the New York fashion world. For an aspiring, fashion designer, it was an opportunity of a lifetime. In the ten years that I worked with Oscar, I not only learned about clothes. I learned about life beyond the white fences of my simple upbringing about the vital role of flowers in making life more joyous. I learned the most about flowers from Oscar on visits to his country home, where I absorbed his enthusiasm for the gardens there and his vision for making them a visual masterpiece of plants and flowers. Travel exposed me to the riches of blooms the world over, such as the extraordinary roses of Isola Bella, the beautiful Agnelli garden designed by Russell Page, the surprising white gardens and moss gardens of Japan, and boatloads of marigolds and jasmine headed for market in Kashmir.
My fashion business frequently took me to Paris. where my passion for flowers was nurtured. I always stayed at a hotel near the Place de la Madeleine, home to countless flower stalls. I loved to stroll through the market, reveling in the selection of fresh blooms. I brought flowers back to my room. including violet bouquets for my bedside. The flowers of Paris have been a constant source of joy and wonderment and enlightenment for me. For that reason, when I began working on this book, I went straight to Henri Moulie, one of the most respected and creative florists in Paris, to learn some of the tricks of the floral trade as his apprentice.
As you will see as you turn these pages, my flower style is very simple and straightforward. I do not espouse overly '"arranged" compositions and do not care to use totally disparate elements together such as peppers and roses. Although this eclectic mix of elements is rather popular with professional florists, making a vase out of asparagus spears is just not my thing. I prefer to stick with a musty terra-cotta pot or a piece of old porcelain.
I hope this book will help you draw the same uplifting and pleasurable experiences from flowers that I have enjoyed. For convienence, I decided to organize the book by season. I have included a list of flowers and other vegetation that I enjoy, during each of these periods at the beginning of each section. Please keep in mind that I do my planting and gardening at my home in Connecticut. The weather that I experience there (the late springs and early frosts) do temper these lists you may want to adjust them accordingly. The book is meant to take advantage of the flowers that come into their gIorv in every season, as captured in the inspiring images of the gifted photographers who worked with me.
The book is full of ideas for brightening holidays and other special occasions with flowers, and for bringing flowers into our everyday world in special ways as well. Throughout the book I have included bouquet recipes, with lists of '"ingredients" and practical, step-by-step instructions for blending them into beautiful arrangements. I have also provided short sections exploring three important themes that I mention throughout: elements of style, containers, and the basics on conditioning.
Remember, there are no wrong arrangements, just ones that work better, brighten your spirit more. or captivate your guests' rather than overwhelm them. The most important thing to keep in mind when creating bouquets and developing your artistic eye is to have fun and enjoy your masterpiece for as long as it lasts.