SOMETIMES I cannot help thinking that the successful bouquet-maker is, like the poet, born, not made. It is true that one may so educate the eye for color that combinations may be made which are along the line of harmony, but the knack of making a thoroughly pleasing bouquet does not consist in simply putting together harmonious colors. There is a something hardly tangible enough to put into words, but that something we must attain in order to achieve success. It is that something which constitutes the wide difference between the born bouquet-maker and the bouquet-maker who is made. It may be as indefinable as the idea of what constitutes real poetry, but its presence or its absence is felt and recognized universally. If I were to attempt a definition of it I think I would call it a natural intuitive taste-one which, by some unwritten law, makes no mistakes, as the cultivated or acquired taste is quite likely to do. We see something similar to it in the woman who has the knack of making herself look a hundredfold more attractive in a calico dress of simple pattern, neatly fitted and made, than many women look when clad in costly silk.
It may be inferred from what I have said that I would confine bouquet-making to those who have a natural taste for it. Not so. I would have every woman cultivate her ability in this direction, for I know of nothing which affords more pleasure to the lover of flowers than arranp-ino; them for the decoration of the home.
Of course it is impossible to lay down any definite instructions as to what must be done in order to insure success, because conditions are always variable, and it is not an easy matter to put into words impressions largely the outgrowth of intuition. But some general advice can be given which will be helpful to the woman who would attempt to arrange flowers but is doubtful of her ability to do good work.
To begin with, I want to say that simplicity should be one of the things never to lose sight of; in other words aim to make your arrangements as natural as possible, and, in order to do this, take object-lessons from Nature. Go out into the garden and field, and make note of what you see there. Here is a Wild Rose bush. Study it carefully. There is no crowding, no formality, no torturing of its branches into unnatural positions. Everything about it is as simple, as natural, as Nature herself. In fact, it is Nature. Here is a mass of the white-flowering Elder. See how it curves gracefully in all directions under the weight of its lace-like clusters of bloom. There is not a stiff stalk about it. It is all curves-all grace. Straighten up one of its stalks and force it to assume and maintain an upright position and observe the result. The freedom, the grace, of the bush is destroyed because you have forced it to take on a shape that no Elder ever grew in when left to follow out its own devices. Therefore, before arranging any flowers in vases or in bouquets be sure you know how they appear when growing without any interference with their natural tendencies, and be governed by that knowledge. This means close observation and a willingness to learn from the teacher who makes no mistakes. Imitate as well as you can the simplicity of naturalness. I do not mean by this that you should attempt to copy Nature in a servile way but that your work should be along natural lines instead of artificial ones.
We make a serious mistake in thinking that a good deal of material is needed. We crowd a good many flowers together and wonder that the effect is not more pleasing. The colors harmonize, perhaps, but something spoils the effect we had in mind. What is it ? In nine cases out of ten the failure comes because we have destroyed the individuality of the flowers we have made use of. We have not given them enough elbow-room. A group of persons on a lawn may be a very picturesque and pleasing feature of the scene, because we see the peculiarities of each person in the group. But add a large number of persons to it and the group becomes a crowd and some of the features that attracted us, at first, are lost sight of. There is no longer any individuality. It is precisely so in the arrangement of flowers when we use more than are needed to produce an artistic effect. A few, intelligently used, can be made extremely effective. The artist who paints a flower-picture does not crowd his canvas, still it glows with color, and the impression it gives you, at first sight, is that he has depicted a wealth of bloom. But a careful analysis of the pictures will show you that he has secured the result he aimed at by painting a few flowers so arranged that each one has a chance to assert its individuality to the utmost. Then you begin to understand that quantity is not so important as quality in work of this kind, and you learn that what the artist has done in arranging his flowers on the canvas is precisely what you must do in arranging yours for the decoration of the home. All the difference is-his are on canvas, yours are in a vase. The same rule applies to both.
Aim to make a picture of each arrangement you undertake. Think how it would look on the wall if it could be perpetuated by the brush of the artist. If you do not think you would care to have it so perpetuated there is something wrong with it. Find out what it is that is wrong before you go on with your work.
The use of several kinds of flowers is often as great a source of disappointment as the use of too many. There may be harmony of color but not of form or habit. A pink Rose and a white Dahlia are harmonious so far as mere color goes, and the contrast may be exceptionally fine, but such a combination is not pleasing because there is an utter lack of harmony in the habit of the two flowers. If two are used, one must be content to play a subordinate part by serving as a foil to the other, thus heightening and emphasizing its beauty by contrast. Use a spray of wild Clematis with Roses and the effect is delightful, because the white of the Clematis brings out the color of the Roses vividly, but it, in itself, is unobtrusive. It is a background accessory in the composition of the picture. Its part may be a secondary one, and yet it is absolutely necessary that it should play it in order to bring out the full beauty and meaning of your picture. But were you to substitute a Lily for the Clematis you would find the effect much less pleasing because there would be instant rivalry for supremacy between Rose and Lily. Neither would consent to occupy a subordinate position. In fact, neither could do so, if inclined to, because of the equal prominence of both flowers. Therefore learn from this the wisdom of not attempting to combine flowers of equal or comparative importance. Sweet Peas are delightful for bouquets, by themselves, but I can not think of any flower that can be used with them without seriously detracting from their beauty. It is the same with Nasturtiums and Pansies. Put them in the same vase and the effect is positively painful to the eye that is sensitive to artistic effect.
If I were to arrange a vase of Sweet Peas for the table, I would go into the garden and cut the flowers with the longest possible stems. I would bunch them lightly in my hand as I cut them, without trying to produce an effect at this stage of proceedings. The effect is to come later. I would not cut more than a dozen clusters unless the vase I intended to make use of was a large one. Then I would drop them into the vase, give it a little shake, and lo! the blossoms have arranged themselves far more satisfactorily, far more artistically, than I could have done it if I had put them deliberately together, because they have disposed themselves simply and naturally.
Formality and artificiality in the making of bouquets are fatal to artistic work because they are the opposites of simplicity and naturalness. Remember that. Prove the truth of it by experimenting.
The vessel in which you put your flowers has much to do with the result. For such flowers as the Sweet Pea I prefer a rather tall and slender vase, preferably of clear glass, at any rate one of unobtrusive color. Lilies are at their best in tall vases. So are Roses if cut with long stalks. But these flowers can be used in bowls very effectively. Flowers with short stems, like the Pansy, must be given shallow vessels. Imagine a Pansy in a tall vase!
Color must also be taken into consideration in this connection. A blue China bowl may be pleasing when used with yellow Roses or golden Daffodils, but put pink Roses or purple Dahlias into it and the result is a jarring color-discord. As a general thing a crystal vase or a cut-glass bowl will be found more satisfactory than any colored vessel, because, where these are used, there can be no clash of color-no striving for predominance in tone between the flowers and the vessels that contain them. Where colored vessels are used great care must be taken to secure perfect harmony as well as contrast, otherwise the effect will be disastrous in the extreme.