Flower arrangement, or floral design, has been part and parcel of humanity since the very dawn of time. It’s present in every culture, at every period of history. In fact, there is even evidence to show that Neanderthals used flowers in burials of their dead. However, when did flower arrangement actually begin? Let’s take a closer look at the history of creating floral arrangements.
The Earliest Arrangements
The earliest signs of arrangement in a codified, formal way dates back to ancient Egypt. Cut flowers were arranged in elaborate configurations for burials, and were also used in processions through cities to commemorate battles, warriors, the fallen and for religious purposes. Some of the more popular flowers during this period were the water lily (sacred to Isis), delphinium, scilla, the rose, and the narcissus.
Greece and Rome
Flower arrangement was very popular in ancient Greece, and then in Rome. Flowers were used as personal adornment by the Greeks, and rather than using vases to hold cut flowers, they were arranged into wreaths or garlands. Rome mimicked the Greeks’ use of wreaths and garlands for the most part, although they were also fond of strewing rose petals on roadways during processionals, particularly to celebrate the return of the legions.
The Chinese were also experimenting with flower arrangement very early on, with formal arrangement patterns dating back to 207 BCE. Cut flowers arranged in patterns and specific configurations were important in many religious rites and rituals, and flowers were arranged and displayed in vases, on plates, and in many other ways during this time. The Chinese were particularly fond of orchids, as well as the peony, and many flowering trees, such as the pear and peach tree.
The Byzantine Empire took its flower arrangement cue from ancient Rome, as well as from Eastern influences. The most popular arrangement in the empire was a cone shaped design, displayed in a vase or an urn. It was called the espalier.
After the fall of Rome, and the retraction of the Byzantine Empire, things took a turn for the dark. History records this period as the Dark Ages, and there is very little that’s actually known about flower arrangement at this time. The primary flower arrangement style was to use a vase, or flask. With that being said, flower meanings began to take on some of their modern connotations, and the language of flowers became better developed.
During the Renaissance, flower arrangement exploded – new meanings were given to flowers, and new arrangements and patterns were created. Flower arrangement became something that everyone did, and flowers were displayed in vases, on walls, and even from the ceiling in long garlands.
The Modern Age
After the Renaissance, flower arrangement comes into its own, and becomes something more recognizable to us. Very elaborate arrangements in vases, urns and even bowls became common, and other embellishments were added, such as birds and fans.
Today, flower arrangement draws from all of this rich history, creating designs that can be simple or complex, filled with meaning, or “just because”, and used for any purpose imaginable.