Manners and social usages,

CHAPTER XLII.FLORAL TRIBUTES AND DECORATIONS.


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When every steamer leaving these shores goes out laden with people who are weighed down with flowers, it cannot but be a severe tax on the genuity of the florist to devise novel and appropriate forms for the typical basket that shall say bon voyage in a thousand new ways. Floral ships, anchors, stars, crosses, mottoes, monograms, and even the national flag, have been used for these steamer decorations.

But the language of flowers, so thoroughly understood among the Persians that a single flower expresses a complete declaration of love, an offer of marriage, and, presumably, a hint at the settlement, is, with our more practical visionaries and enthusiasts of the nineteenth century, rather an echo of the stock market than a poetical fancy. We fear that no prima donna looks at her flowers without a thought of how much they have cost, and that the belle estimates her bouquet according to the commercial value of a lily-of-the-valley as compared with that of a Jacqueminot rose, rather than as flowers simply. It is a pity that the overwhelming luxury of an extravagant period involves in its all-powerful grasp even the flowers of the field, those generous gifts of sunshine and of rain.

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But so it is. It is a well-known fact that the lady who will give her order three months in advance for the flowers needed for her daughter’s wedding, or for any other grand ceremonial, can, by offering a sufficiently large amount of money, command any flower she wishes. Even daisies and buttercups, red clover and white, the delicate forget-me-not of the garden, nasturtiums and marigolds, the shy and tender anemone, the dandelion and lilacs and lilies-of-the-valley, may be forced into unnatural bloom in January. It is a favorite caprice to put the field-flowers of June on a lunch-table in January.

This particular table is the greatest of all the consumers of flowers, therefore we may begin by describing some of the new fancies developed by that extraordinarily luxurious meal. A lady’s lunch must show not only baskets of magnificent flowers up and down the table; but it must also bear a basket or a bouquet for each lady.

One of the most regal lunches, given to twenty-eight ladies, set the fashion for using little gilt baskets, with covers opening on either side of the handle–the kind of basket, of a larger size, in which, in New England and in Old England, Dame Trot carried her multifarious parcels home from market. These pretty and useful baskets had on each side a bunch of flowers peeping out through the open cover, and on the gilt handle was tied a ribbon corresponding in color to the flowers. One of them, having soft pink rosebuds of exceeding size and loveliness on one side and a bunch of lilies-of-the-valley on the other, with a bow of pink satin ribbon on the handle, was
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as pretty a picture as ever Kate Greenaway devised. Another, showing the strong contrast of purple pansies and yellow daffodils, and tied with a lovely purple satin ribbon, was a dream of rich color.

The stiff, formal, fiat bouquets of yellow daffodils and bunches of violets, tied with purple ribbon, make a very fine effect laid in regular order at each plate. Repetition of a favorite idea in flowers is not ugly, although it seems at first very far from the primeval and delicious confusion in which nature throws her bouquets down upon upland and meadow.

In the arrangement of roses the most varied and whimsical fancies may be displayed, although the most gorgeous effect is produced, perhaps, by massing a single color or group. A basket of the pink Gloire de Paris, however, with its redundant green foliage, alternated with deep-red Jacqueminots, is a very splendid fancy, and will fill a room with fragrance. In February these roses cost two dollars apiece, and it was no rare sight to see four or six baskets, each containing forty roses, on one table during the winter of 1884.

We advise all ladies going into the country to purchase some of the little “Dame Trot” baskets, as they will be lovely when filled with wild-flowers during the summer. Indeed, the gilt basket, fitted with a tin pan to hold earth or water, is such a cheap and pretty receptacle for either growing or cut flowers that it ought to be a belonging of every dinner-table.

From the lunch-table, with its baskets and floral fancies, we come to the dinner-table. Here the space is so valuable that the floral bag, an ingenious plan

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by which roses may be hung at the side of the wearer, has been invented. This is a novel and very pretty way of wearing flowers. The roses or other flowers are tied together with wires, in the shape of a reticule, and a ribbon and pin provided, so that the lady may fasten her floral trophy at her side. The baskets of flowers and the adornments of the épergne for a dinner are very apt to be all of one flower. If mixed, they are of two sorts, as yellow roses and red ones, or white and pink, or, may be, half of lilacs and half of roses, or purple pansies and bright yellow flowers. Some tables are set with scarlet carnations alone, and the effect is very fine.

For wedding decorations, houses are now filled with palm-trees in pots and orange-trees in full bearing. An entire suite of rooms is made into a bower of large-leaved plants. Mirrors are covered with vines, wreaths, and climbing roses, trained across a trellis of wire. The bride stands under a floral umbrella, which juts out into the room. The monograms of bride and bridegroom are put in floral shields against the wall, like the cartouche on which the names and the titles of an Egyptian king are emblazoned in the solitude of the Pyramids. The bouquets carried by brides and bridesmaids are now extraordinarily large, measuring a foot or more across the top.

Tulips have always been favorite ornaments for the dinner-table. These flowers, so fine in drawing and so splendid in color, produce an extremely brilliant effect in large masses. As Easter approaches, lilies come in for especial notice, and the deep Japan cup-lily,

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grouped with the stately callas, and the garden-lily, with its long yellow stamens and rich perfume, worthily fill the épergnes.

Hyacinths are lovely harbingers of spring, and are beautiful in color; but there is a strong objection to this flower as a decoration, its heavy perfume being unpleasant to some people.

A fish-basket filled with bunches of lilies, mignonette, deep pink moss-roses shaded to the pale tints of the rose known as the Baroness de Rothschild, with a glowing centre of warm red Jacqueminots and a fringe of purple pansies and Maréchal Niels, was one of many beautiful floral ornaments on a magnificent dinner-table.

In spite of the attempt to prevent the extravagant use of flowers at funerals, we still see on those sad occasions some new and rather poetic ideas expressed by floral emblems. One of these, called the “Gates Ajar,” was very beautiful: the “gates” panelled with lilies, and surmounted by doves holding sprays of passion-vines in their beaks.

Palms crossed, and clasped by roses and ribbons, an oblique cross of roses lying on a bed of ivy, a basket made of ivy and autumn leaves, holding a sheaf of grain and a sickle of violets, an ivy pillow with a cross of flowers on one side, a bunch of pansies held by a knot of ribbon at one corner, a cross made of ivy alone, a “harvest-field” made of ears of wheat, are some of the many new funereal designs which break the monotony of the dreadful white crosses, crowns, and anchors, hearts and wreaths, of the past.

It is no longer necessary to exclude color from these

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tributes to the dead. Indeed, some of the most beautiful designs noticed at recent funerals have been composed of colored flowers.

For a christening, a floral cradle or swinging hammock, a bowl, a silver cup full of the tiniest flowers, are all favorite designs. A large table of flowers, with the baby’s initials in the centre, was sent to one happy young mother on a recent auspicious occasion; and far more lovely was a manger of flowers, with the “Star of the East” hanging above it, all made of that pretty white flower the Star of Bethlehem.

Strange contrasts of flowers have been made: purple lilacs and the blue forget-me-nots were a favorite combination–”stylish, not pretty,” was the whispered criticism.

The yellow marigold, a sort of small sunflower, has been the favorite “caprice” for bouquets de corsage. This is as near to an actual sunflower as the aesthetes have ventured to approach. With us, perhaps, there is no more splendid yellow than this marigold, and it admirably sets off a black or sage green dress.

An extravagant lady, at a ball, wore around her white dress skirt a fringe of real violets. Although less effective than the artificial ones, they had a pretty appearance until they drooped and faded. This adornment cost one hundred and fifty dollars.

A rainbow has been attempted in flowers, but with poor success. It will look like a ribbon–a very handsome ribbon, no doubt; but the arc-en-ciel evades reproduction, even in the transcendent prismatic colors of flowers.

Ribbons have been used with flowers, and add much

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to their effect; for, since the Arcadian days of Rosalind and Celia, a flower, a ribbon, and a pretty girl, have been associated with each other in prose, poetry, painting, and romance.

The hanging-baskets, filled with blooming plants, trailers, and ferns, have been much used at weddings to add to the bower-like appearance of the rooms; and altars and steps of churches have been richly adorned with flowering plants and palm-trees and other luxuriant foliage.

The prices paid for flowers have been enormous. One thousand dollars for the floral decorations for a single dinner has not been an uncommon price. But the expenditure of such large sums for flowers has not been unprofitable. The flowers grow finer every day, and, as an enterprising florist, who had given a “rose tea” to his patrons, remarked, “Every large order inspires us to produce a finer flowers.

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