Discover the history of flower arranging and learn how to create beautiful designs using flowers, foliage, and more
Few things have such broad and universal power as the language of flowers; for thousands of years, humans have used flowers to connect with nature and the divine. We also use them to celebrate special occasions and get through the tough times.
Drawing on this, floral design combines ancestral knowledge with modern techniques and secrets to speak, create, and share. From the origins of the artform to how to get started yourself, here we take a look at everything you need to know about this wonderful trade.
What is floral design?
Floral design and plant design is the art of creating beautiful arrangements that convey meaning and emotion with flowers, leaves, ornaments, etc. Like any art, floral design requires the technical mastery of a sensitive creative who is able to combine the elements they are working with in a special way.
The fundamentals of floral design
Floral designers use these seven techniques to analyze their creations. The key aspects you need to consider are:
Proportion is the relationship between the sizes of all the elements used to create a design, such as flowers, foliage, the container, and the accessories.
Scale is the relationship between the overall size of your floral design and its setting. For example, how a table centre for a wedding fits the table and the setting. Floral arrangements should be 1.5 to two times as big as the height or width of their container. Remembering these proportions helps balance your designs.
In floral design, harmony is the pleasing combination of materials, colors, and textures. Harmony is achieved when all the elements of an arrangement go nicely together and are suitable for the purpose of the design.
Unity is achieved when all of the principles and design elements have been included and are well-executed. In this case, the whole is more important than its individual parts.
This is the visual flow, the direction of your gaze when you look at the arrangement. Rhythm is what invites you to move your eyes across the design, from the focal point to the edges and back again. Rhythm also gives your design movement and holds the viewer’s attention. It’s created by positioning the colors, shapes, lines, textures, and spaces.
There are two types of balance in floral design: physical and visual.
- Physical balance is the distribution of the materials and, therefore, the weight of an arrangement. It may seem simple at first, but heavy blooms and foliage sometimes need a lot of care and attention. Your goal is always to make sure the arrangement stays upright and doesn’t fall.
- Visual balance is about whether or not your design looks perfectly poised at first glance. There are three types of visual balance: symmetrical, asymmetrical, and open. The first two are the most traditional. Open balance is harder to achieve as it is more dependent on artistic experience and technical expertise.
7. Focal point
Most floral designs have an area with more emphasis, known as the focal point. This is the main feature of the design. It attracts the viewer’s gaze. You can create this emphasis using dominant or contrasting materials, for example, one-off stems or a mini-group. Then generate contrast between the focal point and the rest of your design using size, color, or texture.
Key moments in the history of floral design
Modern floral design techniques are the result of thousands of years of development that have lent them social, spiritual, and aesthetic significance and made them what they are to us today. Here are some of the landmark moments:
The first evidence of floral arrangements comes from Ancient Egypt where designs were a luxury reserved for the upper echelons of society. Flowers were used for crowns and ceremonial garlands and they were chosen for their specific meaning and purpose, rather than for their beauty. Lotus flowers were especially sacred.
Ikebana, also known as Kado, is the ancient Japanese art of floral design. Rules and symbolism connect this art with the sacred. It is based on the belief that the world is full of divinities who live in natural elements, like plants and stones.
Ikebana maestros visited sacred places to gather plants that could act as a kind of spiritual antenna (yorishiro) and connect the receiver to the good of the universe.
As the influence of oriental art grew, historical floral designs began to experiment with simpler arrangements using fewer flowers and carefully arranged lines.
Ancient Greece and Rome
Most people know that crowns and garlands of flowers and aromatic herbs were used in Ancient Greece and Rome. But did you know that these designs were above all used during festivities when everyone was invited to wear ornate floral crowns?
Ancient floral designers paid particular attention to symbolism when choosing their blooms, and they introduced some of the elements we use today, for example, fruit (especially grapes).
The Renaissance was a time of evolution in floral design. As painters began to enter the field, floral designs became more adventurous, more curved, and more asymmetrical.
The Victorian era
As the Victorian era approached, floral designs went back to their roots as a means to flaunt wealth and status. People often gathered and arranged flowers from their own gardens to exhibit and give to their friends and acquaintances. Although mixed bouquets were common, individual stems were also popular in Victorian times.
The 21st century
Today, our way with flowers is heavily influenced by Western philosophy. It’s more about aesthetics and status, although they still have a spiritual facet, which is why we use them at weddings and funerals.
What are the benefits of learning flower arranging?
The rise of social networks and the development of a more widespread aesthetic vision has led many people to develop an interest in the art of floral design. They usually discover that floral design plays a multi-faceted role in their creative development, for example:
- Exploring the foundations of floral design strengthens your creative muscles as you learn to create beautiful, evocative arrangments.
- Working with flowers is special and can awaken emotions. Few other materials give you more connection to nature.
- Creating your own flower arrangements can help save money as it's often cheaper than paying a professional florist.
- Gain an extra source of income, or even a career.
How to take your first steps in floral design
Discover the step-by-step method you need to get started in floral design:
- Sign up for a course that teaches you the basics.
- Get a mentor - having someone to follow and give you advice is the perfect way to learn.
- A large part of your success depends on the care you put into preparing your floral designs. You need to learn good techniques that consider the needs of each flower and how long they last. You’ll find some of this information in our Craft Tutorial: The Do’s and Don’ts of Floral Design.
- Many specialists recommend volunteering at a local florist to surround yourself with experts so you can start becoming familiar with this world.
- Get to know the tools. It’s not all about flowers. You need to be able to use sharp tools and wires.
- Learn how to turn your passion into a business. Being a florist is hard work. As well as preparing the flowers, you need to lift heavy containers, spend long hours on your feet in the workshop, and enjoy few vacations. You also need to learn time-management tools and be flexible about your working hours (you’ll often be hard at it while everyone else is celebrating).
- Learn how to manage emotional occasions. Flowers are used on both sad and joyful occasions.
The basic floral design tools you need
Although the tools and elements you need to create floral designs vary greatly depending on the project, a floral designer’s workbench is usually home to the following basic kit:
- Stainless steel floral scissors that allow you to cut under water.
- Curved or straight floral knife. To cut stems.
- Wire-cutters. To cut the wires holding or bunching your flowers.
- Pruning shears. Designed to cut thick stems or any other materials that other scissors can’t.
- A selection of bases, such as vases or bowls.
- Chicken wire. This wire mesh can be found at any hardware store, and is generally used to hold your flowers.
- Oasis floral foam. This is great for sticking the stems into when you’re composing table centers, for example.
How to achieve your own style
Once you’ve obtained the basic tools you need to create something beautiful, lasting, and emotional, that stands up on its own and keeps your flowers healthy, it’s time to achieve your own style.
Remember you’re an artist: flowers and their containers are your canvas. This means it's important to stay up to date and engage with other art forms that can train your eye and mind. You also need to constantly expand your floral repertoire, especially the kinds of blooms available in your area.