Notes from a Flower Farm: The Flowers of Paris
Katherine Anderson, our flower columnist, goes to Paris, and comes back with lots of design inspiration. Here, she shows some photos from her trip and shows us how to make a beautifully layered flower arrangement, inspired by her Parisian sojourn.
Les Fleurs de Paris
On a recent visit to Paris, I found that some of my favorite flower shops from previous visits didn't feel so innovative anymore. Instead, I found amazing flowers when I poked my head into the Hotel Georges V, one of Paris's most luxurious hotels.
Yep, here were the gorgeous tall arrangements, with ferns and orchids dancing in vases taller than myself. I then discovered that Hermès and The Conran Shop have, curiously, started selling flowers. At the new Hermès boutique on rue de Sèvres, on the Left Bank, the front window is filled with armloads of luxury flowers, the way Takashimaya used to be in New York, before it closed. Organized by tones and layered in tiers, the display is flawlessly executed. Here's is a snapshot of sweet peas and peonies at Hermès.
Marigold and Mint is an organic farm, a retail shop, and a studio. The farm is situated along the Snoqualmie River, about 30 miles east of Seattle and the shop is located in the Melrose Market on Capitol Hill in Seattle, Washington. Founded in 2008 by owner Katherine Anderson, Marigold and Mint reflects her lifetime love of flowers and landscapes. Trained as a landscape architect, she brings her affection for both clean and clear design and intricate patterns to Marigold and Mint.
Bouquets at Hermès
The groupings at both the Georges V and Hermès reminded me of the visual power of vertical layering for an arrangement, regardless of your budget. Here, again at Hermès, tight bouquets of flowers, available for sale, are placed throughout the store.
This sense was reinforced when I passed a tiny gallery in the Marais, featuring large-scale floral paintings alongside equally tall flower arrangements. One arrangement in particular caught my eye: the bottom layer was composed of lavender-grey sweet peas; next, a layer of white sweet William; and finally, topped off with arching rose canes. It was a way to bring garden flowers under control with a highly structured arrangement.
Gathering the Materials
Inspired by this layering of flowers that I saw in Paris, I got to work as soon as I got home, gathering wheat from the farm* (part of a cover crop mix I planted last fall), columbine from my friend’s farm, and lady’s mantle from my backyard.
*I was happy to see more "agricultural" products in the flower shops in Paris this year: wheat, lavender, and mint, along with big branches from pie cherry trees, were abundant on this trip.
Columbine is a surprisingly satisfying cut flower, with varieties that offer soft and subtle colors. Its height and airiness lend gracefulness to arrangements.
The blue of the columbine reminds me of the blue paint you often see on Paris buildings, such as here at the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature (one of my favorite stops).
The acid green of the lady’s mantle puts me in mind of that tea canister.
Using a Tall Vase as a Base
Whatever materials you choose, start with a tall cylindrical vase. You’ll want to fill it quite full with water, both so that the arrangement doesn’t tip over and because the stems of your flowers will not reach the bottom of the vase.
Starting with the first layer, I gatherered the lady’s mantle into a tight bundle and placed it at an angle in the vase, resting against the glass. In the end I added three bunches of lady's mantle like this.
Positioning the Second Layer of Flowers
Next I added the columbine, with a rubber band holding the stems together. Using the side of the vase and the first layer of flowers to support the columbine, I positioned it at a height higher than the lady's mantle, so it would seem like it was floating above the first layer.
Adding the Wheat
Finally, I secured the wheat together with a rubber band and positioned it at an angle above the columbine—not too high above the other elements, but still high enough to feel as if it is arching above the others, as opposed to pressing down on them.
Layering With Fewer Elements
Of course, you can take this same layering approach with smaller arrangements and for little to no cost with flowers from your backyard. Here’s an airy one I pulled together with columbine, Viburnum opulus, and Solomon’s Seal. The beauty here is that it takes so little material and can be pulled together very quickly, say just before friends arrive for brunch.
Layering in the Garden
Walking through Le Notre’s Parc de Sceaux on the outskirts of Paris, I was reminded that the French have been masterfully playing with controlled layers in the landscape for centuries, such as this tightly constructed vertical layering created with a bench, hedges, and shrubbery, in a quiet corner of the park. (Out of the picture is yet another layer of a tree canopy at the top.)
Of course, there are layers in landscapes all over the world, but the difference between this and a say a riotous English perennial border is the restriction of color and shape in the design. And most of all, as with the flowers in Hermès or at the Georges V, the hand of the designer—be it gardener, florist, or landscape architect—is equally on display.