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Edwardian Flower Arrangements: May

Trumpet Daffodils with Wild Arum Leaves
Trumpet Daffodils with Wild Arum Leaves

Flower arrangement was considered a necessary skill for a lady, but those who hadn’t the eye or hand for it could turn to how-to articles (or hire someone to arrange the flowers for a dinner party or a ball!). During the Edwardian era, no country estate or housewife with any pretensions was without a garden or arrangement designed by Gertrude Jekyll. Her collaborations with premiere architect Edwin Lutyens produced some of the most breathtaking manor houses and gardens that are accessible today. Jekyll was regularly consulted in the leading and popular magazines and newspapers of the day, and her series of books written for Country Life cemented her position as a tastemaker. Below you will find an excerpt from one of her books which may help budding neo-Edwardian greenthumbs

These months [April and May] hang together in the garden and therefore in its products for house decoration.

Fresh-picked Wallflowers are delightfully sweet in rooms. Hardly any flower is more richly brilliant under artificial light than the so-called blood-red colourings. The purples are beautiful arranged with white Tulips. The purples and browns mingle very pleasantly in the sunlight of the spring garden, though this combination indoors is rather too heavy.

Care should be taken to strip off most of the leaves of cut Wallflowers that will be under water, as they quickly decay, and the water should be often changed, for it soon becomes offensive. This is the case with Stocks also and with flowers of the Crucifera: in general. They belong to the same tribe as cabbages, and most people know only too well the bad smell of decaying cabbage leaves.

Megasea Cordifolia Major in Italian Earthenware
Megasea Cordifolia Major in Italian Earthenware

The most beautiful flowering shrub of April is the neat and pretty Magnolia stellata. A well-established plant is about six feet high and through, and bears its milk-white bloom in the greatest profusion. It grows so freely that whole branches can be cut, each branch having many flowers. These alone, or with some sprays of Pyrus Japónica, are charming in rooms, and look especially well in silver bowls.

Daffodils are in profusion in the earlier weeks of April, and towards the middle of the month Berberís Aquifolium is in bloom. In this state it arranges well with the largest daffodils; the great yellow Emperor, the large bicolor Empress, Sir Watkin, and the bolder of the flat-crowned kinds. Any large bowl, with a capacious jar standing up in it, does well with such an arrangement. I have done them so with fine effect in one of the great silver punch-bowls with the boldly scalloped edges that are known as Menteths.

It should be remembered that to do a spring garden justice it ought to be a garden of spring flowers and no others. The usual way of growing the early blooming parts where they are to be followed by those of summer, not only restricts the choice but makes it impossible to grow some of the best of the early plants which are perennials, such as Dielytra, Dicentra, Doronicum, Solomon’s Seal, Anemones, Dentaria, Uvularia, Mertensia, Tiarella, and others. This is a fact that is very commonly overlooked, and, though it does not exactly bear on the subject of flowers for cutting (as cutting does not go on in gardens that are for the display of flower-beauty) yet it is well to mention it at any opportunity. Flowers for cutting should be grown in the reserve garden in narrow beds set apart for the purpose. Four feet is a convenient width for the beds. Here the April flowers will comprise some of the Daffodils, beginning with the yellow trumpet Tenby and the early Incomparabilis Stella.

Then will follow the beautiful Leedsi group, the large Sir Watkin and good store of the bright-cupped Barri conspicuus, also the large trumpets Horsfieldi, Emperor and Empress, with the later Grandee and the useful Campernelle Jonquil. Many other kinds of the good Daffodils may well find a place in the cutting garden, but these will be essential and may be taken as a useful restricted selection, but it must include the Poet’s Narcissus and its double variety for May.

Daffoldils and Tulips in Munstead Glasses
Daffoldils and Tulips in Munstead Glasses

Anemones are excellent house flowers, lasting long in water and opening well in a sunny window. Myosotis dissitiflora should not be forgotten. Like all the Forget-me-nots, it lasts well when cut, and is always prettier than the deeper-coloured forms of M. sylvatica. By the end of April, with the last of the Daffodils whose bloom runs on into May with the Poet’s Narcissus, the true Jonquil, the Tazzetta group and, latest of all, N. gracilis, we get to the time of Tulips. But before leaving the Daffodils, it should not be forgotten that a charming mixture in a room is the Poet’s Narcissus, either single or double, with Sweetbrier, now in sweetest, tenderest leaf; a charming association both for scent and sight.

There is one of the Star of Bethlehem family, Ornithogalum nutans, that is remarkably beautiful in water, arranged with some dark, polished foliage such as that of Portugal Laurel or Japan Privet. It has a rare satin-like quality. The bloom is white and yet scarcely white, but is like white satin in half shade. It lasts long in water and becomes more starry and pretty as the days of its indoor life go by. I only hesitate to recommend it because it becomes one of the worst weeds that can be introduced into a garden; and, according to my own experience in more than one place, it cannot be eradicated.

The Tulips, putting aside the small Van Thols which I could never think either beautiful or interesting, may be said to begin, for indoor decoration, with those charming pink kinds already named as good for forcing —namely, Rosa Mundi, Rose Gris-de-lin and Cottage Maid. They are quickly followed by a host of others, of which I have found White Swan to be one of the most useful. Chrysolora is a desirable early yellow. These are all cheap bulbs and should be grown in quantity in the reserve garden for cutting.

Parrot and Retroflexa Tulips in Italian Drug Jar
Parrot and Retroflexa Tulips in Italian Drug Jar

Meanwhile great sheets of a good garden form of Myosotis dissitiflora have been coming into bloom. It is an early Forget-me-not of charming quality, better than the garden forms of M. sylvestris, which are so much used in spring gardening. With this we grow in long drifts some of the paler of the best forms of Bunch Primroses. This capital Forget-me-not also arranges charmingly, both indoors and out, with another contemporary, the double Arabis; also with Primroses of pale canary colour and yellow Alyssum; the Alyssum arranged cloudily among the other flowers and standing a little above them—all in a rather flat, wide bowl.

I always think that this, the time of Tulips, is the season of all the year when the actual arranging of flowers affords the greatest pleasure. The rush and heat of summer have not yet come; the days are still fairly restful, and one is so glad to greet and handle these early blossoms. There are not as yet too many flowers. The abundance of June, with its many floral distractions, is not yet upon one. Moreover, the early flowers that come on slowly last long in water. The flowers of middle and late summer, pushing quickly into life, much sooner fade; they come and go in a hurry—one feels that the time spent in setting them up is somewhat wasted. But the steadfast Tulips will last for nearly a week, thus giving a better return for the time devoted to them.

The Darwin Tulips, in their many varieties of tall-stemmed one-coloured bloom, are among the most decorative of the round-petalled forms. Among the splashed and striped mixed Bybloemen, the discarded blooms from among which the more regularly-marked show flowers are chosen, there are examples of the highest decorative quality. It matters but little for room ornament that the “flames” or “feathers” should be symmetrical; it concerns us more that the flowers should be bold and handsome. They are beautiful in jars of blue and white china, or pewter, of rather upright form.

White Tulips in Munstead Glass
White Tulips in Munstead Glass

Among Tulips the most refined of form (not considering show standards) is the clear pale yellow T. retroflexa; with its sharp-pointed turned-back petals. This remarkable Tulip is one of the most graceful of its kind; its freedom of form, and one might almost say freedom of action, making it quite unlike any other. Parrot Tulips have something of the same habit as to wayward contortion of stem. This makes them a little difficult to arrange, but, when cleverly placed so that the weight of the heavy head is adequately carried, and the flower poised in accordance with the action of the stalk, the effect is excellent. Silver-crown and Sulphur-crown have somewhat the same form as retroflexa, but less accentuated. Among the showiest colourings the tall scarlet Gesneriana major, and, later, the sweet-scented T. macrospeila, are capital room flowers; and where the colouring is suitable, the tall and large Bleu Celeste is a grand object. It is absurdly named, for no tulip is anything like blue. It is a double Tulip of massive form of a rather subdued and yet effective purple colour, and is among the latest.

The third week of May is the week of Lily of the Valley. It is intensely sweet in rooms, and needs no description or extolling. It is best in glasses quite by itself.

There is an early Rhododendron of rather small habit called Cunningham’s White, which is a treasured kind for cutting. Its white is faintly tinged with lilac. It is charming in a roomy bowl, either alone or with white and purple Tulips.

The finest strain of the white and yellow Bunch Primroses is not at its best till near the middle of May. They are fine things in bowls of blue and white china, but are thankful for a preparation of an hour or two up to their necks in water; this quite doubles their power of endurance.

There is a little-known shrub whose flowers in early May are of the greatest value. It is Laurustinus lucidus, less hardy than the one usually grown, but flowering well in sheltered places in our southern counties. The blooms are pure white, and much finer than those of the common kind; the leaves are larger and highly polished. Where this does well, Choisya will also flourish, and give its bunches of pretty bloom—so like orange-blossom—all through May.

Dielytra and Solomon’s Seal will be in every garden where good cutting plants are grown, and Pansies in quantity. Pansies are not so often grown for indoor use as they deserve; perhaps because people do not think of the best way of using them. This is to cut, not the bloom only, but the whole shoot. When fairsized sorts are grown, they can be cut nine inches long. They are delightful in wide bowls with the colours properly assorted, as white and yellow, white and blue, or white and purple together, and the rich and pale purples mixed ; and the rich browns of the wallflower colours, either with or without the deeper yellows.

White Lilac "Marie Legraye"
White Lilac “Marie Legraye”

Then let anyone try a bowl of Woodruff and Forgetme-not, with a few pure white Pansies; and enjoy, not their pleasant fresh colouring only, but their faint perfumes, so evenly balanced and so kindly blending.

The last fortnight of May brings the Lilacs, now in many beautiful varieties, thanks to the unceasing labours of some of the best nurserymen of France. The whites are always beautiful alone, but white and lilac, especially those of the pinkish tinge, such as the one named Lucie Baltet, are charming together. One of the best whites, and one of the easiest to grow is Marie Legraye.

There is a pretty Himalayan bramble, the double Rubus roscefolius, not often cultivated, that yields charming sprays for cutting in May. It is hardy in the South of England, but except in the most favoured districts does not flower out of doors. It is well worth a place in the unheated greenhouse.

By the middle of May Laburnum and white Broom are in flower; they arrange charmingly together with young oak foliage of a pale or yellowish green colour.

Stachys lanata, with its grey, plush-like leaves, one of the most useful garden plants for informal edgings where grey colouring is desired, is much improved by the removal of the flowering shoots which are now nearly a foot high. These shoots are of great use in flower arrangements, well suiting anything of pink, white or lilac colouring, or a combination of all three.

Tree Peonies and Clematis Montana in a Large Glass Tazza
Tree Peonies and Clematis Montana in a Large Glass Tazza

There is a free-blooming white Stock called White Cloud, which, although it is a single flower, is a delightful thing in a room. It is pretty with these shoots of Stachys, a few bits of London Pride, and one or two China Roses. China Rose and Rosemary are also sympathetic companions both indoors and out.

In the middle of the month the herbaceous Peonies will have been in bloom. In the garden they should be planted in half shade, for they burn and soon go off in the sun. A shady place also better suits their rich colouring. We have them intergrouped with hardy ferns, the Male Fern and the Lady Fern and Funkia Sieboldi. They are fine in rooms set up in something large, such as a Venetian copper wine-cooler, with the same accompaniment. But, as in the case of orchids, it is much better if the fern is a whole plant growing in a pot.

The end of May brings the first of the Tree Peonies. They cannot be cut with long stalks as in the case of the herbaceous kinds, and therefore are best arranged in something of large bowl form. I have a very large and heavy old glass tazza that holds them well. They are pretty with some early sprays of Clematis montana.

Flower Decoration in the House by Gertrude Jekyll

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The Russian Influence on Edwardian Society


The art and style of about 1908-1914 matched the frenetic pace towards the modernism the First World War brought to fruition. This period–characterized by the Ballet Russes (under the design of Léon Bakst), Paul Poiret, and art movements like Fauvism, Cubism, and Futurism–can be neglected, sandwiched as it is between the better-known lush floral curves of Art Nouveau and the stark geometric lines of Art Deco. But the brief, startling impact of Russian and “Oriental” design on the Edwardians was like a pupa bursting free from its larvae to become a dazzling butterfly. Almost overnight, ladies exchanged their large, feathered hats for lame turbans, and the smartest houses cleared away their clutter for clean lines, sensual drapery, and exotic furnishings.

Couturier Paul Poiret spread his empire to encompass perfumes, textiles, and home furnishings, and Martine, a school of decorative art, studio, and store founded in 1911, was a revolutionary idea. Not only were the students and craftswomen drawn from the working classes, but these girls were sent out to Paris to capture the sights in their untrained eyes and hands, thus producing “natural” designs that fit perfectly with the current trend of avant garde art. At first Martine only produced textiles and wallpapers, but “it soon expanded to create carpets, lighting, hand-painted glassware and ceramics, and other items for interiors…Furniture and interior-decorating services were introduced under the direction of Guy-Pierre Fauconnet.”

Atelier Martine - Paul Poiret Table
Atelier Martine – Paul Poiret Table – via 1st
Vaisselle de Paul Poiret - Atelier Martine Faïence de Choisy-le-Roi
Vaisselle de Paul Poiret – Atelier Martine Faïence de Choisy-le-Roi / via Pinterest
Pair of low armchairs - Martine
Pair of low armchairs – Martine | via

During its heyday between 1909 and 1929, the Ballet Russes set the trends for music, fashion, design, and dance. Serge Diaghilev, the company’s founder and impresario, gathered the best dancers, choreographers, and designers under his wing, most of whom achieved lasting fame long after his death. Léon Bakst was the art director for the Ballet Russes, and his collaboration with Diaghilev produced starting sets and costumes that appealed to everyone in society, not simply the elite, and rebelled against realism. Nicholas Roerich, another Russian artist, had a particular interest in Russia’s past, which served him well when designing the sets for the Ballet Russes epic historical pieces like Prince Igor.

Costume design by Léon Bakst for principal female dancer in The Firebird, 1910 | via Wikipedia
Costume design by Léon Bakst for principal female dancer in The Firebird, 1910
Costumes for two Maidens and an Elder from The Rite of Spring, 1913
Nicholas Roerich, Russian, 1874–1947, Costumes for two Maidens and an Elder from The Rite of Spring, 1913, wool, leather, metal belts and necklace, napped cotton, wood, and fur, V&A, London © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Ballet Russes Oriental 1913 Costume Design Leon Bakst.
Ballet Russes Oriental 1913 Costume Design Leon Bakst.
Set Design for Scheherazade - Leon Bakst, 1910
Set Design for Scheherazade – Leon Bakst, 1910 | via Wikipaintings
Léon Bakst, Costume Design for Hullo, Tango, 1914
Léon Bakst, Costume Design for Hullo, Tango, 1914 | via Pinterest

To focus on music and dance, Igor Stravinsky’s composition “The Rite of Spring” caused a near riot when it debuted in 1913. For audiences weaned on the delicate strains of the waltz and the elegant ballets of Tchaikovsky, the deliberate dissonance and outrageous textures was taken as an assault on their ears. Add to this the unconventional, frenzied choreography of principal dancer Vaslav Nijinsky, and this was a revolution! The video below is a 1987 recreation of Nijinsky and The Rite of Spring, as it possibly appeared to audiences in 1913.

Further Reading

Poiret (Metropolitan Museum of Art) by Harold Koda & Andrew Bolton
Ballets Russes Style: Diaghilev’s Dancers and Paris Fashion by Mary E. Davis

Online Exhibitions

Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, 1909-1929: Twenty Years That Changed the World of Art – Harvard
Serge Diaghilev and His World: A Centennial Celebration of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, 1909–1929 – Library of Congress
Diaghilev & The Ballet Russes – Victoria & Albert Museum

Edwardian Housekeeping: Choosing a Color Scheme


Highclere Castle drawing room

The aristocracy changed the color schemes and furnishings in their homes much less than the upper and middle-classes, but the brushing away of Victorian fustiness and fussiness to welcome the elegant, cleaner lines of the Arts and Crafts movement and Art Nouveau was infectious (led, of course, by the King). The building boom of the early 1900s coupled with new thoughts on hygiene and harmony encouraged home buyers and renters to experiment with color and new modes of decor, and a bevy of books and articles appeared in bookstores, magazines, and newspapers to advise the Edwardians on the best way of decorating every inch of their homes.

Drawing-room Colour Scheme: —By far the most important room from a decorative point of view is the drawing-room. Assuming it to be of fair size, and dealing with the walls chiefly, as the largest area to be considered, it is necessary to determine, firstly, whether they are to be painted or papered, or both combined; secondly, whether they are to be decorated in one prevailing colour of different tones, or in various colours in harmony; and thirdly, what particular colour or colours are to be adopted.

The first two points are entirely matter of opinion; to some the onecolour scheme would be monotonous. As regards the third point, the yellower grays or greens are suitable, especially yellow if the room is not well lighted. The carpet should be either a low-toned red or green; and the floorspace between carpet and skirting might be painted a darker tone of the dado, if the carpet is to be green, but greenish-gray as in the frieze, if the carpet is red. All other furnishings of the room should repeat the colourings used in the wall. Should the room be low in ceiling, the moulding might be dispensed with, the wall being the same colour throughout. If the room is very high, a simply-panelled ceiling of some suitable paper is advisable. All horizontal lines suggest width, and a reference to the dining-room scheme will show that the upright lines of panelling suggest height.

Dining-room Colour Scheme:—A warm scheme of colour is chosen for the dining-room. Wooden panelling is used for the dado, or this may be dispensed with. Instead of painted walls, a low-toned red paper may be used, and instead of a dado, a projecting moulding is advisable to keep the furniture clear of the wall. Parquetry is suitable for the borders round the carpet, or the flooring may be stained. For the carpet itself, a low-toned olive-green is suitable.

Library Colour Scheme:—In the library the walls are painted in oil or distemper, and kept rather low-toned in order to suggest the repose necessary for quiet study. A little brightness, however, is introduced in the wooden moulding at the base of the frieze and in the cornice. Instead of distempering, a Japanese or other paper may be used, though, of course, it is more expensive.

Hall and Staircase Colour Scheme:—The walls in the hall and on the staircases should not be dark in colour, especially if the entrance is narrow. Terra-cotta, slightly darker than the dado in the drawing room scheme, looks well in either distemper or paper; or, the ground colour of the frieze in the dining-room scheme may be adopted. Simple wooden panelling carried up a few feet, and stained or painted to suit the colour of the wall, can be recommended. The ceiling should be creamy-white.

Bedroom Colour Scheme:—The following three schemes are all suitable for bedrooms:—

1. Large design of purple irises for the paper, ivory-white paint for the wood-work, picked out with gold; pale golden-brown carpet, and curtains striped gold and white. Colouring: gold, purple, white.

2. Best room. For the paper, a large design of two shades of yellow poppies, dark and light, on white ground. Ivory paint; gray-green carpet; green and white chintz curtains. Colouring: yellow, green, white.

3. Walls panelled, oak furniture, yellow silk brocade curtains for bed and windows, brown and yellow carpet. Colouring: brown and yellow.

Nursery Colour Schemes:—The day nursery should have brightness, warmth of tones, and light. Too much red is to be avoided, as it is trying to the eyes. There are many very pretty light nursery papers illustrating nursery rhymes. These, if chosen in light tones, could then be varnished over, which would keep the paper clean, and it could be carefully wiped with a damp cloth when dirty. Instead of nursery rhymes some coloured prints in the illustrated papers are excellent. If they are carefully pasted on the wall, with panels of a buff or straw-coloured paper 3 feet wide between the pictures, and then varnished all over, they give the nursery a cheerful appearance. The wood-work might be dark olive-green or pitch pine, which would be clean and fresh looking. A warm carpet in the centre of the room, in reddish tones, the boards all round being polished, would give a general fresh appearance.

On the walls of the night nursery there should be a paper of a white ground, with sprays of pink rosebuds trailing all over it, and green leaves. The curtains to the windows should either be white dimity or chintz, the design rosebuds on white ground. Ivory-white paint, and a floor of polished wood, with large warm rugs in tones of pink and green at each side of the cots, and a very large hearth-rug in tones of pink and green in front, will combine well with the rest. The valances to the cots should be of the dimity or chintz. On each little bed should be laid an eider-down quilt of pink silk in centre, with border of apple-green. The furniture should be ivory-white.

General Advice on Colouring:—Light papers do not show dust so much as the darker kinds. In selecting papers, it is well to remember that they are to serve as backgrounds, and should not in themselves attract much attention.

The Book of the Home: An Encyclopaedia of All Matters Relating to the House and Household Management, Volume 1 by H. C. Davidson