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Highlights from Cut Flower History

Now, many millions of people have access to affordable, fresh flowers throughout the year. Cut flowers are commonly available from so many sources. But, this wasn’t always so. Here are some highlights from cut flower and floral design history.

You can also learn a lot about floral design history by examining western paintings. Many of the best known artists did still live paintings depicting floral designs. These include works by Renoir, Rembrandt, and Cezanne.

The beginnings of year-round floral design really started with the first greenhouses. Only the very wealthy could afford greenhouses at that time. One of those was Empress Josephine. She had a greenhouse on her estate at Malmaison, which was located outside Paris. She was especially fond of flowers, and enjoyed the blossoms from her greenhouse year-round.

Josephine’s love of blooms is very evident in her portraits. She is almost always portrayed with floral arrangements. One painting was done by Antoine Jean Baron Gros in 1805. This shows her with an arrangement of white hydrangeas. Another painting done in 1809 by R. Lefevre depicted her with a mixed arrangement of poppies, passion flowers, and peonies.

Owners of estates typically had their own greenhouses. These provided flowers year-round to estate owners. Some plants were dug and brought into greenhouses for forcing into bloom during the winter months. Some of the estate gardens still exist today and are open to the public. At the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina a whole crew of floral designers works for the estate. They create flower arrangements using materials from the cutting gardens and the greenhouses.

Another example of estate gardens is Winterthur. Now open to the public, the home is widely known for its beautiful displays of cut flowers.

Once the greenhouse technology improved and glass was widely available and more affordable, commercial cut flower greenhouses were established. Cut flower production began in Holland during the 1600’s and 1700’s.

This occurred somewhat later in Britain and the U.S. Since flowers are perishable, commercial cut flower production was located near cities, towns and urban areas where there was enough population to support the operations. In the U.S., this moved westward and southwards as the country was settled by Europeans.

Much of the cut flower production has now moved to warmer climates where it is cheaper to grow the flowers. As a result, many of the American greenhouse growers either shut down or switched to other greenhouse crops. Nowadays, cut flower production occurs all over the world from Africa and Asia to Europe and the New World.

Flowers have become part of our legacy in other ways as well. I live in western North Carolina where the Mission-St. Joseph’s Hospital is a state-of-the-art facility. This was founded by a group of women known as the Flower Mission. They made visits to the homes of the sick and needy. They also visited prisons and almshouses as well. During the visits, the well-wishers brought various gifts. These included not only flowers but home-made goodies and Bible verses.


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