Flower arranging was first recognized as an art form in the Victorian era. Decorating the home with flower arrangements was considered an accomplishment that all young ladies should acquire. It was one of the skills that the mistress of the house acquired for gracious living.

“No ornament is so
appropriate for the dinner-table or mantel as a vase of flowers,”
~ “Arrangement of Flowers” Godey’s Lady’s Book, vol. 92, (June 1876) 563.

From tussie-mussie bouquets to huge displays of opulent flowers, the obsession with both the grand and miniature, the exotic and sentimental, found expression in floraculture.

In the spirit of that bygone day, look at this sample of which flowers might be found in a cutting garden of that day. It might be the inspiration for your own Victorian Era Cutting Garden.

Victorian Flowers

Roses

The introduction of John Champney’s Pink Cluster Rose made roses the centerpiece of many Victorian flower displays. We are so lucky to have so many heirloom varieties of roses available to us today. Full blown blooms with fragrance that fill out the rounded and lush types of bouquets that exemplify the style of this time.

Bourbons, Hybrid Perpetuals, Noisettes, and Moss roses were all very popular. Many, including the Bourbon roses, are not completely hardy in Northern climes. Hardiness Zone 5 gardens can grow them with protection.

Look for ‘Belle de Crecy’, ‘Madame Plantier’, ‘Comte de Chambord’, ‘La Ville de Bruxelles’, ‘Madame Hardy’, ‘Fantin Latour’, ‘Tour de Malakoff’, ‘Boule de Neige’, ‘Madame Isaac Pereire’, ‘Madame Pierre Oger’, ‘Madame Alfred Carriere’

If you wish the look and habit of roses from this era, but with modern breeding qualities, look into the David Austin roses.

Heirloom Roses

Tulips

Streaked or “broken” tulips were wildly popular. ‘Couleur Cardinal’, ‘Keizerskroon’, ‘Cottage Maid’ and ‘Mabel’ are varieties that belong to the period.

Peonies

These flowers had everything those of this time loved. They are big and opulent, and fragrant. Try ‘Festiva Maxima’, ‘Edulis Superba’, ‘Madame Calot’, ‘Mons. Jules Elie’ or ‘Felix Crousse’.

Godey's Lady's Book Floral Illustration

Fullpage illustration from Godey’s Lady’s Book, Vol. 41 (September 1850)

  • Ferns, grasses and foliage.
  • Roses
  • Bleeding heart
  • Calceolaria
  • Carnations
  • Chrysanthemum
  • Cineraria
  • Dahlia
  • Daisies
  • Foxglove
  • Freesia
  • Fuchsia
  • Gardenia
  • Heliotrope
  • Honesty
  • Hydrangea
  • Jasmine
  • Lilac
  • Lilies
  • Passion flower
  • Peony
  • Salpiglossis
  • Stephanotis
  • Stock
  • Sweet pea
  • Sweet William
  • Tulips
  • Tuberose
  • Verbena
  • Viola.

Creating The Bouquets

Victorian flower designs

Victorian ladies with a few of their designs, most likely as memorials.

When choosing plants for a certain time period, there is a difference between a semblance of the time and an accurate replication. Most of us are interested in giving a feeling of the time, and editing flower choices and design to that end. More discipline and research is needed to give museum quality installations.During this time period certain changes coincided:

    • Plant explorers and nurserymen made many new plants available to customers
    • | American gardening was just coming into its own
  • | a growing middle class in both England and America made finances and leisure time available for flowers in the home and gardens in the yard.

No wonder the homes were filled with abundant floral creations filling vases in every room of the the house! It is no surprise that there would be cutting gardens and florists to provide the flowering material.

Victorian Flower Arranging Design

victorianflowerarrangement

Red, purple, royal blue and gold are deep rich colors favored in Victoriana.

Compact masses of flowers in a circle shape.The bouquet matched the size of the container in proportion. Early in the period the arrangements were natural and open in style, becoming more heavily packed together and ornate in both vase and flower design as the era waxed on.

Colors could be heavy and deep, or mixed deep and light colors. All white was popular.
Rules were formulated, such as:

  • …a group of mixed flowers requires one little touch of yellow to make it vivid
  • …do not put more than one or two varieties in each vase
  • … do not clash colors

Early in the period the designs were more stiff and compact, formal and symmetrical. As the idea of more natural gardens took hold, so did the arrangements loosen up.

The Language of Flowers

Language of Flowers
It became wildly popular to infuse the meanings to bouquets, as a sort of secret code. The “Language of Flowers” in personal tussy mussies, and the bouquets and nosegays often sent to one another were arranged with messages in mind.

Making An Arrangement From Your Cut Flowers

Victorian beauty from common flowers.

Is All Victorian …Victorian?

Like us, those who wanted their homes and gardens to be in good taste. Ladies created flower arrangements and decorated according to the fashions and advice of the day.

There were several sources of influence, but Godey’s Ladies Book was one very popular one. Books and magazines took many ideas from philosophical and art movements.
One style that had a great effect on what we consider appropriate for a home of that time was the Colonial Revival. It was the interpretation of Colonial times through the sentimental eyes of those in Victorian Times.

If one remembers that they put their stamp on it, many styles representing other times and places may be termed “Victorian”.

Colonial Revival

The Centennial Exposition of 1876 sparked an interest in “the old times”, and flowers were an important part of the exhibits.

This was also a time of vast interest in exploration and the importing of all sorts of new plant materials. Included were cultural ideas from far flung places which found their way into a middle class Victorian lady’s home.

In turn, this had effects on the desire for cutting gardens and the flowers which were planted within them.

Making A Cutting Garden

Create your cutting garden with flowers that have full, opulent blooms. Include contrasting colors and plenty of filler material.

Prepare soil as for any other garden. For most blooms, a sunny spot with 6-8 hours of light is best. The cutting gardens of this time were planted out in rows, much like the vegetable garden.

Making a Cutting Garden

While it is most likely that the design of the cutting gardens were along the lines of long ribbons of flowers, I came across a picture of what looks to be the yard of a suburban home. Regular geometrical beds are filled with flowers which some young ladies seems to be cutting for the house.
Brecks AD 1886