The history of flower arrangements is long and varied, with stops all across the world and dating back thousands of years. So let’s hop right in and learn everything there is to know about flower arrangement history!
Thanks to archaeological evidence, we know that ancient Egyptians were the first civilization to start to arrange flowers for decorative purposes. In fact, wall carvings dating back to 2,500 BCE show depictions of artfully placed cut flowers in vases. The most common uses for these floral arrangements were for burials and funeral processions.
Ancient Egyptians also believed flowers carried both symbolic and religious meanings, with specific flowers being tied to certain gods and myths. For example, water lilies were the sacred flower of the Egyptian goddess Isis.
Ancient Greece and Rome
The ancient empires of the Mediterranean are said to have been the first to practice widespread cultivation of flowers for decorative purposes. And it’s not hard to see why: they were totally obsessed with flower arrangements and used them in everything from funerals and weddings to banquets and ceremonies.
Unlike the ancient Egyptians, though, the Greeks and Romans weren’t huge fans of vases, opting for wreaths and garlands instead. Typically, these wreaths and garlands were decorated with a mix of traditional flowers and earthy foliage—most commonly acorns, oak leaves, laurel, ivy, bay, and parsley. In particular, laurel wreaths were bestowed upon the winners of the ancient Olympics and to honor military commanders in massive victory parades.
Ancient Romans were also known to be head-over-heels in love with roses. At dinner parties, which they referred to as the “Hour of Rose,” Romans sometimes covered the entire floor with rose petals, sometimes measuring up to one foot in depth (now that’s a dinner party we’d love to attend!).
In addition to their passion for roses, these two ancient cultures also loved hyacinths, honeysuckle, violets, larkspur, marigolds, tulips, lilies, and orchids.
In Chinese culture, the history of flower arrangements dates back to 200 BCE, during the Han Era. Unlike the Romans and Greeks of the past, though, much more emphasis was placed on the religious significance behind floral arrangements.
On top of placing cut flowers on Buddhist, Taoist, and Confucian altars, the Chinese also decorated nearly everything else with flower images, from embroidery on silks and paintings on scrolls to carvings on wood.
When creating a floral arrangement, the ancient Chinese paid close attention to the meanings attached to the flowers and the message they wanted the arrangement to send. Bamboo, peach trees, and pear trees symbolized longevity, while tiger lilies and orchids represented fertility. Peonies—still the “king of flowers” in China to this day—signify wealth, good fortune, and high status.
After the Roman Empire fell, flower arranging in Europe reverted to a niche practice, typically only performed by monks who had access to gardens and often harvested wildflowers. Slowly but surely, though, flowers worked their way back into the dominant culture, with blooms showing up in paintings, books, and other artwork.
The medieval period also saw Crusaders bring back new and unique flowers from the Middle East.
The origin of flower arrangements in Japan is shrouded in mystery. Some believe it came to Japan along with Buddhism. But others believe it existed in the pre-Buddhist eras. Either way, what is known today as the flower arranging art of Ikebana began roughly 600 years ago. Ikebana was practiced by Buddhist monks like Ikenobo Senkei and beloved of Shogun such Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Ikebana is based on evoking emotional responses with the use of minimalism, the beauty of asymmetry, and careful attention to detail in color combinations and lines of stems.
The people in the Renaissance period were much better off than their medieval counterparts in terms of standard of living and education. And for that reason, they were able to enjoy some of the finer things in life, like gorgeous flower arrangements. Not only did these people love floral design, but a whole art genre sprouted up consisting of paintings of thoughtful and intricate flower arrangements.
Among all the practitioners of floral arrangement on this list, Victorians were by far the most flower-obsessed. Flowers were considered a sign of luxury and sophistication—the number one fashion statement a person could make.
But Victorians had quite a unique floral design style. Instead of minimal, patiently thought-out arrangements, Victorians tightly packed cut flowers into vases with a blatant disregard for complementary colors, minimalism, or uniformity. The designs were often asymmetrical, chaotic, loud, and featured huge color variations.
But that’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the Victorian fascination with flowers. In fact, Victorians created an entire “Language of Flowers” so they could send secret messages expressing feelings, intents, and thoughts to others. At the time, speaking about certain things or making advances on a love interest could be considered uncouth.
As you can see, the history of flower arrangements is super interesting. And we don’t know about you, but to us, it sure adds a ton of charm to flowers in general. If you’d like to get started, read through our posts on the basics of flower arrangements and how to arrange flowers in a vase. With that said, why not head over to The Bouqs Co. and grab yourself a gorgeous hand-curated Bouq designed with care by one of our artisan florists?
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