Home & Design

Green Acre #329: The Eternal Power of Flowers

Even without flowers in them, these vases and jars are a garden all by themselves. The unspoken message: Pull together what you own—you may find that your things have enough in common visually to make a statement. Then plop a bloom in one of them and see the whole ensemble take off. / Photo © by Brittany Ambridge.

By Stephanie Cavanaugh

SOME NAMES are destined for greatness. How can you not become famous (and probably rich) with a name like C.Z. Guest, or Fleur Cowles, or Vita Sackville-West. Gloria Vanderbilt couldn’t help it—pair any first name with Vanderbilt and presto kowtow.

While that is all beside the point of today’s epistle, you may want to keep it in mind when naming a child. Could you ever be a wallflower with a name like, for example, Celerie Kemble?* I think not. 

This is Charlotte Moss’s 11th book! And we’re still learning from her.

Also. Did you know I named one of my parakeets after Vanderbilt’s son, Anderson Cooper? Coop, as he’s known, sometimes fondly, is the whitest bird I’ve ever seen, just as Anderson Cooper is the whitest man on Earth. I knew Coop was Coop before we left Petco. 

That is even further from the point.

The actual point being that I’m leafing through multi-award-winning designer Charlotte Moss’s 11th book, simply called Flowers, which is out just in time for Mother’s Day gifting.

Approaching this review with trepidation, certain I’d find garden designs impossible to achieve within a decade or a lifetime (here it is already April and almost too late to start for this year); this would only make me testy. So I was delighted that it is largely a magnificent paean to the joys of flower arranging, which, depending on your location or skill, boils down to either going into the garden and picking blooms or going to the florist and picking blooms. Then arranging them. 

Okay, then! Instant gratification. 

Tumbling her own artful philosophy with that of gardening aficionados such as Cowles, Guest, Vanderbilt and a colorful bunch of others including Jackie Kennedy and her sister, Lee Radziwill, the writer Colette and heiress/horticulturist Bunny Mellon, Moss gathers it all into a delicious bouquet of biographical snippets, glorious photos and quotations. 

Humble honeysuckle and romantic roses–both look grand whether on their own or in profusion. / Photos courtesy of Charlotte Moss.

“A flowerless room is a soulless room, to my way of thinking; but even one solitary vase of a living flower may redeem it,” wrote Vita Sackville-West, who knew from writing. To illustrate, come pages of tables and rooms where a single stem displayed in a charming container brings life to an otherwise static, if elegant, tableau. Flip a few pages and small containers with single stems create gardens on tabletops and mantels. 

This is not a tutorial. If you’re looking for a hundred or so volumes of expert words on composition and containers and such, these are supplied in an extensive appendix. The main text is, instead, a gentle guide to developing your own style. 

“Beware of too much thinking,” Moss says. “Give your instincts a chance.”

In this, she lifts you along. Look at the way frilly carmine-colored roses in a gilded container raise the heat of a turquoise room. How cooling is a simple basket of mint leaves. How glorious yellow tulips look, full blown and blousy in a blue jug. Then comes a bouquet of white hydrangeas, pink and purple anemones, pink and white roses, and a dribble of ivy, that creates a breath of country in a silvery metal bucket. 

Containers get as much attention as blossoms. Just about anything with a hole in the top is inspiration for a bouquet or posy. Shop your house for possibilities: baskets, pots, bowls, glassware, teacups. If the basket or vessel leaks, line it with a plastic container (or several) from that deli potato salad or, for the more upscale, an empty bottle of Kona Nigari water.**

There are lots of pots and planters on display in Lee Radziwill’s Oxfordshire home. Jackie Kennedy’s sister considered this her “house of flowers,” combining floral wallpaper, upholstery and curtains, and displaying a collection of botanical prints. Gilding the lily, one might say, was the magical, three-dimensional effect she created by connecting the plants and flowers to the furnishings and art, a trick easy enough for anyone. Have a picture of a garden? Pick a flower from the scene, put it in a vase and set it in front of the artwork. Voilà!

Or consider Fleur Cowles, legendary creator of Flair magazine. Poohpoohing convention, she mixed weeds with roses, broccoli with chrysanthemums, and considered a hollowed-out watermelon a fine vessel for sweet peas. 

Now, didn’t your little gray cells just scream: I could do that! 

I’d rather look at broccoli than eat it anyway.

*Celerie Kemble, interior designer, makes no appearance in this book—but I’ve always wondered what her mother was thinking. 

 **Kona Nigari Water at $402 per 750ml is the second-most-expensive water in the world. Moneyinc reports that the water, sucked from the ocean depths surrounding the Hawaiian Islands, is said to “help you lose weight, energize you, and improve the quality of your skin. . . . It is recommended by some of the most recognized dermatologists and fitness trainers.” The most expensive water Acqua di Cristallo Tributo a Modigliani, which is $60,000 per 750ml and is sold in a gilded bottle modeled after a Modigliani sculpture, a shape unsuitable for stuffing into a leaky vase. 

 I do love writing this column.

LittleBird “Stephanie Gardens” likes flowers, books about flowers, books about people who like flowers. Well, you get the idea.

You may not have antique French pharmacy jars tucked away in the closet, but, says Charlotte Moss in “Flowers,” look around the house for other “vessels” that go beyond basic. / Photo courtesy of Charlotte Moss.


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One thought on “Green Acre #329: The Eternal Power of Flowers

  1. Bonnie Mitchell says:

    And we do love reading your columns! Keep those little grey cells active. I like that weeds can sit beside roses with dignity!

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