Thursday, October 29, 2009

Foliage and Form in Church Flower Arrangements - Part 1

This is the first part of a two-part post on foliage and form in church flower arrangements relying on Katherine Morrison McClinton's 1944 book, Flower Arrangement in the Church.

McClinton recognizes that since flowers in the sanctuary are first and foremost an offering to God, their arrangement must be worthy of that offering. She is also alert to the secondary purpose of church flowers, which is to ennoble the viewer and lift his or her heart and mind to God. A proper presentation is integral to that purpose as well:
"[F]lowers for church must be seen at a distance. Therefore, the effect should be bold and clear cut." . . .

"To be sure that flowers are effective at a distance you must not only give the flowers form but also the bouquet itself must have shape and mass. A massed arrangement of many flowers is the best type of arrangement. Also, because you want a certain dignity and formality in the church, the mass arrangement which has a formal balance is the best. Mass arrangements based on the triangle or oval are more traditional; however, you can arrange a massing of flowers with a structure line that leads [the eye to] the center [of the altar]. A certain severity of line is necessary if your design is to carry at the back of the church. Also, the color must be well defined.

"There are three types of mass arrangements especially suitable to church decoration: the massed triangle, the massed oval, and the massed vertical. Which type you choose will depend upon the vases obtainable, upon the space to be occupied by the flower arrangement, and to a certain extent upon the architectural lines of the church itself. For narrow spaces and all narrow vases and Gothic architecture, the massed vertical or triangle may seem more suitable. . . .

"If the flowers which you are using do not have interesting leaves, or if the leaves wilt easily, you can improve the arrangement by picking off the leaves and substituting more distinctive foliage. There are many leaves from both garden and house plants that can be used. Among the foliage that is particularly decorative are the leaves of the iris, gladiolus, and yucca, all of a tall, pointed contour; funkia [also known as hosta], canna, rubber plant, and magnolia leaves, which are large and heavy in effect; and pandanus, coleus, croton, caladium, and begonia leaves, which are especially colorful, as well as shapely. Of course, certain greenery, such as huckleberry, eucalyptus, magnolia, and ivy is most useful, and even cypress, and sword ferns can often be used as background material to set off a few blossoms. . . .

"It is well to remember that a mass arrangement does not mean a thick tight mass of flowers stuffed into a vase. A mass arrangement should have definite lines and should not be flat or even on the top or at the sides. Avoid this by using flowers with stems of various lengths grouped around the center primal stalk. The middle center mass should be strong and full, and tied close to the vase. These factors are applicable to massed oval as well as to the massed triangle arrangement."
To be continued . . .

McClinton, Katherine Morrison; Flower Arrangement in the Church (Morehouse-Gorham Co., New York, 1944, 1958 edition); pp. 48-51.

Canna "Auguste Ferrier", from Wikimedia Commons. In the public domain.
(Canna's decorative foliage is one of those recommended by McClinton for use in church flower arrangements.)


Anonymous said...


This was very enjoyable to read.
There is only one question I need to ask.
Does the color of the flowers changes according to the time of the Church Calender and the altar they are adorning.

For instance, Mother Mary is viewed, most commonly by colors such as white and light blue. Should the flowers be of similar.

This is great information! This is the reason I got to your blog. I typed "Flowers for Altar" and your blog came up. Anything that goes to the church must follow the rules given by the Catholic Church.

Thank you again for sharing.


Marie-Jacqueline said...

Thank you, Ginger. Yes, the floral arrangements need to harmonize with the liturgical colors of the day. I don't think there is any liturgical norm that says so, however. It's just a matter of aesthetics.

In time, I will be posting more from these old books that will help with the aspect of church flowers that you mention. It can be quite a challenge when one considers not only the colors of the Sunday Mass but also that the colors often change during the week.

I'm glad you enjoy the flower posts. They are among my favorites to write. Thank you for visiting.