QBARS - v14n2 What the Judge Looks for in a Flower Arrangement

What The Judge Looks For In A Flower Arrangement
by Mrs. Arthur O. Luther, Seattle, Wash.
Amateur Accredited Judge of the National Council of Garden Clubs

In the January issue of the American Rhododendron Society's Bulletin, it was suggested that an article on flower arrangements, featuring rhododendrons, would be of interest.*  This was a challenge to me, as I would like to see more arrangements exhibited in our shows.
Some time ago, it was the writer's pleasure to be one of a team of three judges, who judged the arrangement section in a Seattle Rhododendron show. At the time, we felt the schedule was most important, as it controls the show.
Flower arrangement might be defined as the artistic use of flowers and other materials to produce beauty. The arranger expresses himself when carrying out his idea. Design, in my opinion, is the difference between an arrangement and a bouquet.
We are influenced, in our arrangements, by other cultures. There are many rich fields of study, such as wood carvings, mosaics, tapestries, rugs, and even old coins.
There are three schools of flower arrangement; the Oriental, the Period, and the Modern or Contemporary styles. Oriental art is characterized by restraint with emphasis on line. Period arrangements borrow from the Victorian age and are lush and rich in color, with emphasis on mass. Contemporary arrangements might be called stylized line arrangements using exotic materials.
We, here in the West, are influenced by the Japanese style of flower arrangement. This style has been built on centuries of study, reflection, and creation. A knowledge of the basic Japanese triangle, and the placement of the lines, known as heaven, man and earth, which make up this triangle, is a basis of good design.
Not until the 1930's did the public realize that a few artists were using their cut flowers in a different manner. Flower arrangement classes were formed, sponsored by garden clubs, and soon became very popular.
We were taught that the first consideration is to condition the flowers. Blossoms should be cut in the morning or after sun down, and placed in deep water for at least twelve hours, before arranging them. A faded bloom eliminates the blue ribbon.
A good judge looks for the following principles of design, in all arrangements: Balance, Dominance, Contrast, Rhythm, Proportion and Scale. These principles apply to all the allied arts, and flower arrangement has been recognized as an art.
The elements of design which make up these principles are: Line, Form, Pattern. Texture and Color.

Principles Of Design

Balance gives a sense of repose making an arrangement pleasing. Dominance in this case might be achieved by keeping all materials subordinate to the rhododendrons or azaleas used.
Contrast might be carried out through a variation in the size of foliage or through color.
Rhythm may be arrived at through a gradation in size and form.
Proportion deals with relative amounts and areas. The height of an arrangement should be in good proportion to the container used.
Scale deals with relative sizes of plant material to the container and to each other. A large rhododendron truss would be out of scale in a small container.  The avid horticulturist might be horrified at the thought of removing a flower or two from a truss, in order to reduce the size, so as to be in scale with the container, but it has been done successfully.

Fig. 14.  A line arrangement showing restraint. The silvery
gray of the weathered branches enhance the color of the
R. 'Rosa Mundi' and are subordinate to the rhododendrons.
Size and texture of the foliage of the species rhododendron
wilsonae are in harmony with the dull blue green container.
The driftwood base repeats the color of the branches, and
voids, created by them, make a pleasing pattern.
C. Fanders photo

Elements Of Design

Line creates the form of the arrangement. A schedule calling for line arrangements, showing restraint, featuring azaleas, would be an inspiration to the artist.
Form is the skeleton of the composition and takes one of three forms: the triangle, the rectangle or the sphere, or part of a sphere.
Pattern is the silhouette made by an arrangement against the background. Voids in an arrangement are important and add much to the design.
Texture is the surface quality of a flower or leaf. Like textures combine well. The use of an Azalea would be a good transition between large and small leaf types.
Color is a visual sensation. Good color combinations develop harmony in an arrangement. A progression of values create rhythm. A class in a show asking for a monochromatic color harmony might bring out some beautiful arrangements. I remember one in a recent show which used branches of a red azalea to create the skeleton of the arrangement, with a darker rhododendron, in three different stages of bloom, used for the focal point, and a third value of red brought out by the use of red Japanese maple leaves at the base. To avoid monotony unequal values of red had been used.

Fig. 15. An arrangement in the Oriental style. The silhouette of this
arrangement, in a triangular form, is created by the placement of the
umbrella-pine, Sciadopitys verticillata . Rhythm is achieved by the use of
the R. 'Rosa Mundi' in different stages of bloom.  There is a nice contrast
in color between the turquoise blue inside the Japanese container and the
pink of the blossoms. Rocks, at the base, give the necessary weight
required to balance the long line of the pine.
C. Fanders photo

Scale Of Points

A set of points might be set up similar to those used by the National Council of Garden Clubs, which is as follows:

Design (all 6 principles considered) 25
Interpretation of the schedule, suitability 20
Color 15
Relationship 15
Distinction 15
Condition 10

In conclusion it might be suggested that a schedule including some of the following classes might inspire an arranger to make a number of attractive arrangements.

  1. An arrangement using weathered wood with rhododendrons or azaleas.
  2. An arrangement with species rhododendrons predominating.
  3. An arrangement with hybrid rhododendrons predominating.
  4. A line arrangement with rhododendrons and/or azaleas predominating.
  5. A monochromatic color harmony using azaleas and/or rhododendrons.

* My Experiences in Showing Rhododendrons and Notes on Special Shows, by George D. Grace.