FLOWERS FOR THE TABLE.
Costly Decorations Affected by the Aristocracy.
Nell Nelson’s Chat with the Lending Floral Firms.
“You newspaper women,” said the monarch of the Elliott Floral Company, “make us a lot of trouble with your extravagant pens and superlative adjectives. You write Mrs. A.’s $50 order way up, and when Mrs. B. comes in with the article and wants us to beat it for $500 we are nonplussed, for the description calls for $1,500 worth of flowers.
“Half the trouble in this world comes from distorted facts and the other half is the result of bad cooking. The dream of Bellamy will never be realized until truth becomes chronic and the product of the kitchen digestible.
“There is no leading style in flowers or floral decorations, and no standard but that of individual taste. People pick their plants and cut flowers as they do their clothes and furniture ”
“The moneyed people like roses and orchids; the artists love palms and ferns, and many women would rather have a bunch of mignonette than a basket of voluptuous Beauty roses–those crimson, living, almost human things that intoxicate the senses.
“Just now we are in a blaze of beauty, a cloud of glory, a heaven of perfume, and you have only to choose and I’ll send you anything you want.
“Here is the ‘Magna Charta,’ the rival of the American Beauty; both the same price–$15 a dozen.
“Here’s white lilac–the poet’s own flower and smell–now close your eyes! Can’t you feel Spring in your heart? My aesthetic soul, but it’s good!
“How much? Six dollars a bunch and six sprays in a bunch. Rolled up in paraffine paper and boxed in cotton batting, I don’t know a nicer bit of fragrance for a New Year’s offering. Do you?”
I said I didn’t.
“You see, the man or the woman who sends a flower to a friend wraps himself eternally in its perfume and wherever the breath of that blossom is caught, up he comes in face and form and voice, or the woman has no soul—that’s all.
“I once had the measles when I was in aprons,” the horticulturalist confided to me; “and while I was sick a little girl sent me an apple to smell, but not to eat.
” I can smell that rosy piece of fruit now, and I never pass a greening or a russet or a pippin that I do not see the wee maiden in fancy and bless her dear little heart. That’s the sentiment of it, but here’s the business.
“Flowers are abundant, but the demand amounts to a real tax, and prices are high as ambition.
“We never mix flowers. We don’t believe in it. There is as much individuality about blossoms as there is about belles, and so we arrange them, not in tulle and pearls, but in the very severest of vases, so as not to let the holder detract from the bouquet.
“We are daring enough, too, to put pearl roses in pearl cups, golden tulips in primrose-yellow bowls, and crimson roses in ruby forms–a privilege we have been encouraged to take with chromatics, by the audacity of Alma Tadema, Whistler and Burne Jones.
“We never build a table piece as high as the line of vision, and not even a child’s view across a dinner-table is obstructed. Orchids, roses, tightly bound hyacinths, spicy carnations, sweet-scented tulips and the dainty ma capucine buds, which are salmon-like in color, are all in demand for table decoration, and an art committee would be puzzled to tell which is choicest.
“About the biggest order we have filled this year came from the Union League Club fellows the night they entertained the Pan-American Society.
“There were flowers everywhere but under foot and in the air. We hung the little theatre with foliage tapestry, banked the stage with the glossiest and greenest of palms, and fringed the footlights with asparagus and mosses, that caressed a ridge of growing orchids.
“In the library there are six large tables niched between bookcases, and we piled the files and folios under the boards and on zinc covers planted the choicest flowers that the state afforded.
“One table was a solid bed of cut orchids, fringed with ferns, that cost us $600 to spread; another oblong had nothing but American Beauties for a cushion, and each rose was worth $1.75 that night; another was upholstered with pink, white and damask cyclamen, and roses, violets and carnations embossed the remaining boards.
“The bookcases in the room are all low, and we used them for a bank of encircling palms, at the feet of which we planted wired and fantastic orchids that seemed almost human in the pale candle-light.
“The supper was served in a suit of three rooms, and each board had a different flower piece. One was a massive rose cluster, the second was a rose piece with a streak of white narcissus running through it, and I can’t remember the other.
“At the Delmonico banquet, prepared for the same tourists, we put Summer on the table and festooned the balconies with her garlands and hanging plants, and pendent from the celling we hung a great globe of laurel, orange, lemon verbena and sweet-brier, with Central America picked out in true geographic position with closely stemmed cluster flowers. At this point a Van Rensselaer came in, and in a low rich contralto voice, with a pronounced English accent, asked for white violets, and I fled.
Dunder, who grows the roses that belong in the bowers of the Four Hundred, sighed when asked to name the ideal table decorations. “The best way to answer that is to show you my book. Here’s an order for to-night. The lady gives a dinner party for which she will use a solid gold service.
“There is a towering epergne to go in the centre of the table, and in it I will put orchids of delicate lavender and pure white, with the queen of ferns for relief.
“Strings of asparagus will be trailed along the cloth and carried up to the arms of the candelabra.
“Mrs. W. D. Sloane’s dinner tables are always decorated with American Beauties. That’s her favorite flower. Saturday night I sent her a flat basket, six feet in diameter, planted with those roses. The cluster was as big as a rose bush.
“Over the white cloth we scattered sprays, three feet long, with blossoms as large as cauliflowers and turned them so that the gorgeous flower threw the splendor of their color and perfume in the very faces of the guest.
“The prettiest novelty for a table was, in my mind, an order we filled for one of the white dinners for which Mrs. William Baylis is famous. With her while porcelain and satin polished silver, we used Puritan roses, the finest white flower cultivated.
“In the corners of the mahogany were small English egg-baskets of split willow, filled with lilies of the valley, and about the cloth were mats of mistletoe, heavy with their opaque berries. Those egg baskets are very fetchy. They are rude, you see, and have the appearance, when filled, of being just sent in by some friend.
“Pertinent to the season are the scarlet baskets, which we have sold by the thousand. Some we fill with English holly, some with crimson tulips, others with point sette leaves and a few with carnations and mistletoe.”
A call came over the telephone from no less a personage than Mr. Ward McAllister, and I was alone.
From a good-natured belle who has been in social circulation for several decades I learned that each leader has a flower to which she is as devoted as she is to a special perfume or grade of linen.
Mrs. W. W. Astor uses American Beauties at all her dinners. So does Mrs. Frederick Vanderbilt. Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt prefers Gloria de Paris roses; Mrs. Elliott F. Shepard considers the La France the queen of roses; Mrs. Orme Wilson cheerfully pays $2 apiece for Magna Charta roses, and has from twenty to seventy on her table at a time.
Mrs. Ex-Secretary Whitney has a weakness for white and gold, and pearls. Puritans, Nun Hoste and Gabriel Luizet alternate in her dining parlor, while Mrs. Paran Stevens delights in Spring flowers and buys tulips, narcissi, daisies, May bells and hyacinths by the hamper.
The regulation flower for the bridal board is the Amazon lily, a peerless cup-shaped blossom that seems pouring its soul out in floods of perfume.
This lily is new, and like all rare things costly. For the price of a bowlful of Amazons you might have Dickens in calf, a Persian wool bath robe or roast young goose every day for a whole week, with a peck of apple sauce besides. Nell Nelson.
The Evening World [New York NY] 30 December 1889: p. 2
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Fashions in flowers were followed as avidly as the latest modes from Paris. Mrs Daffodil has written about A Violet Luncheon, Flowers a Bride Should Carry, Modern Valentine Flowers, The Black Rose, and The Wild-Flower Wedding.
This Parisienne instructed her guests to arrange DIY centrepieces for a prize–a novelty both indolent and presumptuous, one feels. One can practically hear the waspish, postprandial comments from the departing guests.
Something new in table decoration is the creation of a Paris society woman. At a dinner given recently the guests were surprised to find the centre of the table piled high with a mass of cut flowers, including many varieties of roses, lilies of the valley, chrysanthemums, carnations, violets, ferns, smilax, etc. At each plate were placed three red, white and blue vases made of bohemian glass, each in a solid colour. Upon a raised tabourette in the centre of the table was a huge cut glass rose bowl which the hostess announced was to be given to the guest arranging the flowers in his or her three vases most artistically. Philadelphia [PA] Inquirer 10 November 1899: p. 11
Mrs Daffodil has made an annual ritual of sharing Saki’s “The Occasional Garden” in advance of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, opening this coming week.
Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes
You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.