The poppy has always been a difficult flower for Flower Arrangers to use. They fade overnight and are not suitable for modern mechanics such as floral foam. Their season is short and they are rarely available outside their natural flowering times.
The seed heads however, are useful for drying and preserving. Knowing these things and in anticipation of the 100th Anniversary of the Great War, I bought some ‘silk’ ones from the wholesalers.
This design is inspired by the poem written by John McCrae during the war to commemorate those lost fighting alongside him.
The poppies referred to are the field poppies that sprang up after the earth churning battles in Belgium. Poppy seeds are known to lie dormant for many years in the soil and will germinate when the ground is disturbed.
The Corn Poppy(Papaver rhoeas) has always been associated with the harvest and was prevalent in fields of cereal until the advent of modern farming methods. Victorian visitors to Norfolk named it Poppy Land because of the scarlet fields seen there during Summer visits to the Seaside. The bright petals from these flowers were harvested by the small hands of children and packed in straw to be sent away for the manufacture of syrup which was used as a colouring agent.
In the Victorian language of flowers, red poppies stand for Consolation which in the light of their association with the World Wars seems appropriate. Oriental poppies stand for Silence and White poppies for Peace – How coincidental. So my artificial poppies were ready, and then I had to remind myself to save some of the dried poppy seed heads from my garden. They dried naturally in this Summers hot sun and I kept them upside down in a paper bag, so that I could catch the seeds for planting, until they were needed.
The choice of container was easy, this brass, tapered vase, it might be a spill holder, is what we term trench art and was fashioned from a brass shell case. The relief pattern on the front is Art Nouveau, a style which was popular just before and after the War. The poppies and dried seed heads are arranged naturally, the wire stems of the artificial flowers enabling me to bend them and create movement. I used just a little dri-foam in the container to give control over the position of the stems. Finally I stood the design on a poetry book open at the poem. In Flower arranging circles this is known as an Interpretive design. Accessories are often added to the flower arrangement to interpret the theme but it is much more satisfactory if the plant material and container say it all. I wanted simplicity for this design and kept the components to a minimum.
I hope the flowers speak in their own language but here is John McCrae’s poem….
John McCrae 1872 -1918
IN FLANDERS FIELDS
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.