CHRISTIN GEALL IS a Victoria-based gardener who arranges flowers, and a floral designer who grows much of what she uses in her designs. She also is the author of “Cultivated: The Elements of Floral Style,” a gorgeous new book from Princeton Architectural Press.
“Flowers shape my years now,” she writes. “They are both calendar and clock, an all-consuming love I bow to as graciously as I can.”
Garden-based floral design — it seems so obvious, right?
Like many of the domestic arts and practices that offer relief from a life of technology, flower arranging is having a moment as gardeners and nongardeners alike yearn to connect with nature and bring the outdoors into our increasingly “smart” houses.
Where “Cultivated” departs from most floral design books on the market (and there are many delicious ones) is Geall’s narrative style of writing, influenced by the author’s background in creative nonfiction. As a person who identifies as both a gardener and a cook, sometimes I lament the utilitarian nature of most gardening books; I love the way food writers write with their head and their heart. Geall might just be the M.F.K. Fisher (American grande dame of food writing) of flowers.
“Cultivated” beats with the heart of a sensualist. Throughout the book, Geall references art, theater, textiles, pastry, books and jazz — acknowledging the breadth of culture in horticulture. Her engaging, sometimes even poetic prose delivers both inspiration and advice on gathering plants and gearing up to create your own floral arrangements.
The book opens with a brief look at growing or gathering and caring for cut flowers. Picking from a garden or purchasing locally grown flowers at the farmers market grounds an arrangement in time and place, she notes. The author encourages looking beyond blossoms to include seedpods, fruits, foraged materials and even weeds to imbue arrangements with naturalism and a touch of wildness.
A section on “gearing up” looks at an array of vases and vessels and how they contribute to an arrangement, as well as a comprehensive survey of “mechanics,” those tools and tricks of the trade that floral designers use to anchor their compositions and create lasting arrangements.
A thorough review of color and design principles provides a sturdy foundation for Geall’s approach to building floral designs with depth, movement and grace. Like many floral designers working today, Geall resists using floral foam, for environmental and health reasons. “Floral foam is to contemporary floristry what asbestos is to homebuilding — dated and dangerous,” she posits, a powerful analogy that goes right to the crux of the issue. Instead, her compositions rely on a framework of woody branches and internal devices, from traditional flower supports to crushed chicken wire, to create what she refers to as “the romance of looser lines.” The result is relaxed, almost untethered — you know, like a garden.
In a chapter entitled “Learning from the Past,” Geall looks at floral design through the lens of art history, with observations and practical take-away tips, like: “Beauty is transient. Honor change and decay,” something she learned from studying floral still-life paintings by the Dutch Masters.
This beautiful and imminently giftable hard-bound book is lavishly illustrated with floral arrangements created and photographed by the author. Geall is an artist who composes a moment from the garden in a vase, then captures it on film. Or, as she puts it, “If a garden concentrates our experience of nature, an arrangement of flowers and plants does so even more.”