I have no photographs of my great grandma’s wedding or bridal bouquet. However I thought it would be interesting to research what flowers were available when Ethel Spice married in 1913 and then make my own version based on my research.
I have looked at original newspaper reports of Edwardian weddings and looked at wedding photographs from the Era.
Derbyshire Times and Chesterfield Herald – Saturday 01 June 1912
Dundee Evening Telegraph – Tuesday 04 June 1912
Cheltenham Looker-On – Saturday 07 June 1913
1902 Wedding of Austin Coom and Rosina Nelson
Edwardian Bridal Bouquets
The Edwardian Era brought about a complete change of bouquet style from the neat Victorian Posy. In the above 1902 wedding the bouquets are still fairly round and neat in shape. Flowers with long stems and trailing plants became available at the flower market and the Edwardian Shower Bouquet became popular. This was characterized by long showers or trails of fern. The shape was large and loose.The shower bouquet was made on a moss ball. Sphagnum moss was made into a ball about the size of a golf ball and into this was poked a long hairpin-like wire. Every flower or piece of foliage was then mounted onto a suitable wire and the wires were then made into a handle. Late Edwardian bouquets were enormous. They were at least 40 cm in diameter at the top with three or more trails of asparagus plumosus reaching almost to the ankles. Hanging amongst the trails would often be roses or carnations. Stephanotis and lily of the valley were also sometimes interwoven. The trails were bound together with binding wire. Some florists used green silk-covered wire. Gutta tape wasn’t used in Edwardian times.
The other style of bouquet which was popular was a tapering, long arm sheaf. These were usually made with longiflorum lilies (otherwise known as bridal or trumpet) or with arum lilies. Often the stems were bound with ribbon, although they were sometimes left unbound. This was the precursor of the stylised arum lily sheaf popular in the 1920s. Miss Mason is noted to have a sheaf of lilies and pale pink carnations in 1913.
Edwardian Bridal Flowers
The most popular bridal flowers were roses and Malmaison carnations. Ivory or white flowers were still a favourite for the bride’s bouquet. Bouquets often contained one or two varieties of flowers, but you didn’t tend to have mixed flower bouquets. A wide variety of flowers were available, but fashion dictated that flowers should be of the same kind. It was considered vulgar to mix flowers. Only with the publication of Constance Spry’s first book, Flower Decoration, in 1934 did the idea of `mixed’ flowers become acceptable. Flowers arranged in the house were largely single varieties. Gertrude Jekyll felt two flower arrangements could be tolerated but only by those with a keen and well trained color eye. In the History of Flower Arranging by Julia Berrall she says `Flower arranging suffered from over-simplification. One dozen carnations and some asparagus fern, placed in a tall cut-glass vase, sum up the state which flower arrangements had reached.’
From my research I was amazed at the number of references to named varieties of garden roses. When I got married I was advised that `garden roses shouldn’t be used in a bridal bouquet as they are not bred for the cut flower trade.’ I thought this was such a shame. Roses grown for bridal bouquets are now often bred on a large scale to maximise stem length and longevity, but they often lack the beautiful fragrance of garden blooms. David Austin is one rose breeder who is working hard to reverse this trend. It is difficult to breed flowers for both scent and lasting power. The oils that provide the scent have the effect of breaking down the flower more quickly than in roses without scent. David Austin English Cut Roses have the beauty of an English garden rose although they are produced under glass. When I got married I would have liked to have chosen roses for my bouquet which I could then grow in my garden as a beautiful memory. Apart from commercially grown David Austin roses there are a new wave of British Flower growers who grow flowers to be used in floral design work. I wish I’d known about them when I was getting married.
Dorothy Perkins Roses (Wichurana)
The Dorothy Perkins rose was the very first rose to be named after a person. Jackson and Perkins was a company formed by Charles Perkins (1840 – 1924) and his father-in-law, Albert Jackson (1807 – 1895) in the USA. Charles Perkins had a Grand-daughter named Dorothy. Miller who worked for Jackson and Perkins developed this clear pink rambling rose in 1902 which was named after her.
The Dorothy Perkins rose went on to win first prize at the Royal National Rose Society in 1908. She was bred from the Wichurana roses which are very vigorous ramblers. Peter Beales still sells Dorothy Perkins with her colourful cascades of clear pink flowers.
Catherine Mermet Roses
The Catherine Mermet rose was introduced in 1869 by Guillot. This is a pretty double tea shaped rose, light pink colour and is very fragrant. Catherine Mermet was grown as a greenhouse variety, but can now be kept as a garden rose. A white rose was developed from Catherine Mermet called `the Bride’.
The Nephetos rose was often called the wedding rose. She has creamy buds opening up to blowsy white flowers and a delicate tea scent. This highly scented old climber was very popular in Edwardian wedding bouquets and was introduced as a French tea rose in 1889 by Keynes Williams & Co. Nephetos roses need cosseting in colder areas and are better placed in a warm position or under glass.
`The Rose, it’s history and how to cultivate it’ – J. Johnstone 1897
Edwardian bridal roses tended to be white or pale pink. However I have found a few references to crimson roses. This article shows that this was a new idea as generally speaking white flowers were favoured as they symbolised purity and innocence. Interesting that coloured flowers are beginning to come in.
Yorkshire Evening Post – Thursday 01 May 1913
Carnations have gone out of favour largely due to the wide availability in supermarkets at competitive prices. However they were viewed completely differently in the Edwardian Era. Malmaison Carnations date back to the 1850s. They were originally bred in France in 1857, and because of their quartered flowers looking similar to the bourbon rose, Souvenir de la Malmaison, they were named Malmaison Carnations.
Malmaison Carnations (Dianthus) were richly clove scented and were prized for cutting. There were 40 cultivars in the carnation’s heyday and sadly now only five remain. I found these on the Allwoods Nursery Website.
The Edwardian Era takes it’s name from Edward VII. His wife Queen Alexandra made the Malmaison carnation fashionable.
Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette – Wednesday 12 June 1912
They were, and still are, a real challenge to grow. They are prone to viruses, red spider mite in summer and damping off in winter. Malmaison carnations were cherished Edwardian flowers, grown for their strong scent in walled garden greenhouses. They were used as cut flowers for country houses until the Second World War. In my Great Grandmas time a vase of Malmaisons would demonstrate the owner’s social and economic position in life unlike today when they tend to be viewed as cheap `garage flowers`. Looking at newspaper articles I have found that carnations were often used in bridesmaids’ shower bouquets or carried by the mother of the bride. I must admit I have become quite fond of them. They do smell amazing and they can last for several weeks in the vase.
Edwardian Bridal Bouquet Foliage
Shower Bouquets of the Edwardian Era were large and trailing. They often had yard long trailing greenery of fern. Whilst researching this Era I have been amazed at the number of varieties of fern which were used. I have found at least 5 varieties of asparagus fern!
Dundee Evening Telegraph – Tuesday 04 June 1912
The Edwardians loved bouquets with trailing ribbons. Ribbons streamed out of the bouquet featuring knots along their length which were known as `Lovers knots’ or Bridal Laces. They were meant to represent promises from the Groom. Interestingly I thought the ribbons would have always been white in colour. However my research has found pink ribbon trails and even electric blue! How very daring!
Western Times – Wednesday 10 June 1914
Western Times – Friday 21 June 1912
Having researched the period I was in two minds about what kind of bouquet my Great Grandma Ethel Spice would have had in 1913. Ethel’s father George Spice was a market gardener and worked for Greenwood’s florists in Clapton. The first florists were market gardeners and nurserymen and the Edwardian Era saw the rise of the market garden.
Part of me feels that Ethel would have had a bouquet provided by her dad with flowers he grew himself. Whilst Malmaison carnations, roses and lilies were the most popular and stylish flowers for wealthy households, many Edwardians had a love for modest cottage garden flowers. There was a developing trend for flowers to be used in a style more sympathetic to the plant’s growing characteristics. The neat Victorian concentric bands were no longer in fashion and the rise of the Arts and Crafts Movement favoured a more naturalistic style. For fun I made a `Market Garden Bouquet’ for Ethel. I included lots of trailing ribbons and used dahlias grown on a Cutting Plot. I also used myrtle which is often used in bridal bouquets as it symbolises `Endless Love’.
However much as this bouquet was enormous fun to make I really don’t think it would be Ethel’s cup of tea. Photos show her to be a typical demure Edwardian lady. I know Ethel loved roses as I have a picture of her in later life standing by her roses, looking very proud of her efforts.
I decided to make a more typical Edwardian bouquet with pink roses, lots of trailing fern and streaming ribbons. Although this type of bouquet would have been made with a moss ball I was after the look and not an exact replica. Having gathered together my materials I wired all the roses first. I used modern pink roses, but chose ones which I felt would look authentic in photos. If you would like to see how to wire a rose do check out my Blog Post on making a traditional wired rose buttonhole.
I then wired my chosen foliage. I’d opted for Asparagus setaceus, ivy and Asparagus densiflorus. Each frond or leaf was individually mount wired and then made into long branching units. I made sure I had plenty of variety of length.
I then started to construct the bouquet. In the same manner as I had made my 1970s wired posy I made a handle by binding the stems together with silver reel wire. I set the overall shape of the bouquet with long stems for the trail and stems either side to set the width. Shorter stems were attached at the top and slightly bent back to form a return. I then infilled with the flowers trying to create the shape I had seen in photographs. The wires were made into a ribbon handle and I included lots of ribbon streamers with lovers knots. I loved the finished bouquet, although Mr Smiles felt it was a bit messy and preferred the neat 1970s posy!
The construction took several hours to wire all the components for the design. However I must say it was surprisingly light for such a big bouquet.
Having photographed my design I then wanted to make a watercolour to add to my art work of vintage bouquets. I was rather overwhelmed with inspiration and source material for my painting!
Surrounded by the bouquet and numerous photographs I decided to use pen and wash rather than go for a neat accurate replica. I felt that I already had a decent photograph so wanted to produce my own artistic interpretation of this Edwardian design. The bouquet has quite a formal construction, but gives the impression of something loose and unstructured. I tried to convey this looseness in my finished work. I hope you like it!
You might also like my Blog Post about Ethel’s Weddding in1913.