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VM inspriration: flowers

There was a time when dahlias and chrysanthemums were persona non grata in classy flower gardens, and therefore persona non grata in VM too. They were relegated to the province of village flower shows and never to be seen in the tasteful, pastel, Gertrude Jekyll-designed mixed beds of the UK’s stately homes. But those days are now gone and we embrace the ‘wow’ of colour that  chrysanthemums and the dahlias provide at the end of the summer season.

Let’s take a look at how those in English Heritage’s Audley End gardens might be used in-store.

First, they provide a wonderful textural contrast against brick walls. The strong reds and yellows are both seen separately and combined in the glorious image above, backed by that wonderful old red brick wall. Limiting the colour palette and varying the form is the key to success here, and these would easily last a week as cut flowers, perhaps in a striking red-tinted glass vase?

Varying the form but minimizing the colour palette, a good VM rule of thumb, works just as well for cut flowers. Here a dahlia with pinched magenta-red petals and golden yellow centre combines brilliantly with the classic ‘ball of petals’ red shape and a huge scarlet red bouffant one with yellow edges at the back of this bed. The monochrome palette of reds wandering from scarlet through watermelon red to a cerise-red, against the red brick wall, is set off by the abundant green foliage that dahlias produce. These would look great against any of the red brick walls we see used in contemporary VM.

While we see independent stores using flowers in fitting rooms or at the cash desk, I have known retailers make a real feature of flower displays. One ex-student spent a year creating flower displays for a Hong Kong-based premium multi-brand store group, where her VM work entailed displaying armfuls of orchids.

As late summer morphs in to autumn, the wonderful dry weather of the past few weeks has been a boon for the huge chrysanthemums and dahlias whose heavy heads are too often destroyed by rain. This beautifully, graphic dahlia image shows how the colour varies as the flower ages: shifting from a pink-red to an orange-red as they open. Skip white chrysanthemums as in Asia, and the UK, these are often used as funeral flowers.

Next up is this two colour dahlia. The actual flower was amazing with a dusty bloom across the teddy-bear-coloured petals, reminiscent of a furry bumble bee. Sight of this flower was also most enough make me grow dahlias, which require precise disbudding for best results, meaning vacations are impossible. For VM use, any artificial flower could be painted in bands to combine precise colours for a scheme.

Combined with bronze canna lilies, the profusion of pompom dahlias here reminds me just how floriferous these plants are. In China and Hong Kong it was fashionable for many years to plant several plants of the same type together in a pot, staking each stem with bamboo as it grew. The bamboo stems were then wired together to form a precisely domed semi-circle and the resulting plants, which all bloomed at the same time, were called a ‘1000 flower heads’ and used to decorate entrances of stores and hotels at Chinese New Year. This technique is somewhat out of fashion at present so seen less often, but as with most fashions, ‘what goes around comes around,’ so I await its revival, abet perhaps in a slightly revised form.

Dahlia attract butterflies, so this flower has an ecological trope for like-minded retailers too. All fresh flowers in stores suggest freshness of merchandise, be it fashion or food, to customers. For VM: bring on the florists…