India Hicks Remembers Her Father’s Signature Art of Flower Arranging

My father (design legend David Hicks) thought that going out and buying furniture was terribly common (you inherited furniture, you did not buy it, for Goodness sakes). He also thought you certainly did not buy flowers, you picked them from your garden, which was immaculately tended by a team of gardeners while you pointed here, directed there.

There would be flowers styled for the town, and flowers styled for the country. Flowers for color and flowers for the season and flowers that would last forever. Well, that’s how my father planned it…and since he’s the one with the flower arranging book, who are we to say otherwise?

My father shook up the quiet English drawing room with his interior decoration and his sense of color and drama, and he brought that same approach to flower arranging. He took great pleasure from juxtaposing flowers with objects, furniture and pictures–unlike many of us who simply plunk down the arrangement in whatever spot is available. He had fun with color, inventing daring combinations, grouping mauve and scarlet anemones with raspberry pink dianthus.

Special attention was paid to the containers, as they were important to the overall effect. He might take an early 19th century jug and fill it with a pastoral bunch of herbs and hedgerow gatherings or an ordinary raffia wastepaper basket which held a mass of ripe wheat. Even in a Park Avenue apartment my father used an ordinary galvanized bucket to hold a splendid arrangement of dried grasses, corn teasels, sunflower and other seed heads, standing proudly on an 18th century gilded console table.

When we vacationed in the South of France and my father wanted something that would be on permanent display year round, he created an arrangement of dried gypsophila. And in his London sitting room my father brought giant fennel, which was cut in the summer, when green, and stood in a massed group in a large container. Lit from above by a strip light over a painting, the fennel was allowed to dry naturally in the vase so that by the winter they still looked as strong and sculptural.

My father taught me that cut flowers needed care before arranging them…but after that, hey, let the flowers do as they please. He would revive stemmed flowers by re-cutting and resting them in warm water for a while, but you knew that.

Towards the end of his life he adapted a trademark arrangement of vibrant and pastel pink, old fashioned roses, which he considered the most romantic of all flowers. He would cut the stems short, bundle as many roses as he could into a short vase, and with great care place the arrangement in exactly the right spot, immediately bringing life to the room.

Arranging flowers the David Hicks way is the only way I know how. On occasion, in the past, when foolish suitors gave me handsome long-stemmed roses, they would be appalled as I brought out the scissors and trimmed the stems right down, removing any trace of greenery, sweeping away tradition, leaving only a cushion of rose heads bundled in a vase: trademark David Hicks.