The wilderness of the natural world opposes careful curation of a TV, but on Netflix Bridgerton, the two work in tandem to create a colorful pastiche of a bygone era marked by opulence and beauty. In the show’s first season, flower arrangements formed the backdrop to a storyline that gripped viewers with its passion and dramatic suspense; in the second season, the flowers appeared as a main character in their own right, often mirroring costumes, offering suggestions on the setting, dropping hints as to what a given scene might reveal.
Will Hughes Jones, who led the production design for season two, spoke with THR on the process of designing floral arrangements in collaboration with the scriptwriters, florists, costumers and set designers of the show; how England’s seasons have impacted the use of artificial versus real flowers; and his observations of how floral trends have blossomed over time.
What role do flowers play in the show? How did they become a main character in season 2?
Flowers were something a lot of people commented on in the first season. So when it came to season two, we knew they were actually a very strong character in their own right on the show. When I design decor there is always a point in the design [process], where myself and decorator Gina Cromwell sit down and say, “Okay, we’ve got the walls.” Now, what do we do with the flowers?
In every room, in every house — and even outdoors — we always have flowers. Chris Van Dusen, the showrunner, is a big fan of it. Being in the UK, the weather can be quite inclement at times. So most often we also have to do the flowers in the gardens. We never go to a place and say, “Okay, these flowers are great,” because they usually aren’t. And since we filmed in the time of COVID, there were a lot of gardens that we hadn’t had gardeners in for literally a year; all the exterior gardens had to be beautified because they had been left in a wild state. So in terms of the effort we put into the floral design on Bridgertonthat’s a considerable amount – probably more than most shows.
You obviously think of several different arrangements for each episode and also have to engage in different environments. Do you use real flowers in the show or are they artificial? How should you manipulate the flowers in a unique way while maintaining their image on screen?
When we’re shooting in a studio – because of the studio lights and the fact that there are 30-40 people in the room – the general warmth and atmosphere creates a situation where the flowers literally wilt before your eyes. So most often we use artificial flowers. There are times when we have specific scenes where the flowers are very, very close to the actors. And when that happens, we always use real. So we use a mix of both.
For example, the first ball of the season – the conservatory ball – which was quite honestly a flower party at Lady Danbury’s, we put all our artificial flowers there as the conservatory was completely empty when we moved in. But there were a lot of real flowers too, mainly because we wanted to make sure the colors we used were in sync with the costumes. We always have conversations with Sophie Canale, the costume designer, about literally every ball and every big stage, just to check that the costumes and the flowers have some sort of connection. There is a particular scene where Penelope [Featherington] wears a bright yellow dress, and we made a whole wall of bright yellow flowers. So she literally became a wallflower.
It’s such an interesting tension, this relationship between the natural world and the making of something beautifully crafted. You are dealing with the seasons of a show and the seasons of life.
There are occasions when, for example, we needed Hyacinths for a particular scene, which then relates to our Hyacinth character later in the line. We couldn’t get any artificial hyacinths, so we actually found a gentleman in Holland who grew hundreds of them for us, because we ended up filming that scene in August or September, and the hyacinths bloom in January, at the beginning of February.
There’s also a scene in a daffodil field that we shot in June, I believe. Obviously, daffodils are just [blooming] in April before they pass. It was one of those particular scenes where Chris was very clear that he wanted them to be daffodils. So we bought about five and a half thousand [artificial] daffodils, and a team of green men put them in the field. When you see this scene, nothing is real about it. Even the tree flowers were artificial.
Are there specific types of flowers that really feel accurate to the regency period [c. 1811 to 1820] this Bridgerton exists in? I am curious to know the popularity of certain flowers in England at this time.
It’s sort of reverse engineered, because in Victorian times rhododendrons were imported. So when we look at the location, if there are a lot of rhododendron bushes, we know that we can’t film there because they’re not suitable for the period. . Likewise, the Regency period was a time of discovery. People would go on their big rounds and come back with all kinds of interesting flowers. But above all roses were the order of the day.
We look at paintings, we look at engravings, and it seems that there is a lot of wisteria and jasmine [too].
What’s on your mood board when designing arrangements for the show? How have British Gardens or other historical images inspired you?
We are very lucky to have a fantastic team of greensmen, greenswomen and florists; because of the way Bridgerton is structured, there are so many floral elements, so we have about three or four different florists we could talk to about the looks.
For the second season, one of the big things that Gina Cromwell and I hung onto was a designer at the time called Grinling Gibbons, who was actually a wood carver. He carved all those beautiful fruit and floral elements that are still found in the structure of Regency and Georgian buildings today; he was a rock star at the time. So we were really interested in that and decided to reverse engineer this look. At one of the balls, we use Grinling Gibbons as a reference point to create these beautiful flower arrangements. When you look at the Regency period, you look at paintings for flower elements, but you also look at architecture. Within architecture, [you can see] styles of the day. This is how we created much of our floral design.
In season two, how did you use flowers to represent different families and comment on class status and personality? How did you plan to shape the characters from the perspective of decorating the environment?
It goes back to why we design sets. And that’s to give the actors a space to do their thing. So you never want the flowers to overshadow the acting. Very often we take the colors of the flowers from the costumes. So if you look at someone like Lady Danbury, in her house a lot of flowers are very similar in color to the costumes she wears. And also over time, there are more flowers in Sharma girls’ dressing room, and these flowers relate to Sharma girls’ costumes. It’s about making it look like one cohesive thing.
Culturally speaking, what do you think flowers have symbolized over time, both in Regency times and even today? What do flowers represent for an audience or for society in general?
I think there’s a cyclical thing to it actually; when you look at art from the medieval period, most of the flowers then were there for people to eat. Everything that grew was meant to be eaten. I think over time, [flowers] have become more and more decorative. But lately, modern florists quite often include things in bouquets that aren’t necessarily flowers, like rosemary and herbs and things that actually have an aroma. And now you go to any high-end restaurant and one of your dishes will have an edible flower in it, whether you like it or not.
People Reacted So Well To Season 1’s Flowers: What Role Do You Think Bridgerton plays in terms of transforming the world of production design and how people talk about flowers on television?
I think there’s a trend in television and film right now to enhance the story somewhat. And because we’ve all gotten used to watching historical series and films where everything is brown, and everyone is a bit miserable. … I think Bridgeton helped push back that gaze and take a more optimistic look at history. People want to see spaces that are bright, clean, and fun. Another current trend is that [people] push the limits of historical accuracy. At the end of the day, Bridgerton is set in the regency period, but it is a pastiche of that period. It’s not the real story. This is what you would see if you went to the theater and saw a theatrical performance. Bridgerton almost created an acceptance that it’s okay to do bright, clean, fresh colors in a period show.