Dutch flowers to decorate the Vatican
On Easter Sunday, in an altar in front of St Peter’s Basilica, something resembling a communing with nature will take place when Pope Francis celebrates Mass surrounded by a stunning floral display made up of 30,000 tulips, hyacinths and daffodils. The square will be an awash of yellow, dark purple, salmon and orange while hundreds of three foot tall delphiniums will decorate the famous colonnades surrounding the piazza.
Then, afterwards, when he gives his blessings to the city of Rome and the world, the Pope will appear on a balcony surrounded with white ‘Avalanche’ roses.
These flowers are not the handy work of priests and nuns in the Vatican gardens, but are arranged by a team of florists from the Netherlands who the Pope thanks from the balcony and then personally greets afterwards.
Since 1986, the country which is the world’s largest exporter of flowers has been in charge of the flowers to St Peter’s at Easter.
It is a tradition which started following Pope John Paul II’s controversial visit to Holland a year earlier which had been marred by protests. The warmest welcome, however, were the flowers organised by the “Bloemenbureau”, the Dutch national flower society and later the Vatican agreed that the Netherlands would be in charge of the Easter floral display.
This is by no means a simple task, and requires months of meticulous preparation starting in the autumn. From February the bulbs are kept in greenhouses at specific temperatures so they come into bloom on Easter Sunday and are transported in refrigerated trucks to the Vatican on the Tuesday before.
A team of 25 is this year being led by floral designer Paul Deckers who has been involved with the St Peter’s displays since 1988. He said positioning of the flowers starts at 6am on Saturday morning with a final check taking place in the early hours of Easter Sunday. The Vatican approve their plans and are keen to ensure that the flowers do not block television cameras filming the liturgy.
This year Deckers was keen for the display to reflect the mercy of God, a theme which the Church is currently marking with a jubilee year. For this reason he chose to use 3,500 ‘Avalanche’ roses in a range of colours including soft pink and peach.
“I want a colourful interconnectedness,” he said. “I’d like to create a sense of the flowers speaking the languages and feelings of people.”
After Sunday the fresh flowers are then distributed to nearby churches and monasteries while the bulbs are planted in the Vatican gardens.
While he might be in charge of a huge operation, Deckers stressed that creating an Easter floral decoration at home need not be complicated. He suggests getting a basic landscape of foam, moss and wood and use simple flowers such as daffodils. “It doesn’t have to be a lot,” he said. “Look at nature and you get inspiration.”