The wildness of nature contrasts with the careful curation of a television, but on Netflix’s Bridgerton, The two work together to create a colorful pastiche of a bygone era, steeped in opulence and beauty. In the show’s first season, floral arrangements provided the backdrop to a storyline that captivated viewers with its passion and dramatic suspense; In the second season, flowers emerged as a protagonist in their own right, often mirroring costumes, offering suggestions for setting, and leaving clues as to what a particular scene might reveal.
Will Hughes Jones, who led production design for the second season, spoke to him THR about the process of creating floral arrangements in collaboration with the show’s writers, florists, and costume and set designers; how England’s seasons affected the use of artificial flowers versus real flowers; and his observations on how floral trends have flourished over time.
What role do flowers play in the show? How did you become a main character in season two?
The flowers were something that a lot of people commented on in season one. So when it came to season two, we knew they were actually a very strong character on the show in their own right. When I design a set there is always a point in the design [process], where me and set designer Gina Cromwell sit down and say, ‘Okay, we have the walls. What are we going to do with the flowers now?’
In every room, in every house – even on the outside – we always have flowers. Chris Van Dusen, the showrunner, is a big fan of theirs. In the UK the weather can be pretty harsh at times. So mostly we have to do the flowers in the gardens too. We never go into a place and say, “okay, these flowers are great,” because they generally aren’t. And since we were filming during the COVID times, there were many gardens where we literally had no gardeners for a year; We had to clean up all the outside gardens because they were just being left to grow wild. So in terms of how much effort we put into the floral design Bridgetonit’s a substantial amount – probably more than most shows.
You obviously think about several different arrangements for each episode and also have to deal with different environments. Do you use real flowers in the show or are they artificial? How must you manipulate flowers in a unique way while maintaining their image for the screen?
When we’re shooting in a studio – because of the studio lighting and the fact that there are 30 to 40 people in the room – the general heat and atmosphere creates a situation where flowers literally wither before your eyes. So we mostly use artificial flowers. There are moments where we have certain 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, at the first ball of the season – the conservatory ball – which was quite honestly a flower festival at Lady Danbury’s, we all put our artificial flowers in there because the conservatory was completely empty when we moved in. But there were a lot of real flowers too, mostly 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 big scene just to check that the costumes and the flowers have a connection. There is a particular scene where Penelope [Featherington] wears a bright yellow dress, and we made a whole wall of bright yellow flowers. She literally became a wallflower.
It’s such an interesting tension, this relationship between the natural world and the making of something beautifully crafted. They deal with the seasons of a show and the seasons of life.
There are cases where, for example, we needed hyacinths for a certain scene, which later refers to our character hyacinths. We couldn’t get artificial hyacinths, so we actually found a gentleman in Holland who forced hundreds of them to grow for us because we ended up shooting that scene in August or September and hyacinths bloom in January, early February.
There’s also a scene in a field of daffodils that we shot in June I think. Obviously just daffodils [blooming] in April before they transition. This was one of those particular scenes where Chris was very clear that he wanted daffodils. So we bought about five and a half thousand [artificial] daffodils, and a team of greens put them on the field. When you see this scene, nothing is real. Even the flowers on the trees were artificial.
Are there certain types of flowers that feel really accurate for the Regency period? [c. 1811 to 1820] the Bridgeton exists in? I’m curious how popular certain flowers were in England at the time.
It’s really a bit of reverse engineering, as rhododendrons were introduced during the Victorian era. So when we look at locations when there are a lot of rhododendron bushes, we know we can’t film there because they aren’t appropriate for the time. Likewise, the Regency period was a time of discovery. People went on a grand tour and came back with all sorts of interesting flowers. But mostly roses were the order of the day.
We look at paintings, we look at etchings, and there seemed to be quite a lot of wisteria and jasmine [too].
What’s on your mood board when making arrangements for the show? How did British gardens or other historical images inspire you?
We are very fortunate to have a fantastic team of Greensmen, Greenswomen and Florists; because of the way Bridgeton is textured, there are so many floral elements, so we have about three or four different florists that we would talk to about the look.
One of the big things in season two that both Gina Cromwell and I got used to was a designer at the time named Grinling Gibbons, who was actually a woodcarver. He carved all those beautiful fruit and flower features that are still found in the structure of Regency and Georgian buildings today; He was a rock star back then. So we were really interested in that and decided to reverse engineer this look. In one of the balls we use Grinling Gibbons as a reference point to create these beautiful floral arrangements. When you look at the Regency period you look for floral elements in paintings, but you also look at architecture. within the architecture, [you can see] the styles of the day. This is how many of our floral designs came about.
How did you use flowers in season 2 to represent the different families and provide commentary on class status and personality? How did you think about designing the characters in terms of decorating the environment?
It goes back to why we design sets. And that should give the actors space to do their thing. So you never want the flowers to take a backseat to the acting. It is not uncommon for us to adopt the colors of the flowers from the costumes. So if you look at someone like Lady Danbury in her home, many of the flowers are very similar colors to the costumes she wears. And also with the passage of time, there are more flowers in the Sharma girls’ dressing room, and these flowers are related to the Sharma girls’ costumes. It’s about making it feel like a coherent thing.
What do you think flowers have symbolized culturally throughout time, both during this Regency era and today? What do flowers represent to an audience or to society in general?
I think there’s actually something cyclical about it; If you look at the art of the Middle Ages, most of the flowers were for eating back then. Everything that was grown was for eating. I think over time [flowers] have become more and more decorative. But lately, modern florists often incorporate things into bouquets that aren’t necessarily flowers, like rosemary and herbs, and things that actually have an aroma. And now you’re going to some high-class restaurant, and one of your courses is going to have an edible flower in it, whether you like it or not.
People reacted so beautifully to the flowers in the first season: what role do you think? Bridgeton plays in relation to the transformation of the world of production design and how are flowers talked about on TV?
I think there’s a trend in TV and film right now to up the story a bit. And because we’re all very used to watching historical series and films where everything is brown and everyone is a little miserable. … I find Bridget helped push that view away and opt for a more optimistic view of history. People want to see bright, clean, and fun spaces. Another trend right now is this [people] go beyond the limits of historical accuracy. At the end of the day, Bridgeton set in the Regency period but is an imitation of that period. It’s not a true story. It’s what you would see if you went to the theater and saw a theatrical performance. Bridgeton almost created an acceptance that it’s okay to do bright, clean, fresh colors in a historical show.