The quinces are half naked, half in flower. The flowers stand out in bright white, focal points in the vast darkness, but the branches are the story: the anatomy of the prickly branches and the angles and cantilevers they twisted and reached for the sun during their outdoor life. Some of them are five feet tall and set in their own way, resistant to touch. “You are wrestling with a tiger,” says New York-based flower designer Emily Thompson, who staged this flora – a huge organic architecture that is supported only by itself, with no steel frame and only a few cable ties to tie the joints – for the runway for designer Jason Wu’s fall 2020 fashion show in Manhattan last February, just before the virus hit the city.

Cut flowers that were only born for a short time and immersed in a vase are reminiscent of nature. But branches are nature, we defiantly try to tame and arrange them. They take shape, follow the whims of the wind and fulfill their own private destiny. They have the patina and energy of age that come from trees that we could easily survive undisturbed in their domestic habitat, and they carry those origins with them, a part of the tree that represents the whole. It takes years to cultivate instead of the mere months a stem flower takes. Twigs as decoration are used almost exclusively in theatrical installations to add height and drama to events, the cavernous dining rooms of elegant restaurants or large hotel lobbies – a demand that has become even smaller recently. But at a time when so many of us feel beaten by things beyond our control, it’s harder to find solace in the cool refinement of a simple flower. The rawness of the branches, their imperfection, speaks for our haunted moment. Indeed, more than ever, Thompson sees their tortured forms as an explanation of life. “This was something the weather had,” she says; “Something that had a reaction against and for and survived.”

Bare, then wrapped in flower, then bare again, branches continue their life in the wild even after they have been cut. For a dinner last winter in London to celebrate a collaboration between fashion designer Giles Deacon and linen maker Peter Reed, florist Kitten Grayson turned branches of magnolia into small trees that grow from mounds of earth on tables covered with white tablecloths. arched upwards. As the evening progressed, the magnolia buds miraculously opened and formed a canopy with guests. Grayson says, “Watch life unfold.”