A Contemporary Christmas, with a Traditional Twist
Wreath by: The Electric Daisy Flower Farm
Photo by: Claire Bowen
I do love this time of year, the colder weather, the drizzle, with shorter days and longer nights meaning more time for Agatha Christie and Dorothy Whipple. Amaryllises are in full bloom and I think about colour schemes for the Christmas tree a lot. This year, I am going for dark green, a silvery/bronze and one other colour, as yet undecided. The baubles I found in Petersham Nurseries have been gracing my flat lays before I tie them to the tree with ribbons from Fleuropean, VV Rouleaux and Silk and Willow, and the strings of silver bells have been gracing Hilda's neck at every given opportunity. She seems completely unphased by this, which is good news, as there is not much cuter than a tiny brown Schnauzer making jingley sounds as she trots around the house. I have done a practice run for my bread sauce. Having been allocated the nickname of Gourmet at the age of 13, one which has stayed with me to this day, it seems logical that I should have found myself in charge of Christmas Lunch for pretty much thirty years. In short, I have become a parody of the middle class West London "homemaker" and I am typing this with a glass of organic Prosecco washed down with a large dose of self awareness. My sister was going to help me with this piece, but she is still too busy laughing that I recently attended an intermediate calligraphy class with coloured and metallic inks. If she doesn't stop soon, I shall oversalt her red cabbage on the 25th (Nigella's recipe with pomegranate juice is, in my opinion, the one to go with if you are still undecided).
For me, Christmas is very much about rituals. I love the run up to Christmas Day, with the late night service at Church on Christmas Eve being the highlight of these preparations. In a world which seems to be increasingly in free fall, I find the message of hope and new beginnings at this time of year one which is not so much comforting as badly needed. We go to the same Church where I was baptised all those years ago, I went to Sunday School there when I was very wee, and we got married in that Church last year. For me, being in that building brings a great sense of comfort, a reminder of what it felt like to be small, and though I have a sometimes troubled relationship with faith per se, I always take valuable lessons away from the Sermons we listen to, and enjoy singing hymns (badly) as much as every other member of the congregation. And on Christmas Eve, there is nothing better than a good dose of "Hark the Herald Angels" to get one in the spirit of goodwill to all men - including family members - on the big day.
So far, so traditional.
Photo by: Claire Bowen
I like to think I can make a pretty good wreath of the conventional, wire framed, filled with moss variety. I have had plenty of practice after all. But as my year of floral design classes, draws to a close, I wanted to try one more new approach before 2016 ended. When The Electric Daisy Flower Farm's "A Contemporary Christmas" class popped up, with the promise of kokedamas amongst other things, I signed up quickly. I first heard of the EDFF in April, when Fiona supplied the Ponderosa and Thyme retreat with buckets full of stunning tulips. You can see them spilling out of the giant arrangement which graces the welcome page of this website. More spectacular still, are the images from the EDFF's beautiful calendar with friends, family and neighbours wearing the most incredible floral head pieces that I have ever seen. Some of the images have appeared in the press, including The Telegraph's Top 20 Most Creative Florists. How could I resist the opportunity to spend the day with an artist like this?
It was quickly apparent that it would be a special day at Fiona's beautiful home - I somehow wasn't aware of just how pretty Bradford Upon Avon is, and I drove through it, jaw gaping slightly. The address in Wine Street is in itself a festive one, and when I discovered that our group comprised of a floral designer (that's me), a photographer, an interior designer and an artist (that's Fiona) as well as the bounciest, most gorgeous Parsons Jack Russell puppy, I already knew it would be a great day.
We made kokedama in the morning and made a start on our willow wreaths before stopping for a delicious lunch, where we were joined by Piers, who is both Fiona's husband and Mr December in the 2016 calendar. We talked a lot about collaboration and how designers on Instagram often support and encourage each other, helping one another to grow their businesses. At some point, one of the group asked if anyone had read Stephen Hawking's recent article in The Guardian. I had, and it was one of the most moving, salient and humble pieces of writing I have come across in an awfully long time. If you haven't already read it, please do. I promise it is five or ten minutes well spent. It is, in essence, a stark reminder of all that has happened this year, and a plea for us all to come together and work with and help each other in order to, quite literally, save the world. And if that sounds daunting, it is written by Hawking who is a self professed optimist. We discussed it with Piers, (an author himself) and then went back to our general conversation, but we all seemed to be on the same level in everything we were thinking and saying. I can't tell you everything we chatted about, but I will say it was a truly special day that left me feeling very warm inside. I was thrilled with my new found willow weaving skills and left with wreaths and kokedama that I am delighted with, but I also came away with new friends. I heard myself saying that I come to classes for the chat and to meet new people as much as for the tuition itself. This is in no way to suggest that I haven't learnt huge amounts from some incredibly talented designers and teachers this year, it is only a testament to how much I have enjoyed meeting so many new friends along the way.
And when our class was over, I went down the hill into Bradford with my two new pals for a tour of the sights. Bradford has an excellent cheese shop, if you are interested. But my favourite sight was a Christmas Tree Festival being held in the local church. I have never seen anything quite like it. I think it is fair to say that most of the trees were on the outside boundaries of kitsch. And their decorations were as innovative and avant garde as the kokedama we had been making earlier on. There was a tree covered in packets of spring bulbs from the Garden Centre, some truly terrifying fairies that looked like the Bride(s) of Chucky on one tree, and another one was covered in crocheted penguins. I wondered what Sarah of Simply by Arrangement would make of the complete absence of velvet ribbon. But, looking beyond the immediate aesthetics, it struck me that the underlying message in all of these trees, which had been assembled by local groups of school children, charities and groups, was one of hope. One hoped to raise money for a Charity in India, others were dedicated to helping others closer to home. And it struck me that, just as we had been making our contemporary Christmas up the hill with Fiona whist at the same time showing each other kindness, so too these trees, for all their lack of customary decorations, conveyed an utterly traditional Christmas message.
Today, when I went to Marylebone High Street and Liberty - my top two shopping destinations - and struggled through the crowds feeling thoroughly unfestive and frankly, a bit fed up, the highlight for me was getting back home to my family (that's Hilda and my husband). Given that 2015 is known in our household as The Christmas That Never Was, it will be our first Christmas together. As time ticked by, I never thought that it might actually happen for me, but it turned out I just had to wait a bit longer than some. And for that I am especially grateful. But as I opened the door for the "Honey, I'm home" moment, I must admit I stopped for a moment to admire my Christmas wreath. Thank you, Fiona.