The Anatomy of a Moment
Flowers by: Honeysuckle and Hilda
Photo by: Claire Bowen
It is January 6th. The Christmas tree came down this morning, our dear friends are on their way to Heathrow to fly back to Oregon, and I definitely snaffled the last of the chocolates last night before going to bed. At 10 am this morning, I was feeling a little sad. Hilda was looking glum on the back of the sofa, with big doleful eyes as she watched Katie and Mark pack their bags, as she knows that when people pack their bags, it means they're going away.
I decided to go back to the flowers I had started yesterday but hadn't been able to finish. I was frustrated that I had so many different components, sourced from a variety of places, each one so thoughtfully chosen that this post could have been all about Mindful Flower Consumption (as opposed to Mindful Food Consumption). And in a way, it kind of is.
Sometimes when I am doing just one piece for myself or, rather, my portfolio, it doesn't make sense to go the market and buy flowers in large quantities, as what I really want is just a little bit of everything. I also find it inspiring to visit other florists to see what they have chosen. This piece started with a quick visit to Zita Elze in Kew. I so often find just one or two inspiring elements I wouldn't have thought of, and that can form the basis of what is to come. It was their first day of opening and the cupboards were a little bare, but they did have the most beautiful pink ranunculus as I walked in. After a chat with Sarah, I came away with just a few of these, plus some dried thyme that was throwing some good shapes, but already the scene was set. The following day, I visited The Real Flower Company in Chelsea, where I purchased six stunning roses. Nothing else. Except more flowery chat, of course. And then, on the way home, I did my favourite part of my flower shop, a visit to see Azar in The Blue Lavender. No one buys flowers the way she does. I used to hang around the front of the shop politely, but these days I have no hesitation in double checking what she also has in the back of her shop. On this visit I found the perfect pink lisianthus to go with my ranunculus. And some pinky white anemones. And spring blossom. Add to this a full handfuls of foliage, and some dried hydrangeas I was drawn to, and things were looking up. Also, there is nothing better than an encouraging hug from Azar. I'm not sure that's how she markets herself, but I'm just putting it out there.
I bounced home, happy that I would have made good use of my new Petersham Nurseries vessel by the time that Katie got back to our house after a few days in Yorkshire visiting some pretty badass floral designers with way more experience than me. I was excited that I felt I could create something that would show some progress had been made since I attended Katie's workshop back in April, a piece that might make Katie smile at her part in this development. It started well. I made great shapes with the dried thyme and the blossom branches. I thought of my 121 with Miss Pickering in the summer where I filled a giant urn as she instructed me on forming a sweeping, left to right, diagonal kind of shape. I put in the key pieces of ranunculus, roses and lisianthus, with a wiggly anemone going off to one side, just as Susanne of The Blue Carrot had taught me. All I had to do was fill in the gaps with the remaining foliage. But, try as I might, I couldn't quite get to a point that I was happy with. Ironically, it was Katie herself who taught me that, in this situation, the best thing I could do was walk away from it for a bit and take a rest. But I so wanted to get this right precisely because she was coming back for one last night.
As background context, when Katie first mailed me to say she was coming over to England just after Christmas with her husband Mark, and when she took me up on my offer of making use of our spare room, I was at least as anxious as I was excited. Poor Charles, who had successfully avoided making a decision on the colour of our front door for at least two years after the rest of the house was finished, was sent to Homebase within half an hour of the news. I ignored my husband's campaign to only use fitted sheets that don't quite fit the new beds and went off in search of new ones. I got in touch with lovely, lovely Jenn Pinder (who I also met on the Ponderosa and Thyme workshop) to see when she might be free to join us for dinner. Pumpkins were roasted, homemade mushroom stock for the risotto went on the boil the day before and all the ribbons on the Christmas tree baubles were tied in a carefully staged "haphazard" manner in the finest silk ribbons I had saved from workshops throughout the year. So far so good.
I knew from the first few days of Katie and Mark's stay that they were pretty good houseguests and I had almost grown relaxed around them. After all, they are first and foremost friends, and I was starting to get over the fact that Katie is, you know, one of the world's greatest floral designers. But when I saw the photos of her exploits up north, the anxiety started to creep back in. I had made a new friend in their absence - Susanna Luck, a friend of theirs from Oregon who was also over in the UK. We had met for coffee earlier that day, I discovered she is super nice, and she had agreed to come over for supper on Katie and Mark's last night. As well as picking up flowers, I shopped for wild mushroom soup, for pates and cheese and fresh bread and salad. I laid the table and lit the candles, and, though the flowers were only half done, I felt so pleased when everyone crossed the threshold in one happy throng.
And then - such an honour- Katie handed me a bouquet that she had made whilst on her travels in Yorkshire. I was beyond excited. Except that she said the flowers were a bit droopy as they had been out of water, and maybe I could take the bouquet apart and use the better flowers in a flat lay or my own arrangement. It's funny, really, because shortly before Christmas, Marcus Wareing brought round a meal he had cooked for us and suggested that I fry it and cover it in tomato ketchup. And then there was that time Ben Nicolson turned up with a painting and said he thought I might find the canvas useful for a new work... okay, not really, but you see where I am going, the thought of taking Katie's work apart to use the components myself felt like madness. Instead, I did what any sensible floral designer near the beginning of her career would do, I took a photo and put it on Instagram Stories, saying "look what Ponderosa and Thyme brought me". Was I showing off? Maybe a little, but I knew Katie would understand and that every person looking at that story would have done the same thing.
We chatted over dinner, we were having a lovely time, and finally I felt that maybe my hosting skills would be remembered as having passed muster. We might not live in St Giles House, but I really thought I had styled this one out. At some point during dinner, I mentioned to Charles that I could notice a smell, but we put it down to the cheese in the absence of any more obvious cause. A little later, Katie popped upstairs. When she came down she told me, gently, that she had found the source of the smell. Cecil, unable to get outside because of our positioning in the kitchen, had decided to do the most enormous poo in the bath. And just for a moment, my world stopped spinning on its axis. I tore upstairs and dealt with the situation, with copious amounts of boiling water and every environmentally cleaner I could lay my hands on. But then, I had to go back downstairs and face my audience, I mean, my guests. After all the planning, and decluttering, and tidying, and front door painting and cooking, I had been totally let down by a cat who had made an inappropriate decision. But I couldn't hide upstairs either.
And do you know what Katie said when I rejoined the group...? " Cecil is so thoughtful" (What?). "I mean, he couldn't get outside so he chose a place that he knew you could clean easily. I reckon you could train him to use the loo. You hear of people doing that". And then, before I knew it, there we were, all five of us, debating the possibility of a cat being trainable in the way that a child might be potty trained. And at that moment, I knew I was really amongst friends. I mean, I already knew, but then I really knew. And it didn't matter that the flowers weren't finished. Is Cecil thoughtful? I don't know but, Katie, you most definitely are.
And so, once our guests were gone, having first photographed me in my dressing gown, pre shower, (for which, thank you) I turned my attention back to the flowers. And I surveyed the ingredients I actually had in front of me. I thought of the people I had chatted to as I chose those components. I thought of all the people who had taught me in the last year, and how I had all their teachings to draw upon. Then I looked across at the bouquet that Katie had brought back with her the previous evening. The one she told me to take apart and use in my own work. I took a deep breath and got out the scissors and started cutting through the floral tape. I laid out everything very carefully. And then I started to build in more layers. I used the berried ivy, and the amaryllises, and two (not very British) anthurium ... I added Katie's lisianthus in two different shades of pink to the ones I myself had purchased. And so it grew into something, dare I say it, rather lovely. Although I love to share my images on Instagram, and am flattered to hear that some people even read this blog, it is only every so often that I look at a piece of my own work and think "good job". But this is one of those arrangements. If it were a film, I don't think it would necessarily win an Oscar, but if it did I would have to stand up there and acknowledge the love and help of a long list of people that helped to make it what it was: the flower growers, whose names I don't know, Zita Elze, Azar of the Blue Lavender and the Real Flower Company for stocking such beautiful things, Miss Pickering and The Blue Carrot for all their teachings on shape, and Katie for both her incredible encouragement and also for the flowers she brought down from Yorkshire and the kindness and love she showed to me on this visit. It sounds dramatic, I know, but when I look at this image, that is the anatomy of the moment I see before me. Is it a key event in contemporary European History? Would Javier Cercas think it worthy of comment? Probably not. Is this blog post self indulgent and over the top? Almost certainly. But to me this piece represents everything I have learned so far and a lot of wisdom and kindness that have been extended to me, and, as such, I felt it merited at least an honourable mention. I am hoping there will be a few more such moments in 2017.