Four Go Foraging...
Shortly before Christmas, a message dropped in my inbox from Sarah of Simply by Arrangement "Fancy a two night stay in Stamford on 15/2 and 16/2 with me, Brigitte and Lucy? No worries if you don't fancy it...". My reply, by return "Oh my goodness, yes I do!!!".
Once deposits had been paid, and a discussion re which dogs would be attending had taken place, a list of considerations was issued as follows:
- Wine, gin etc.
- Inviting Miss Pickering for wine and food
- Checking out vessel/ antique establishments
- Documenting the retreat (I was volunteered at this juncture..)
- Floral arrangements.
Flowers, you will notice, came last. You don't need me to point out what came first! After a few more exchanges, I found myself offering to cook on the second evening, after a few more queries re likes and dislikes, I discovered one of us is allergic to truffles. I didn't even know that a truffle allergy was a "thing", but I can't tell you how delighted I am to have a friend that has one. It sounds so, well, specific. A little more to-ing and fro-ing on dietary requirements, plus ground rules for vessel hunting (in the end we went for "finders keepers" having rejected my own suggestion of hair pulling and shin kicking) and thus our" Four Goes Foraging" trip was born.
As well as Sarah, other attendees were Brigitte of Moss and Stone, and Lucy The Flower Hunter. Although I fell I know Sarah well, I had only met Brigitte and Lucy once before, when we all attended a day's class with Flowerona and The Brand Stylist on a particularly hot summer's day last year. We had all been asked to bring a small example of our work, and Brigitte's had been the most delicate arrangement I had seen. Mine, by contrast, was small, relative to my other arrangements, but still by far the largest in the class. My fabulous choice of dahlia colours, set off by a trademark Dartmouth vase, didn't change the fact that water leaked from it when someone kindly topped up the water levels during class, and I looked across at Bridget's, neatly contained within her wicker basket, I had felt dishevelled on its behalf. However, no matter, because the day passed quickly and soon we were having a cocktail at the end of the day, the three of us bonding over dog chat, a manner in which so many of my friendships coming into being.
We spent the first afternoon and evening partly catching up on each other's news, but mainly watching Molly and Hilda play. Molly was full of joy and games, Hilda a little more nonchalant to begin with, but soon she was won over by Molly's infectious enthusiasm and they had fun jumping around on the furniture and later in the pub. I, sadly, did not share my dog's restrained manner upon arrival and chattered far too much about everything under the sun and then fell silent to reflect on this. (It's a sort of social awkwardness I suffer from, but I'm working on it).
After a wonderful breakfast that included Brigitte's very delicious home baked spelt bread, which arrived in the aforementioned wicker basket (immaculate as ever), we set off for one of the main events - a foraging trip. As previously documented, there is nothing I like better than a good root around the hedgerows for some foliage and textures, and I really thought I had this pretty well covered. Until, that is, I saw these three in action. As we wandered up a lane towards some fields, I made mental notes of where the berried ivy was growing in abundance and spotted some leafless branches that were throwing some good shapes and might be useful for an arrangement later. So far so good. But as Sarah and I walked Molly and Hilda, we noticed Brigitte and Lucy stopping at places I would never have thought to stop. Some reddish purple foliage was removed by Lucy from the thorniest bushes I had encountered, and their thorns were whittled away by Brigitte. What remained was a beauty I hadn't even envisaged. And as for Brigitte's capacity to find a dead thing and turn it into a piece of art - I hadn't seen anything quite like that either. We all hunted and gathered as we walked along country lanes. Sarah by this stage was also adding to her collection, aided by an enthusiastic Molly, who liked to "prune" things without prior invitation. There was some disapproval of her participation, but actually I think she had spotted what we up to and had decided to make herself useful, which in my book is quite admirable. Good girl, Molly. Not least because Hilda couldn't care less and was off doing her own thing, as usual. We eventually returned back to our cottage, laden with with foliage, dead and alive, and plenty of twigs, some covered in lichen, in readiness for our flower fettling later.
After a restorative cup of tea, we headed into Stamford, the first stop being a visit to Miss Pickering's shop. Many years ago, I read an article about Miss Pickering's shop in some glossy magazine or other. I looked her up online and discovered THAT blog. The blog that launched a thousand dreams. The one that rekindled my love of flowers and made me want to start going to classes again. That one. A trip to her shop today is as exciting as it ever was. Valentine was posing in the window, a stork presiding over the flowers in the middle of the premises, watching her hellebores and Julietta roses closely. I squeaked as I spotted "my" vessel, quickly claiming it before anyone else could. Purchases were made, followed by a trip to the Toby Norris for lunch.
Then, a trip to the Stamford Antiques Centre. Another eye opener for me. There were so many stalls and hundreds of potential vessels, yet I spotted only two. One was an old green Dartmouth vase (complete with ageing white silk flowers), the other a 1907 large china jug with coral coloured flowers. The latter was almost perfect, and the only thing that stood between us was a nagging voice in my head (or was it Sarah's?) reminding me that I was moving to a smaller house in two weeks' time and already had more vases than I could accommodate. I clung on to it anyway, whilst I grappled with my desire for this vessel versus that for a happy marriage. "It's so lovely' vs "It's also enormous". That kind of thing. Eventually, after wafting round the market a little more, I put it back in its place to see how I felt once parted from it. Yes, I actually do this from time to time. I went to see what the others were doing. Sarah had found a wonderful grey 1950s vase almost next to the green Dartmouth once I had shown her, so I almost helped her find something, which was excellent. Well done, me. Brigitte found one or two vessels also, but the hoard was Lucy's. The star buy was possibly a huge rusting metal urn - I long for one myself but have only ever seen them in Petersham Nurseries with a West London price tag, but this one was gorgeous and a fraction of the price. Sarah had shown it to Lucy and she had swooped. There were a few other pieces, but I was secretly envious of a small pink bowl she had located on her patrol. I hadn't even noticed it, and until I saw it at the till, I wouldn't really have given it much consideration, but in Lucy's hands, I could suddenly see its potential. Lucy, it should be mentioned, grew up surrounded by antiques, and her keen eye was inherited from her parents. We set off home again, congratulating ourselves on having conducted ourselves in such a civilised manner. I was still thinking about the jug a little, but mainly I was thrilled at watching some antique detectives at work. The next time I go out in search of vessels (which is never, if Charles is reading this), I am going to do so with a completely fresh outlook.
Once home, we talked earnestly about fettling with flowers and preparing supper before Miss P arrived. We did, however, delay this a little, as Lucy hit the 2k milestone on Instagram, and we felt this needed to be celebrated. Actually, we had been waiting for this to happen for much of the day, and by late afternoon I was considering emailing for some outside help, so that we could have an excuse to crack open a bottle of something delicious. In the end, there was no need and gin and champagne were forthcoming.
In addition to foraged items, I had brought a huge bouquet of flowers that my husband had sent me to atone for his ski-ing holiday coinciding with Valentine's Day. And because I had brought a huge bouquet I also brought my favourite huge Beswick vase also. The vase that it generally takes two and a half hours to fill in a manner that I deem to be acceptable. Because the larger the vase, the more room there is for things not to sit properly. And so it was. Not content with the pressure of cooking supper for five, I decided to go large with the flowers beforehand. And it went well, for the first 75-80%. But I couldn't quite finish it off, and had started out as #aquiet_style quickly became #aquiet_tantrum, As Lucy worked quietly on her delicate masterpiece, happy in the knowledge of her 2k followers, I started to panic.
Luckily for me, Sarah stepped in, just at the moment I was saying it was rubbish and threatening to take everything out of the vase. After some soothing words, I was persuaded to make two adjustments - first to cut the flowers towards the centre of the arrangement a bit shorter. I've never been terribly brave about this. Secondly, to add some taller plants poking out of the top - not in itself a new thing, but Sarah told me to imagine that a cluster of flowers as if they were springing out of the ground. I hadn't ever thought of it that way before, but once Sarah said it, and I did it, it made perfect sense. And the arrangement went from disaster to, well, at the very least acceptable (given that we had flower royalty joining us for the evening) and in a matter of minutes a crisis was averted. Thank you, Sarah.
Soon after, Miss P arrived and we spent a wonderful evening full of chatter (some floral, some not even remotely flower related), wine and tomato risotto, plus a winter salad I had read the recipe for in Kinfolk - of course. Miss P brought chocolate brownies made from black beans that were vegan and gluten free and tasted so much better than I have just made them sound. Valentine, Rutland's most handsome whippet, soon adjusted to hanging around with two girl dogs, and everyone had a pretty fabulous time. The evening passed far too quickly and soon it was time for bed.
Before we left the next morning, there was one important task left - the photographing of the arrangements. Lucy identified the best light in the cottage and was soon setting up here scene with books, carefully weighing up rules of thirds, positioning her tripod and generally getting everything ready for maximising her images. I watched carefully. Lucy's work on Instagram is always so beautifully captured by her photographs and I wanted to take the chance to learn from her. She generously took the time to show me some of the things she takes into consideration when lining flowers up, her use of books, looking for light sources, and all the things that I've heard before, and seen in her work, but there is nothing like an artist such a Lucy being there to show you how she actually does it. I took some shots of my own, but made her promise to send me hers, not least for use in this blog. As with Sarah's intervention the night before, and Brigitte's foraging tips the previous day, I was so grateful to learn from Lucy also.
And then it really was time to go. We said our goodbyes and we set off in different directions, to Yorkshire, to London and to Suffolk. Two days had passed in a flash, but they are 48 hours that I shall remember for a long time to come.