I am little bit surprised that it's taken me quite so long to write this post. I really wanted to call this "A Week in the Country" as I didn't think I could possibly...Read More
Filtering by Category: Environment
Two weeks ago, the world celebrated National Vegan Day. As a vegetarian of more than quarter of a century, it is a day that makes me feel uncomfortable, like an end of term report card that reads "Must try harder" or "Ok, but must do better if she is to reach her true potential". Whilst being a vegetarian is definitely better for the environment and saves animals' lives, I can't get away from the fact that, no matter how many times I have my Joseph Cheaney shoes resoled in a worthy, eco conscious kind of fashion, as I rely on artisans to rework my hand made footwear, said items were once part of a cow. Fact. I have considered making a pledge, as part of my new veganism, only to buy vegan clothing items forthwith once my shoes have walked their last, and the moths have eaten such large holes in my alpaca jumpers that they become irreparable and my silk dresses have all died a death. It wouldn't be such a difficult one to keep, given the size of my wardrobe, and I could well be a good few years away from difficult aesthetic choices. So far so good. Except... I really, really like cheese. Cheese is delicious, a trip to La Fromagerie is my ultimate middle class treat - since you asked, Cathare is my all time favourite, followed closely by a nice runny Saint Marcellin, or a Perail. And we are just entering the best part of the season for the Vacherin Mont d'Or....
And so it is with British flowers.
When I began my blog and wrote my "About" page for Honeysuckle and Hilda I was very focussed on the importance of using only British, seasonal flowers. And I still am. Absolutely committed. But, goodness me, it can be difficult at times, and already I have fallen off the wagon once or twice. A quick glance at the photograph at the top of this post reveals some delicate mini protea floating around my 1950s Beswick vase. I didn't intend to buy them, I was chatting to Azar in The Blue Lavender one day and they just caught my eye. "But they're not British" I whined "I can't...". She pointed out that I wouldn't have chosen the South African imported flowers if I had gone to the wholesaler, but as I was in her shop, and she had made the decision to buy them in, really it didn't count. I succumbed almost immediately. It was a rare blip, but it made me think more carefully about my formerly smug use of #britishflowers.
Which brings me to the Amaryllis. Depending on your sources, the Amaryllis originates in either South Africa (Wikipedia) or Brazil, as discussed in an article by Sarah Raven in The Telegraph a few years back. Either way, it does not trace its origins back to the UK. But, these days, Amaryllises are most definitely grown in the UK. So, do they earn a #britishflowers or not? Or are they merely #grownnotflown?
A few weeks ago, I posted an arrangement of the last of the British roses, along with echinacea, rosehips, dahlias, Queen Anne's Lace and locally foraged foliage. #britishflowers and #grownnotflown both proudly accompanied this post. Underneath a dear friend, with whom I regularly discuss politics, Brexit and the US Election had written underneath #Britishflowersforbritishpeople #Notofloralimmigrants. I found it very funny, but quickly added a note underneath in case anyone reading it who didn't know me, made the mistake of thinking I was in favour of building walls or any such nonsense. In doing so, my gut reaction in fact answered my own question "this is to do with avoiding pollution and of course avoiding the equivalent of flower sweat shops abroad". And so, for me, the Amaryllis, wherever it may in fact have originated, is, for me, as long as it has been grown here, as British as The Royal Family or a Friday night curry. Which is just as well, really, as recently I have discovered a real love for these flowers.
It wasn't love at first sight. Not by a long way. Rather like my husband's view of me when we first met (it took him eight dates to make a pass at me and a further four years to propose), I wasn't at all sure to start with. I tended to put them in the same category as Poinsettia and supermarket flowers and didn't have that much time for them. It was only two years ago, on a Christmas workshop with the arbiter elegantarium of flowers, Miss Pickering, that I even tried putting them in an arrangement, and then only because she handed them to me and I didn't dare not to. She told me to cut them short and put them at the outside edges of my vase. I did as I was told and they looked wonderful. Last year, I came across what has become my favourite online image of a winter arrangement on The Blue Carrot's website - a mixture of pines, hips and amaryllis - I love it as least as much as any high summer extravaganza of peonies, foxgloves and roses, quite possibly more. Then I sort of forgot about them until a month or two ago when I bought some bright red ones for a specific piece. And then I spotted some amazing striped ones in Daylesford on our anniversary (I bought two, I didn't feel I could afford three at that price, but I still regret my stinginess). And every week since then, I have been incorporating them into whatever I do. They are such big, impressive blooms. As such, they give me an excuse to "go large" in everything I do. And now I don't know what I ever did without them -in floral terms at least.
And people have been making kind remarks about my Amaryllis based posts. One florist confessed that she too had some lined up for an event, (beautiful, soft "Mocha" ones) and checked in to see how long it takes for them to open fully. I even heard from someone who is growing them but until then hadn't decided how to use them. A picture editor got in touch as she planned to use them for some publicity shots and wanted to know where mine had come from. And so, as a conversation starter, these big, bold flowers have quickly become my favourite British flower for this time of year. The fact that they facilitate my propensity to err on the large scale side of flower construction only adds to their appeal. I think I might even introduce a new hashtag #rockmeamaryllis to see if I can drum up some support for this most worthy of species. Because what Instagram definitely needs right now is more hashtags!
When I began this post, I wasn't sure what it was I really wanted to say, except "I really, really like Amaryllises". It has sort of evolved into musings on the difficulties on sticking rigidly to one's principles, with the briefest of allusions to recent political events around the world that have left me feeling very sad, and a plea for one genus whose reputation has perhaps faltered in the fickle world of floral fashion. And not for the first time, I found myself with rather more to say than I realised. Thank you for listening.
"Seasons of mist and mellow fruitfulness...". Okay, not really, I'm just kidding. Autumn is by far my favourite season, and October my favourite month, and I don't need to recite John Keats to help me explain why. Or at least, not yet, because so far I am only three sentences in. But if I get stuck, I can always reintroduce him just after the paragraph about a hundred and one ways to carve a pumpkin.
Spring is amazing, as the ground thaws and birds start singing, and narcissi and tulips vie for our attention and once again months of beautiful British flowers lie ahead of us. Summer is full of roses, foxgloves, peonies and heady scents, and all the family arguments that having three birthdays in July invariably seems to bring. But in Autumn, I feel like the pressure is off. As the weather cools, and I dig out my black opaque tights and big jumpers, and the logs go on the fire and we gather up the last of the dahlias and post them all over Instagram in one last flurry, I breathe a sigh of relief. I don't really know why. As the nights draw in, or rather start at 4.15 pm, it seems more acceptable to watch Miss Marple with a cup of tea and a dog on my lap. I still keep my toenails immaculately painted throughout the winter months, though. Somehow, this really matters.
But this year, October has been especially precious for me as we celebrated our first wedding anniversary. As we spent our entire honeymoon in Morocco counting down the days till we saw Hilda again, it made sense not to go too far this time, and to bring the tiny brown Schnauzer with us in order that she too could celebrate the anniversary of her legitimacy. As much of our courting was done in the Cotswolds, we decided to head down for a couple of days of dog walking and log fires.
It says a lot about my life these days that the top two items on my packing list are secateurs and dog jumpers. The third is my camera. My make up and round hairbrushes are virtually at the bottom. This is not on account of having finally settled down, and complacency setting in, but rather a reflection of my excitement of escaping London to do the things I love the most with the people I love the most.
A glorious sight awaits us as we draw up to our hotel in Northleach - the front of The Wheatsheaf Inn is absolutely covered in deep red leaves. I see families inside, finishing their lunches, watching me through the window as I photograph the foliage meticulously on both my camera and my iPhone, just to be safe. It takes a while as there are so many shades of red, and so many different sizes and shapes of leaf. By the time I am done, Charles has checked in, unpacked and is admiring all the shades of red behind the bar, and sampling a few of them. Plus ça change. I join in him for a drink but am already coveting the most delicate, mottled pale pink hydrangeas in a garden opposite the Inn. They make me think of Susanne (The Blue Carrot), and how well they would fit into her signature colour palette. With some lovely lime green foliage, ideally slightly decaying. Meanwhile, I consider a midnight heist on the hydrangea bush, but I know the flowers are not mine to take and I would be outraged if such thing of beauty were to grow in my garden, only to be liberated by a stranger in the dead of night. I resolve to take multiple photographs in the morning instead.
The next morning brings, amongst other things, a mild hangover, boiled eggs and soldiers. We eventually set off on what my husband tells me is a three to four mile flat, circular walk. I prove that a year of marriage has taught me very little as I believe him and eagerly set off up the steep hill after him. As it turns out, the next seven miles are full of nature at her best. My Mother in Law tells me that one of the reasons I am so good for her son (no, really) is that before he met me he was terribly impatient, whereas now he is much more relaxed. As I stop every ten to fifteen yards to photograph another rosehip bush, or some dead wild sorrel, or another some such texture as takes my fancy, I glance over to see what he is up to. Invariably he is playing with Hilda. The dog he absolutely didn't want. The one that would hold us back from getting on with our lives. The one I was too ill to look after (to be fair, I probably was when she arrived, I just had to get better quickly to keep up with her). When he acquiesced, grumbling loudly, he said if we were having a dog, it had to be a proper one, i.e. a Labrador or larger. I watched him last week on this walk, on his hands and knees, whispering and making growling noises into the ears of the 4.5kg Schnauzer. I used to be smug about how right I was, but increasingly I see it as a sign of how far we have both come in this year.
In fact, we have been through a lot - we got news of the unexpected loss of a dear friend whilst on Honeymoon. Upon our return from that trip I found myself being greeted by the crash team at A&E after my GP called me an ambulance following routine tests. All three parents have been hospitalised, my Mother in a coma for almost two weeks. There have been two redundancies, a fractured spine (Charles's), the sale of my home of 12 years and countless discussions on cost savings. And yet, I have never been happier. I put this down to three things - my husband, my dog and of course, my love of flowers and nature.
On our Honeymoon, I spent days in the souks of Marrakech acquiring beautiful kaftans and velvet Moroccan jackers to take back to the UK. For our first anniversary, my request was that we retraced some of our walk in the car so that I could forage for hips and haws and foliage. When we made a pitstop at Daylesford on the way home, I didn't head to the Bamford Haybarn for bath oils, I went to the garden room and bought two of the most beautiful amaryllis I had ever seen. They looked amazing with the pine branches I found at the side of some road I'll never find again.
And when I went to bed that night, it turned out the man who has always insisted I choose my own presents had in fact bought me a present for our first, paper, anniversary. It was a book. But it wasn't anything to do with Keats or any of the other Romantic poets. It was The Complete Secret Notebooks of Agatha Christie, published so recently I hadn't even got wind of them. What a lucky girl I am.
My heart still skips a little beat when I see the image above. There was time when a small, hand held bouquet was my nemesis but I have been working hard on this to some effect. However, when I went down to meet Susanne of The Blue Carrot on the Rosehead Peninsula, I didn't expect I would or could produce something like this. It is also now my most liked picture on Instagram, which is surprising as the tiny brown Schnauzer is nowhere to be seen, and Planoly tells me that her presence in an image can increase audience appreciation by up to 40%.
I ventured down to Cornwall without my Head of Marketing for my long awaited date with Susanne in mid September. Aware of just how many floral designers had gone ahead of me, I was full of trepidation as to whether or not I would be able to come to close to matching their creations. Yes, I know that comparison is the thief of joy, because Sara of Wedding Sparrow told us so. However, when you know that florists including the likes of Kirstie from Ruby and The Wolf, Sarah of Simply by Arrangement, Jenn of Jennifer Pinder Flowers, Vic of Foxgloves and Glory and Lucy The Flower Hunter have all gone ahead of you, and that Brigitte of Moss and Stone is not far behind, it does make for a certain amount of pressure.
If anxiety was a strong emotion at the outset, it was quickly overtaken by excitement. Susanne's garden is full of the most beautiful flowers you can imagine, and her workbenches were lined up with cuttings of the most gorgeous palette I have ever seen. If my lesson in colour psychology taught me that green has many positive attributes, Susanne showed me just how many shades of green there are, and I quickly understood which greens I wanted (the sort of limey ones that are going yellowy brown). My beloved corals were all lined up with the palest of pinks, café au last dahlias, darker dahlias, dogwood roses, chocolate cosmos, spindleberries and, my new favourite thing, hops. So many hops! Lovey crisp, gristly, low hanging, lime green hops.
Given my hopes to soon be growing my own flowers, I was keen to know how Susanne achieved so much loveliness on her plot. She doesn't use pesticides, apart from the odd organic slug pellet. I asked her if she ever buys in any flowers. She told me that she does - she sees herself as an artist (rightly so) and thinks that to deny herself a flower just because it is not available in her garden is like a painter denying himself a particular shade of pigment that he needs to complete his picture. This is an interesting point, and one that I need to give more thought to in my quest for a sustainable floral design company. If I ever get to anywhere near the level of sufficiency I have witnessed in this little paradise, I think I can feel pretty pleased with myself.
By the end of the morning, having first photographed Susanne's demo bouquet just in case I wasn't prepared to publish my own (!), I had actually created something I was really very proud of. With the best array of flowers and foliage available anywhere in the UK, and Susanne's tips on shape, it would have been difficult not to. We headed off to The Hidden Hut for lunch. A big beach clean up was in operation at Portscatho that day, with marine biologists taking all sorts of readings for good measure. Many of Susanne's friends were out there and a few stopped to chat. I explained to them - as they amazingly seemed not to know - that coming to see The Blue Carrot is a rite of passage for most floral designers. Everyone looked suitably impressed except for Susanne, who was not familiar with the term. I don't know how much of this down to Susanne's innate modesty, and how much to speaking German as a first language, but if Alanis Morissette were to reissue a version of "Ironic" for the 2010s, I would demand a line of the refrain was adapted to include Susanne's unawareness of the rite of passage. It definitely wouldn't rhyme and I don't think it would scan either, but it is right up there with rain on wedding days and free rides that have been paid in advance, and as such demands inclusion.
We spent the afternoon working on arrangements, much more delicate and smaller in scale than my usual creations and the realisation that I can make a big impact with about 20% of the flowers I sometimes use was a very helpful revelation indeed. We sang along to the radio and Susanne introduced me to the amazing Gregory Porter (what a voice!). It was one of the happiest days I have had in a very long time. Which isn't to say that I lead a sad and miserable life - far from it - just that this was a particularly happy one.
A rite of passage is defined as a ritual or ceremony signifying an event in a person's life indicative of a transition from one stage to another, as from adolescence to adulthood. My day with Susanne was so relaxed that I don't think I could describe it was something as formal as either a ritual or a ceremony, but certainly a process took place that day which took me further on my journey in floral design, a step closer to knowing where I wanted to be and how best to achieve it. I am so excited that Autumn is here and, thanks to my trip to Portscatho, I have new knowledge with which to enjoy it even more. Thank you, Susanne, for sharing your garden, your talents and your sense of humour with me on that wonderful September day.
Much to my Mother's disappointment, I have always been a bit of a goody two shoes. At school I rarely got into trouble, and even when implicated in a trick involving a piano that could play itself, a nervous new matron and the subsequent exorcism of an entire boarding house, no one imagined that I could really have been involved. As an adult, I was punctual at work, I stood up for people on buses and tubes... When the Council started handing out recycling bags, I fulfilled my civic duty and filled each bag with the appropriate materials. I was amongst the first to swap plastic bags for canvas totes, usually from a bookshop to show I also supported local businesses. Of course. I have been a vegetarian for over 25 years, but I try not to be too boring about it, though I have recently become tearful when I see my husband eating bacon. (I think it has something to do with the micro pigs I have following on Instagram). When the Government introduced a new, virtually free, road tax band for cars with incredibly low emissions, I acquired a tiny and very eco Fiat 500. In other words, I towed the line, in my own moderate way.
I didn't take drugs. I never even smoked a cigarette, which is why doctors probably ignored my cough for so long. When they found a tumour, they told me that air pollution in London is so bad, that it kills thousands of people each year. Millions more are fine, but some, like me, are unlucky. I started to read more about the environment and the role we play within it. I filled my home with house plants to help filter the air. I thought about how wonderful nature is and how, when allowed to do what it is supposed to, unhampered by humans, it in turn helps us to flourish too.
And then another funny thing happened. I was out walking on London Fields and I noticed that last year's wild flower meadow was not nearly as abundant as the year before. It looked sad, sparse and rather brown. Posters started to go up in shops in the familiar type face of a well known fashion designer and environmental campaigner warning of the dangers of herbicides and in particular glyphosates. I needed to learn more and asked how I could help. I went home and read papers presented by leading scientists to the All-party Parliamentary Group on Agroecology about the many disastrous consequences these chemicals can have. I devoted my days to managing a campaign on 38 Degrees to ask Hackney to stop spraying these chemicals over the Borough. I wrote to the Mayor and pleaded with him. I asked residents of other London boroughs to do the same. I went with the same designer (the one who had taken Margaret Thatcher by surprise in the 1980s with her No to Pershing T shirt) to the Houses of Parliament and, together with the Anti Pesticide Network, we met with Zac Goldsmith and Caroline Lucas. The Mayor of Hackney didn't help us, but before long the chemical was designated as a "probably carcinogenic" by the World Health Organisation and banned completely in France and other parts of Europe.
The study into pesticides led to more reading around the sad truth of the cotton industry and a talk by the Head of the Soil Association on how organic farming could eradicate global food poverty. I listened to Romy Fraser, founder of Neals Yard, explain the healing powers of nature untainted by chemicals. I watched Vivienne Westwood lead a demonstration against neonicotinoids in Central London.
As a result of the first campaign I met another group who were opposing the plans to turn part of Hackney Marshes, well known for their bio diversity and home of much wildlife, into yet more car parking. Hackney had been given the green light to go ahead by planning authorities, but after a spirited campaign and ten long days in a public enquiry overseen by a member of DEFRA, we were successful insofar as we had plans for one of the two car parks over turned and rejected.
By now I was not just a dog walker who loved nature and flowers, I was also a committed environmentalist. I am still muddling through what this means for my business. Some of the implications are obvious. I cannot in all good conscience use plants that have been in contact with pesticides. I need to do everything I can to ensure those flowers are in turn transported in a way that involves the fewest emissions possible. (If you see me looking at you delivering flowers in your Land Rover, don't worry, I will be envying, not judging, and wondering if I really had to set myself such stringent goals). #grownnotflown is a popular hashtag, as is #britishflowers, and I need to do what I can to be true to these handles. I have spent two years acquiring old vessels from Etsy, Ebay and charity shops. Other things are trickier. Oasis for instance. Of course we can use chicken wire the majority of the time in urns and arrangements, but there are some structures - like candelabra and table runners - that are just BETTER with oasis. I haven't found a biodegradable alternative and I don't know how I remedy this aside from using as little as possible. A little research into offsetting might be my next project.
So there we are. I have set myself what some florists have already told me is a near impossible task - to work with nature as much as taking from it. To help create weddings and events, which are by their very nature, fleeting and to some extent wasteful, into celebrations that leave as small a footprint as possible. But I wouldn't be being true to myself if I didn't at least give it a jolly good try.