It's early on Sunday morning and I"m tucked up in bed as I write this, surrounded by catalogues of Bloomsbury Group paintings, with a peach coloured poodle...Read More
Filtering by Tag: British Flowers
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
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.
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.
I wondered if the title for this blog was a little over the top. Would it embarrass the subject of this little foray into floral adulation? Then, a few days ago, I noticed an article in The Week entitled "An Ode to Tom Hanks's Upper Lip". I feel Miss P's many talents are at least equal to Forest Gump's philtrum, and so I continue unabashed.
Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am a big fan of Miss Pickering. Hers was the first blog I ever read "Florist. Blogger. Whatever". Her photo showed her with a camera, eyes just peeping over, and a flower crown on her head. She was a bit mysterious and I kind of wanted to hang out with her the way you do with one of the kids at school who are much more popular than you are, so you don't dare to ask, you just sit in the background quietly. Eventually, a Christmas flower workshop popped up on her site and I signed up and took myself off to Stamford. I had only had Hilda for about 8 weeks and I was also so pleased to meet Miss P that I barely noticed that the arrangements and wreath I made actually weren't too bad, I was too full of excited chatter. (Apologies to anyone else on the course that day who had hoped to get a word in edgeways about something other than my dog). As well as wreaths and arrangements, there was a candlelit lunch, the swagging of Christmas garlands on a staircase and an incident involving some peppercorns. A pretty special day.
Eighteen months later, reasonably confident that I would return from a holiday in Italy with a ring on my finger - not least because I had chosen said ring - I attended a DIY wedding flower day. I looked at my flowers, I looked at Miss Pickering's... I'll let you guess what happened next.
So really, this is just a thank you to the mistress of floral design and a very dear friend. Thank you for being the inspiration for my journey and for some truly stunning wedding flowers that I hope one day I will be able to match.
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.
My Instagram feed shows an interest in two main areas: dogs and flowers (well, three if you include micro pigs. And everyone really should include micro pigs. If you don't already, start immediately). I spend hours each day following the work of floral designers around the world and following the daily lives of dogs in all four corners of the globe. I follow a daschund living in London that recently holidayed on the Isle of Harris before dropping in to see another daschund I follow in Edinburgh for tea and walkies. I get tearful when I see the little French bulldog who was rescued from a puppy farm when she was no longer of use for breeding, but who now lives a life of luxury in down town New York with her new Frenchie sister... I love Sophie Gamand and her Pitbulls in Flower Crowns campaign against BSL. Best of all, I love to read about dogs belonging to florists. Luckily there are plenty of them - Miss Pickering and the dashing Valentine, Florence of Petalon and the truly delicious Huxley, Emma of Martha and the Meadow with, well, a beautiful spaniel named Martha. Hilda herself is still sulking after being separated earlier this week from Matilda, the cutest and sweetest poodley thing belonging to Jennifer Pinder. And have you even seen the photos of Daisy, the new addition to Brigitte of Moss and Stone's family? Or Wilson who now resides with Lucy The Flower Hunter? So, to the outside world, there is nothing remarkable about another florist and her attachment to her hound.
It is also true to say that, in my case, the flowers wouldn't have finally happened without Hilda. In 2012 I had one of those life changing events that means you simply can't go back to your life as it was before. The aftermath had left me bedridden and reliant upon opiates for over a year and I couldn't even imagine what I was going to do with myself. I was convinced, however, that life with a dog would be a big improvement and after long negotiations and a decision to overrule my partner, Hilda entered our lives in the winter of 2013. The very act of acquiring a dog, whilst improving my spirits, didn't make the pain go away. But it did mean remaining bedridden wasn't an option. No matter how I felt, there was a tiny brown dog relying on me to take her out and to look after her. And so it began, the walks along Hackney Marshes, across Hampstead Heath, through Highgate Woods... and increasingly, further into the countryside with weekends in the Cotswolds, trips to Wales and beyond.
Somewhere along the way, when not looking adoringly at the dog, I started to notice my surroundings, to take interest in nature again, and to notice the colours of leaves, the shapes of branches, the textures of moss on a damp winter's morning, birds singing from the trees. A few months later, I was taking secateurs with me on my country walks, and visiting florists' shops in the afternoon for flowers to accompany what I had already gathered. I started to realise that and then arranging things made me happy and gave me another small sense of purpose. And so with foliage, flowers and a 4.5 kg Schnauzer my recovery began.
Every dog is very special to its owner (s), and we couldn't do without them. But this is my story and why I couldn't have Honeysuckle without Hilda. I'll try not to go on about her too much, but if I do, I hope you will forgive me.