Sunday, 16 July 2017

The Dutch Masters

Last month I ran a new workshop broadly inspired by the Dutch Masters who painted pictures of flowers in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Their art has influenced a lot of great floristry over the last few years and produced some wonderful, abundant arrangements. Here are a couple of examples of Dutch paintings. The first is by Jan van Huysum and the second by Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder (thanks to the Getty Open Content Programme for use of the digital images):
Real blooms, especially tulips, were so expensive at the time that wealthy people commissioned pictures of their favourite flowers. But the paintings were not of actual arrangements - often the stems were unrealistically long and flowers were painted which were not in season at the same time. There was also a still life feel about the pictures with cut flowers and insects placed around the arrangements, or artefacts like skulls or books. The paintings showed off the skill of the artists, especially their use of colour, light and shade. In fact, it is the use of moody shade that pervades many of the images of floristry influenced by the Dutch Masters. It is so much part of the current trend that I was taught how to take these dark photographs at a course I went to last year (at the Green and Gorgeous Flower Farm) to improve my skills of photographing flowers.
Whist I really admire some of this dark, romantic work, I prefer a light-filled environment. Here is the example arrangement I created for my workshop participants.
The shape of this arrangement is based on an asymmetrical lazy-S rather than a pyramid or a dome. The workshop took place in June when there were some vibrant late spring flowers for us to use. Sweet william, brodiaea, cornflowers, pinks and alstroemeria from Clowance in Cornwall.
Gorgeous white avalanche roses and pink and white stocks from the Sheffield flower market.
And lovely pink astrantia from our garden. I love this starry, light flower.
I had sourced these attractive beaten metal bowls for our arrangements which would be made in chickenwire (the gardening gloves are to protect people's hands from the spiky wire).
The arrangements that participants produced were simply wonderful. Gorgeous, sumptuous and exciting to the eye. Here are a few examples.
It was hard to capture the magnificence of the arrangements in our work area as there were just too many flowers to get into our peripheral vision! After the workshop a couple of participants sent me pictures of their arrangements in situ. Just fantastic.
I really enjoyed this workshop and was stunned by the results. I am planning to run it again this Autumn - there should be some great seasonal flowers to use. I am hoping for dahlias.

Monday, 29 May 2017

All White

Usually I use beautiful colours when I work with flowers, but recently I have been drawn to using just white flowers. There is something pure and exquisite about white flowers. This quote from Vanessa Diffenbaugh's novel The Language of Flowers captures the essence of white 'The bouquet was white as a wedding and spoke of prayers, truth and an unacquainted heart'. Last month I ran a workshop with all white flowers. Here are some of the flowers set up before the workshop - tulips, roses, delphiniums, white bluebells, lily-of-the-valley, veronica, alstroemeria, soloman's seal and feverfew.
We lined up all the flowers for making a large hand-tied bouquet. The flowers looked absolutely beautiful and everyone felt that there was something very calming, and almost therapeutic, when we worked with them.
We placed the finished bouquet in a simple, unadorned kilner jar.
Then this was presented in a green Meadowsweet gift bag. Green works especially well with white.
Weddings are associated with white - of course they are given the connotations of purity! Mostly I have used white in buttonholes - either a single white rose, just with some green foliage or a touch of colour:
....or a little bunch of gypsophila tied with lace and string:
For one wedding I decorated tables in a marquee just with gypsophila - a frothy mass of white!
This white urn would look gorgeous in a wedding venue.
Finally, here is a simple jug of mainly white flowers - peonies and astrantia picked from the garden, snapdragons and foliage. Joyful and lovely.

Thursday, 27 April 2017


The tulips are now up in our garden. We have a lovely array this year. These orange and dark colours.
These lovely pink blousey ones, a bit like roses.
These red ones also look a bit like roses with their multiple petals which feel like velvet.
Tulips came to Europe in the sixteenth century from Turkey. The Turks particularly liked tulips with elegant, pointed petals, a bit like this modern version.
Tulips sent the Dutch mad during the period 1634-37. This was the period of Tulipomania when single bulbs of rare tulips could sell for the price of a town house in Amsterdam, or 15 years of the wages of a bricklayer! The most valuable tulips were those that were 'broken' rather than plain-coloured. This is an example of a broken tulip growing in our garden. It looks as though the red has been painted onto the cream background. At the time nobody knew how the break was created (and this made it hard to reproduce) - we now know that it was caused by a virus spread by aphids!
Today tulips are very cheap in Amsterdam. When we visited last year you could buy 50 stems of lovely tulips for just 12 euros,
And we found mass plantings all over Amsterdam - like these (with hyacinths) outside the Rijks Museum.
Closer to home, I spied these gorgeous white tulips in a mass planting at Chatsworth last May.
I have pondered on the best way of arranging tulips. I really like them simply presented so that each individual, magnificent stem can be fully appreciated.
Or, how about this.
Tulips also look great mixed in with other seasonal flowers to create a painterly sort of arrangement. I have included hellebores, soloman's seal, bluebells, vibernum, alstroemeria and roses in this one.
If you would like to know more about the fascinating story of the Tulip have a look at Anna Pavord's masterful work The Tulip which includes some stunning images.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Desperately Seeking Spring

It was a miserable February, but at least it was short! A few days ago I ventured out into our garden looking for signs of Spring. There were a few. The hellebores are lovely at the moment, but it is really hard to look into their faces as they resolutely look down into the earth. Why, I wonder? Mike has suggested that they must be trying to attract some early insects and they are providing a protective cover, like an umbrella!
Our earliest clump of daffodils is trying to open:
The patch of grass outside our house is colourful with crocuses:
And there are just a few snowdrops still in bloom in shady parts of the garden:
I was keen to get some of these early spring flowers into our house. I have completely failed with hellebores in vases - drooping heads and a very short vase life. The answer is to float them in small containers (like the cup and saucer above) or this sundae dish. Exquisite!
I popped the snowdrops into a pretty glass with a few tete-a-tete - they made me smile.
I was also pleased with these little primulas which I put in a tiny shot glass and they lasted for several days.
The garden is full of stirring things which aren`t yet ready to open. Especially buds. These tree peony buds are the most dramatic. Big and sticky.

I`ve been buying seeds over the last few weeks. Mike and I usually start our seeds off inside, even if the packets say you can sow them straight in the ground.This is because we find it really hard to distinguish between germinating flowers that we have chosen and germinating weeds. At least if we start them off we have a fighting chance of recognising them. But both my information sources - Sarah Raven and Louise Curley - recommend sowing quite a lot of hardy annuals straight in the ground. So this year, I`m trying an experiment. I am clearing loads of old shrubs and perennials out of our front border and then I am going to scatter Sarah Raven's Flower Meadow Mix over the whole area. I have chosen the 'Cottage Garden' mix and I am hoping for a brilliant, bright border all around the front of our house. I will keep you posted on progress........