Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Christmas Markets

After the success of the Nether Edge Farmers’ Market in September, Ann and I were keen to take part in the Christmas Market in December. In fact, we were so geared up for Christmas that we decided to have a stall at the Sharrow Vale Market as well. Here we are all wrapped up against the elements – it was very cold and wet at both markets – but we are smiling! It was fantastic that lots of people turned out despite the weather – mostly they were on the hunt for Christmas presents, as well as soaking up the great market atmosphere along with the rain.

This time I made arrangements in seasonal colours – green, white and red. I got very excited when I found a grower/wholesaler of English flowers and foliage who could deliver flowers straight to our front door. I was able buy red/pink and white alstroemeria which were robust and proud and also parvifolia (the kind of eucalyptus with small leaves which I like best) and pittosporum, again with small leaves. It was a great surprise to find that English narcissi (wonderful scent) – both bright white and yellow – were available. I supplemented all of this with the last of the flowers from our garden – some lime green chrysanthemums, dark pink chrysanthemums, cotoneaster berries and even a few scabious. I also used some glossy green wild holly to add to the seasonal feel and some fatsia leaves from the garden. Then I added some gorgeous white avalanche roses and some white and red chrysanthemums which I bought from Sheffield Flower Market. Here are a few of the bouquets and bunches which I made.

The shoppers at the markets seem to like the posies in a jar very much. Often they say that they make great presents because the posy and the container come as a complete whole and they don`t have to worry whether the person they are giving it to has a vase at home which is the right size. I wanted to make Christmassy jars this time. My friend Ann (another Ann!) who lives in Oxford gave me the idea of gluing hand-made paper to jars. She had done this with old glasses to make tea-light containers and she said that the paper seemed very strong and even stood up to being left outside in the rain. I used green and red paper and painted over it with gold paint to add a bit of sparkle. Then I tied the jars with tartan ribbon. I was very pleased with the effect – I thought the jars looked bright and seasonal without being tacky. I sold nearly all of them – so quite a winner.

My other product was the completed pomanders. These looked and smelled lovely. Lots of people came to sniff them and some reminisced about making them when they were children. Again, I sold most of these, but I also kept a few back to give to friends and family as stocking fillers.

The farmers’ markets have been a great experience for me. They have given me an opportunity to buy flowers on a larger scale than just a home situation and I have learned a great deal about the flower supply chain and how to judge the amount of flowers and foliage needed to make a lot of arrangements. I have also offered my work to a buying public and talked to people about my values and approach. It is heartening that people like what I am doing and I feel encouraged to build on this.

We are now coming to the end of 2011 and during this year I have travelled a long way in my learning about how I want to work with flowers. I have lots of ideas I want to try out in 2012 and I am hoping to grow my business a little. Meadowsweet has made a great start and I am looking forward to the excitement and challenges of the next stage in its development.

Happy Christmas and a peaceful New Year to all my friends, family and readers.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Autumn in Sheffield

Our Sheffield garden has slipped from the dog days of summer into autumn.…but what a splendid autumn it is. We have had plenty of fine sunny days and are surrounded by leaves of gold, red and rust. We have also harvested wonderful crops of apples, chilli peppers and tomatoes – and we are still picking them in these last days of October. This first picture shows the garlic chives which have flowered in our garden for over two months now. You can also see the geraniums, sweet peas and calendula in the background, all of which are still in full flower.

I have been using the flowers we still have to create some autumnal arrangements. The picture below shows an arrangement using the last of the stocks and the pinks, with sweet peas, geraniums (someone told me that they don`t last in vases, but ours have done really well), scabious (just fantastic) and cotoneaster (so heavy with berries that the branches are nearly touching the ground). I have also used our eucalyptus and juniper as foliage. This is the first time I have used the pewter vase that I found in the French vide grenier this summer – I think it really suits warm autumnal arrangements, where it didn`t work so well with the light freshness of summer flowers (you can see apples from our trees in the background).

Mike gave me a macro lens for my camera for my birthday a few weeks ago. Just look what it can produce. These dark (nearly black) scabious are my absolute favourites at the moment.

In the spring this year we bought a selection of chrysanthemums at the RHS spring fair in Cardiff. All summer they only produced leaves and very long legs! But at last we are starting to see some blooms. This simple arrangement uses the first green flowers together with dark purple asters (gorgeous), scabious and garlic chives as a white contrast. I filled it out with foliage from our wall flowers (I hope it won`t impinge too much on next Spring's flowers!) and eucalyptus.

When we have our first frost (which must surely be soon) most of the remaining flowers will die. And as the nights draw in, my thoughts are moving to the arrangements I will make for Christmas. One thing I have decided to make is traditional pomanders. Essentially these are oranges cured with cloves and other spices. They were used in the sixteenth century to cover up the smells of an era without good washing facilities and sanitation!  Nowadays they just smell and look lovely – all citrus and spice which will be tied up with Christmassy ribbon. It takes six weeks to cure them – so I made a start yesterday. Here are the oranges with the cloves stuck into them. They are now sitting in bowls covered with ground spices where they will stay for the next few weeks. I will show you some more pictures of them when they are finished. In my next blog, I will have more ideas for Christmas.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Nether Edge Farmers Market

Here I am on the way to the Nether Edge Farmers’ Market in Sheffield. It took place yesterday, Sunday 25 September. I am carrying a crate of posies and a jug with a couple of bunches of flowers in it. Let me start by telling you about the arrangements that I created. All of these used flowers from English growers, together with some flowers and foliage from our own garden. I made a few large bouquets, using two different colour ways (I used broadly the same colours for all of the arrangements) and presented them in aqua packs in boxy green bags. These were the premium product! The first is based mostly on pinks/blues and purple, and the second is based on autumnal colours – mainly yellow and orange/brown.

Then I made several smaller hand-tied bunches which I finished off with a piece of pretty lace tied with some string. Here is one based on the yellow theme.

My main product was a range of small posies presented either in hand decorated jars or in up-cycled tins. I also made a few edible posies using borage and herbs from our garden. Here is an example of a posy in an up-cycled tin.

Then I had fantastic help from Jessie (my daughter) who designed the lettering for Meadowsweet and the little sprig of meadowsweet which sits alongside the name. She had special stamps made so that we could stamp the meadowsweet identity on to tags (which also acted as business cards) and bags of all sizes. I was really pleased with the way this simple method complemented the natural approach that I am taking to my work with flowers.

I shared the stall with my friend, Ann, who makes hand thrown ceramics – really lovely individual pieces in lots of different vibrant colours. The flowers and the ceramics really worked well together. Here we are at the start of the market behind our stall waiting for action to commence.

The whole market had a great vibe. It was full of interesting stalls – rustic bread, wild mushrooms, organic burgers, whole fresh trout, olives, cupcakes, crafts, plants and many more. It was at the centre of the Nether Edge community and was really well attended, even though the weather wasn`t great. Lots of people stopped to talk to us about our wares. They seemed to like my use of flowers – especially the focus on English flowers. They liked the pink/blue/purple colour way most and the best sellers were the posies in the hand decorated jars. This is a close up of some of the posies on the stall.

And here are Jessie and Anne later in the day with our stocks somewhat depleted. Anne and I were both pleased with the amount we sold and the positive response we received from the market customers.

The tags which Jessie made sat on the front of the stall. Many of these were picked up as people passed by and then dropped into handbags. They give details of how to contact me and what I am offering – market stalls, arrangements for parties and events and flower workshops. This was the first step in promoting my new business. It was a great experience overall and I am looking forward to running another stall in the run up to Christmas.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Flowers and the Environment

Flowers seem so natural that it is hard to think of them harming the environment. But they can. Transporting flowers from distant places like Kenya or Columbia, or even from Holland, generates carbon emissions. Also growers often use pesticides or fertilizers which are not regulated as tightly as they are for food production. This can be harmful to agricultural workers. The best flowers are those we grow in our own gardens with minimal use of chemicals – no ‘flower miles’ and safe for everyone’s health. If we don`t have our own garden flowers, I think it is best to buy responsibly grown flowers locally – like these lovely scabious and pure white chrysanthemums produced by British growers and bought in Sheffield flower market a few days ago .

It is possible to buy some British grown flowers on the high street now from Sainsburys, Marks and Spencers and other supermarkets, but so far I am finding it difficult to find a regular wholesale supplier of British flowers.

I am also increasingly worried about the use of floral foam (better known as Oasis) in flower arranging. This is potentially harmful to both the environment and florists. Most flower arrangers and florists use Oasis – the dry foam is soaked in water and then flower stems can be placed into it. The advantage of it is that it holds flowers in exactly the position you want them (even upside down) and it allows the flowers to drink water (but not as well as they do in a vase). So, this candelabra arrangement that I produced at Jane Packer’s Advanced Floral Design Course in June would be impossible to create without Oasis.

I have come across the website of a florist in Berkeley (her business is called Gorgeous and Green), USA, who has a personal mission to speak up about the risks associated with Oasis. She has directed interested people to the Material Safety Data Sheet (an official US document which lists all the health and safety issues related to products) for Oasis. She has pasted the 2009 version of the MSD Sheet onto her website. It states that Oasis is a thermoset plastic and it is not bio-degradable. It also states that it `may be irritating to eyes, skin and respiratory tract', that it 'may contain formaldehyde and/or carbon black' and that 'prolonged exposure may cause cancer'. Not good for florists or regular flower arrangers! Well I never liked it much anyway – nasty slimy stuff that looks very unattractive when it is time to deconstruct an arrangement. I have decided to avoid using it altogether and experiment with other ways of fixing flowers into place. One way is to use a container with a grid over the top which can hold the flowers. Here is an example using a small crystal bowl that I found at a Vide Grenier (get rid of stuff from your attic!) in France this summer.

Here is another example where I made a grid out of tape (across the top of the vase) and made a large vibrant arrangement with bright orange roses, brown dahlias, dill seed heads and hydrangea leaves. I could not have made the flowers stand up properly without the grid, and the overall effect is just as good (and more natural in every sense) as it would have been with Oasis.

I have a book by Mary Rose Blacker called Flora Domestica – A History of Flower Arranging 1500-1930. This explains traditional ways which were used to hold flowers in place before floral foam was invented. I will be experimenting with these methods and reflecting on how they have worked in future blogs.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Wild flowers in France

We spent our summer holiday in the Charente in France. This is a picture of a wonderful array of plants in Chalais market. All the produce – flowers, plants, fruits and cheese – was fresh and bountiful. We stayed in a gite in the middle of the countryside. There was a meadow next to the gite which was filled with wild flowers – they opened up during the day and closed their petals at night. This is a picture of one of the wild white flowers, not unlike the ammi we are growing in our garden.

I wanted to pick some flowers, but I didn`t have any vases in the house. But I did have some empty jam jars and my paints with me. I experimented with different ways of decorating the jars so that they looked good when filled with wild flowers. I really like this simple design that shows the flowers off well without distracting from their natural loveliness.

Then I made two more jars so that I could make a repeating arrangement of three. Our friends, John and Lindsey, are renovating a traditional French presbytery in Chalais. I took the three jars as a present for them when they invited us over for dinner. They added a fresh touch to a country dinner table. Naturally gorgeous!

Using jam jars in this way has made me think about the environment and flowers. My daughter, Jessie, has introduced me to the concept of up-cycling. The idea of this is to prevent wasting potentially useful materials by making use of existing ones. It is about adding value to something that already exists without all the costs (financial and environmental) associated with re-cycling. I think enhancing jam jars like this is a good example of up-cycling. Now I have got to thinking about flowers and the environment I will write some more about this in my next blog.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Summer Flowers

We have been growing all sorts of traditional English flowers this year. This arrangement is made up of sweet peas which Mike especially likes, snap dragons (lovely bright white ones), sweet smelling stocks and ammi. Ammi is properly called ammi majus with an everyday name of bishop’s weed. It is a bit like cow parsley but a lot more delicate. It makes arrangements look lovely – all white froth and romance.

This next arrangement is bigger and is mainly based on red phlox which is growing really well in our front garden, wonderful blue sea holly which we saved from Mike’s Dad’s house when it was sold, borage which is growing profusely (and we use in salads…tasty and pretty) and lovely bright small red alliums.

I have used flowering salad stuff and herbs a lot this year. Mustard, rocket, parsley, garlic and even lettuce have been really good – pretty and robust. This arrangement uses flowering garlic chives (bright white) and pretty flowering rocket. The pink cosmos and anemones brighten it all up and I was really pleased to use the first of our scabious (gorgeous dark purple – nearly black).

Monday, 29 August 2011

Welcome to Meadowsweet

I am Liz Doherty and this blog marks the beginning of my journey in developing my new flower business. The first thing I have had to decide on is a name and after a lot of thought I have chosen ‘Meadowsweet’. This is the name of one of the few flowers that are native to England. It has delicate creamy-white flowers and it can be found in English meadows from June to September. It has a lovely sweet smell and has been used for centuries to decorate churches for festivals and weddings. Queen Elizabeth I favoured it above all other flowers to make her rooms look and smell lovely. Meadowsweet conjures up everything that I love most about flowers and the way that they make our lives better – through their colour, their fragrance and their beauty. What I especially like about Meadowsweet is that it belongs in England and that it hasn`t been introduced from any faraway land. I also like the way that the whole flower is good – it can be used to flavour wines and preserves, and it is used in herbal remedies.

I have spent the last couple of years doing courses at Sheffield College and I`ve also been to Jane Packer’s Advanced Floral Design Course in London. My husband Mike and I have been growing flowers to cut in our Sheffield garden over the last three years and we are learning what works well in our urban garden. I am now clear about the way I want to work with flowers. I like them to be natural, abundant and vibrant. I don`t like them over-controlled and forced into unnatural designs. I like to use flowers from as close to home as possible – ideally our own garden, or where that isn`t possible, from British growers. Here are a couple of arrangements using flowers and leaves from our garden this summer.

I am looking forward to sharing lots more over the next few months!