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.