Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Inspired by Francoise Weeks

I made this woodland bouquet at a brilliant workshop run by Francoise Weeks earlier this year. She is a wonderful, imaginative floral designer based in America and born in Belgium. Her work is more like art than floristry and more haute couture than it is flower arranging (have a look at her fabulous website http://francoiseweeks.com/ ). The workshop was hosted by the The Academy of Floral Art in Devon – a great outfit who run inspired courses for both florists and enthusiasts. The workshop was about how to create beautiful woodland arrangements. The first was based on a log. Here is one that Francoise made and here she is talking about the concept. The idea is to create the impression of the forest floor using dried and fresh materials (just as you find in the forest).

The method for making the arrangement uses oasis to get a water supply to cut flowers. As readers of my blog know, I don`t use oasis. Instead, I attached some living plant material to my log in a mini plant pot with soil in it. Here is my creation – the first photo was taken by Katie Collins (who also took the photo of the woodland bouquet above), and the second by me in a domestic context.
I have done some further experimenting with how to get water to the cut flowers and I tried this out at a workshop I held in my own flower studio for a small group of keen guinea pigs. I decided to run the workshop in the studio as I had seen how messy the woodland creating process could be and I thought Mike might react badly to moss glued to our parquet floor! Here is the set up.
And here are the materials – logs (plenty in Eccleshall Woods just up the road), succulents, dried flowers and seedheads, bark, cones, moss, mushrooms and some pretty flowers (not too blowsy – they need to have a woodland feel).
This is my demonstration log. It is actually the same log that I made in Francoise’s workshop, but re-worked with some fresh materials – and as you can see it looks as though there are some flowers growing out of the log - but it is all artifice!
The way we got water to the flowers was by using small plastic phials which were then covered in moss. Something like this.
As the workshop progressed more material was added.
And fresh flowers added.
Here are the finished logs (with some close-ups). They looked fantastic – truly, more like works of art than flower arrangements.
This is what Sue, Ann and Liz wrote about it: ‘I`m bragging about it to everyone I meet’, ‘I thoroughly enjoyed making the woodland log – it looks beautiful in situ’, ‘I really enjoyed the chance to be so creative and they all looked lovely, but different’. I think I can safely say it was a hit!

Back to Devon and the woodland bouquet. Here is the set up there (it was in the lovely Sid Valley Country House Hotel)….I do have a bit of residual worry about the fate of the carpet! On the workbench you can see the framework for the woodland bouquet – it is the round shape (this houses the oasis) with a handle on it. 
We decorated both the surface of the oasis and the handle. The outcome did look amazing. Here are some professional photos taken by Katie. The model is Lilia Darling:
I was so impressed by this that I wanted to add something like it to my repertoire, but somehow I have had to find a way out of the oasis. I decided that the key thing was to incorporate dried materials like pine cones and succulents (for those of you interested in technical detail, I wired all of these). The other thing I really liked was the decoration of the handle. So I added some robust leaves to the underside and the handle, and also a little natural decoration. This is still a work in progress, but here is the fruit of my first attempt – pretty good.
Finally, a huge, heartfelt thank you to Francoise Weeks who has opened my eyes to new ways of working with a wider range of flowers, foliage and plant material than I had ever thought possible. What a star and what a great role model for me.

Friday, 19 June 2015

British flowers, bread and roses

This is British flower week - an opportunity to celebrate the gorgeous flowers grown here in Britain. In the 1980s 50% of the flowers sold in the UK were grown in the UK - but now the figure is just 10%. The main problem is that the supermarkets have pushed down the price of flowers by buying direct from growers in the developing world and this has driven British growers out of the market. The imported flowers are cheap partly because the largely female workforce is badly exploited - experiencing low pay, exposure to harmful pesticides, job insecurity, forced labour and very little employment regulation. British growers are now fighting back and British Flower Week is part of that campaign. Here are some of the jam jar arrangements I made with flowers grown by Clowance in Cornwall and from my own back garden:

And here are two arrangements made in Heron Cross jugs.

Then here are a few arrangements using a limited range of flowers.

As part of British Flower Week I spoke at a WI meeting in Sheffield and also demonstrated how to make a couple of arrangements. This is a new WI group and they have called themselves 'Bread and Roses' which is the name of a poem/song taken up by women in the labour movement - it is about women strikers marching for both higher pay and beauty in their lives. It was sung by women trade unionists in the film Pride last year and it sent shivers up and down my spine. Here is an extract from it:

'As we go marching, marching, in the beauty of the day
A million darkened kitchens, a thousand mill lofts grey
Are touched with all the radiance that a sudden sun discloses
For the people hear us singing, bread and roses, bread and roses.

As we come marching, marching, un-numbered women dead
Go crying through our singing their ancient call for bread,
Small art and beauty their trudging spirits knew
Yes, it is bread we fight for, but we fight for roses, too.' 

There is some irony in my concern for the women toiling in the Kenyan flower farms to support the western demand for cheap roses to add beauty to our lives. I guess they would not fight so much for roses, but rather a decent wage and better working conditions to grow the roses. If you care about this, I urge you to buy fairtrade roses when you see them - the 10% premium will commit their employers to introducing better pay and conditions. So my message, as ever, is buy British or fairtrade, or grow your own!

These are the two arrangements I demonstrated at the Bread and Roses meeting - a hand-tie and a round arrangement made in chicken wire: