Monday, 12 June 2017

Love and loss with flowers


Mother's Day feels like so long ago now - but it was only a few months ago. 

The alternative flowers workshop went well. I had rosemary and forget-me-nots for remembrance, mint for warmth of feeling and protection, ranunculus which says "You are radiant with charms" according to the Victorians. And French lavender, just because it smells beautiful.




There were people who'd lost their mother and people who'd lost their child, but everyone connected and shared their stories. I went down to get more tea after we'd been chatting for an hour and before we started the floristry, but when I came back up, everyone had got stuck in and started making posies. There was flower-swapping and jar-swapping, and beautiful, scented posies were made for keeping and others were made to lay in memory. It was heartbreakingly sad at times, but it was also wonderful. The talking, the connecting, the kindness, and the grounding qualities of flowers - all of these things did their bit.



If you would like support with the loss of a child, Child Bereavement UK have resources here.
For other bereavements, you can contact Cruse here.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

If you find Mother's Day difficult: alternative workshop on 25 March


When I did my floristry diploma, we were taught about the importance of certain dates in the calendar - the most significant being Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, Easter, and Christmas. For another module, we were taught how to sensitively take an order for funeral flowers. We didn't really put them together, and it's only because of personal losses in the last few years (my own and my friends') and my work as a bereavement counsellor that I've seen how the two are connected.

I have mixed feelings about Valentine's Day, and I still wish it was used as a day to celebrate all kinds of love rather than solely a day for couples to remind themselves that they're a couple.

I've seen how Mother's Day can be upsetting for people - whose mothers or children have died, or whose mothers or children are ill or disabled, or who are estranged from some of their family. It could be that someone has a difficult relationship with their mother or child for all kinds of reasons. It could be that a woman wants to have children but can't. It could be that a woman chooses not to have children but gets messages that she's less of a woman for it. Last year, Jennifer Aniston wrote about the scrutiny she comes under for her maternal status, amongst other things.

It's easy to suggest that someone just ignores Mothering Sunday and the messages that are implied with it, but unless you're a hermit, it's near-impossible to ignore Mother's Day in Britain. Adverts and articles will pop up on television, newspapers and websites, the shops (that includes florists - sorry) will do their damnedest to make you remember, and even if you want to just go out for the day, there might be themed lunches and afternoon teas in cafes and restaurants.


So, with some encouragement from other therapists and flowery friends (waves to Sara at My Flower Patch who is running a Spring Workshop in Wiltshire and donates to local charity The Finlay Foundation), I am running an alternative workshop the day before Mother's Day.

  • In this workshop, we'll get to talk to each other about what makes Mother's Day difficult.
  • We'll do some mindful exercises with flowers.
  • Then we'll make a scented posy that people can keep for themselves, give as a gift, or leave as a memorial.

The workshop will be held at Neal's Yard Remedies in Sevenoaks on Saturday 25 March from 1.15-3pm. You can book your place by visiting the shop at 134 Sevenoaks High Street or phoning the shop on 01732 456402.

The cost is £30 and this includes the workshop, a posy to take away, and a £5 donation to the charity Child Bereavement UK.


This year, Child Bereavement UK has launched a campaign called Make for Mum to encourage bereaved people to remember their mothers or mothers to remember their children. The charity supports children and parents who are bereaved or facing bereavement through their national helpline; one-to-one, couple, family and group support; and training for professionals and schools.


Saturday, 4 March 2017

Review of the year: Winter 2016


Only a few weeks to go before the days start getting longer again. I can't wait - apart from Christmas, I'm not a fan of dark mornings and evenings.

Winter flowers included 28 candelabras for an event at Middle Temple Hall celebrating Shakespeare (which chimed in nicely with the #floristfilms hashtag: 28 Candelabras Later). It's where the first recorded performance of Twelfth Night took place in 1602, so it was a real privilege to do the flowers for this event. The flowers were not so much flowers, as trailing ivy, which hopefully created an ethereal, Midsummer Night's Dream feel to the hall.


There were scented arrangements of pine, spruce (aka blue pine), eucalyptus, stocks, and lavender, along with pussy willow, alstromeria, silver brunia, silver kochia, and white hypericum for Neal's Yard Remedies in Sevenoaks.







The scent of the foliage, herbs, and flowers nicely complimented the Christmassy smells of cinnamon, clove and mandarin that filled the shop. Pussy willow has an irresistible, tactile quality, and it lasts for weeks and weeks, which is wonderful for a shop display.




Oh, and there was white, glittery skimmia. The glitter was barely noticeable in the arrangements, but it was all over my workspace and buckets and took weeks to finally clear!



There were satsumas for Father Christmas.




And on Boxing Day, after eating leftover Quorn roast (I used Nigella's ginger-glazed ham recipe), I used my leftover flowers to try to create some modern ikebana arrangements. Ikebana is not the most obvious style for Christmas flowers, but one of my lovely Canadian cousins sent me Keiko's Ikebana book to challenge my Western-wild floristry style, and I thought I'd give it a go. I failed my natural line arrangement practical at college, along with the rest of my class - this Japanese style of floristry did not come naturally to any of us (we scraped passes on our resits though!). A lovely tutor from my diploma course, Neil Bain, encouraged me to share my efforts on Twitter - and his generous response to my photos was reassuring.


The bowl arrangement is not-quite moribana (which means "piled on") and the vase arrangement is not-quite nageire (which means "thrown in"). It looks deceptively simple in the book, but it is such a challenge if it's not your natural style. But hey - it's good to be challenged sometimes.






Now there's just over a month until Easter, I can think about clearing out my Easter leftovers with some spring ikebana.

I'll finish with some gratuitous Christmas baking photos...even though it's completely the wrong weather and time of year for eggnog cupcakes and mince pies! It was the first time I'd made eggnog from scratch, and like many homemade things, it was time-consuming but worth the effort. You also get to drink the leftover eggnog, which is a nice bonus.





Thursday, 2 March 2017

The primroses were over


“The primroses were over. Towards the edge of the wood, where the ground became open and sloped down to an old fence and a brambly ditch beyond, only a few fading patches of pale yellow still showed among the dog's mercury and oak-tree roots. On the other side of the fence, the upper part of the field was full of rabbit-holes. In places the grass was gone altogether and everywhere there were clusters of dry droppings, through which nothing but the ragwort would grow.”
Richard Adams, Watership Down

I have been terrible at blogging the past year, but I always do a post for World Book Day – so I want to keep up with tradition. It’s nice to look back and see the books I chose before. 2012 was Nineteen Eighteen-Four (and how many times has that book been mentioned in the last year?), 2013 was Gone with the Wind, 2014 was Elizabeth Barrett’s Sonnets from the Portuguese, 2015 was The Go-Between, and last year was Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

A couple of days after Christmas last year, I heard the news that Richard Adams had died on Christmas Eve. He was 96. At the bottom of this post is my copy of Watership Down, which my mother bought me in John Lewis on Oxford Street, back in the 1980s when its children's department included books. Richard was the only person I really wanted to write a fan letter to…but I never knew what to say, so I didn't. I know he had loads of fan mail, so mine wouldn't have made much difference to him, but I felt a huge pang of regret on the 27th of December. 96 is a fantastic age to live to, but death is loss no matter what age, and I think the little girl in me imagined he was as immortal as Father Christmas. I had read interviews with him after his 90th birthday and a couple of years ago, and he was as sharp and eloquent as ever.

I read Watership Down after seeing the 1978 animated film. I fell in love with both. As cute as he was, I was never a fan of Thumper from Bambi; sarcastic rabbits like Bugs Bunny and intelligent, kickass rabbits like Bigwig and Hyzenthlay were more my scene. There was also something Rick and Ilsa from Casablanca about the last two. Now when I watch The Walking Dead, so much of that epic, apocalyptic story reminds me of Watership Down – the constant vigilance against danger, being cautious but hopeful when meeting new characters, the deaths and losses, and the blood. I used to hide behind the curtains the first few times I watched the final showdown between General Woundwort and the dog in the film. Similarly, I used to hide behind my hands when I first watched the zombie scenes in the TV show, before I got used to them.

“When you’re little…you don’t distinguish between fiction and reality,” Richard said a few years ago. “It’s all reality. And thank goodness for that. I do not believe in talking down to children. Readers like to be upset, excited and bowled over. I can remember weeping when I was little at upsetting things that were read to me, but fortunately my mother and father were wise enough to keep going.”

His daughter Juliet urged him to write down the epic rabbit story he’d told her and her sister during long car journeys, and eventually he started writing every evening. ‘Asked if he enjoyed writing it, his response is quick and pithy. “No, I hated it. To be quite frank, writing is bloody hard work. But I did enjoy that I had the guts to persevere with it.”’

I am so glad he did.


Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Review of the year: Autumn 2016


Autumn was full of bright, late summer flowers, huge dahlias, sunflowers and other cheerful yellows. There were also gorgeous scents and classic colours, trips to David Austin Roses (another post is needed for that trip) and Blooming Green.


A trip to Blooming Green to pick a bucket or two of flowers deserves a separate post...but given my track record of late, it's probably best to include a few photos here in case the other post doesn't materialise. I also bought dahlias from a local allotment that had an open day. If you're curious about the wellies, they were a celebratory purchase from Joules the day before - I'd gone shopping with another bereavement counsellor after we had both passed our counselling courses, and he persuades me to buy the bright floral wellies I obviously preferred (rather than the more subdued print that I thought I *ought* to buy).




I had a few new, second-hand containers that I'd bought from Eliza Wade (a local florist shop), and this was a perfect excuse to trial them. Along with milk bottles, a milk churn from Mayfield Lavender, and my chicken vase!






As it was the end of the summer flowering season, I wanted to get more Rosebie Morton scented, British roses while I still could.


The antique pink roses were set off by sedum from the garden, flowering mint, British pinks in white and raspberry pink, and stunning blue oxypetalum.








I am so lucky to live near New Covent Garden Market - I get to buy beautiful and scented flowers like these. Rosebie Morton in Hampshire sells a range of scented roses to Zest in the late spring to early autumn. When I take them back on the train, the scent fills the carriage. The pinks have that wonderful clove scent that supermarket carnations are sadly lacking. The flowering mint and oxypetalum (aka tweedia) are imported - the mint smells incredible and the oxypetalum is such a beautiful and delicate flower. But if you've sensitive skin like me, wear gloves when using it, as the beautiful blue flower releases a horrible sap when stems and leaves are cut. When I asked Luke at Zest what the blue flower was called, at first I thought he said, "Ozymandias", the character out of Watchmen. He didn't.



I also did flowers for a pure white wedding - not my usual style, but Laura's idea of fluffy clouds made of hydrangeas and gypsophila was so beautiful and made for a striking monochomatic theme at her wedding reception. She also wanted white, blue and yellow bouquets for the mothers of the bride and groom.





As an aside, I have been in serious denial about the flower market's upcoming move, but as the date draws closer, I am going to have to say a little goodbye soon. (When I was buying scented roses at Dennis Edwards yesterday, I bumped into Lauren, one of the lovely students from my floristry diploma. It's funny that it's taken so many years for me to bump into another ex-student there...and soon "there" will be someone else.) Followed by a hello, of course, as the market is just moving further up the road. You can read about the new market here.