Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Fast away the old year passes

I did my last Christmas arrangement on Christmas Eve. It was quite sad to pack away the remaining baubles and cinnamon sticks, but never mind - Christmas will come around again quickly enough. Here are photos of some of the arrangements I did as presents or to brighten up my home.

Here's the Christmas topiary tree that I made in college, once I'd found an angel for the top.

And on Christmas Day, I did run over to the greenhouse, like the boy ran outside in The Snowman, only to be met with mild disappointment that my snowdrops hadn't flowered yet.

Back indoors, there was baking to be done. Lavender cupcakes, unintentionally decorated with Manchester City blue icing, mince pies and cheese straws. I'll just have to be patient and wait for the snowdrops.

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Photos from David Austin

I took plenty of photos during my recent trip to the gardens at David Austin. The first roses I saw in the gardens were Lady of Shalott. I'm fond of the poem by Tennyson, the painting by Waterhouse, and have been curious to see what this rose would look and smell like. It didn't disappoint me - it is beautiful and sweetly scented.

Queen of Sweden is a pale pink rose which is supposed to be good for cutting. Usually, florists advise against leaving flowers near radiators. In this case, these incredible, frozen roses might appreciate the warmth!

Winchester Cathedral is a pretty, white rose.

There were lots of yellow roses. I'm not sure whether they can tolerate the cold better, or if they are especially late flowering. One of the most gorgeous is Charlotte.

And another is Golden Celebration.

Another Lady of Shalott rose bush on the left, and tall, Alice in Wonderland-style Molineux rose bushes on the right.

Tea Clipper is a pretty apricot colour. And, like many roses, it has a great name!

Charles Rennie Mackintosh is quite a striking rose, as lilac roses are not a common sight in gardens.

Maid Marion is a pretty pink - the sort of colour that you might call 'rose pink'.

Noble Antony is magnificent; a really vibrant, neatly-formed rose. And I'm a sucker for a Shakespearean hero!

One surprise in the gardens was the peacocks. As my boyfriend and I were the only people visiting the gardens, we hoped they might display their feathers if we were quiet and patient enough. Sadly, they didn't. Maybe next time!

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

David Austin in December

I have been dreaming about going to visit David Austin's gardens ever since I first read about him in the spring. He has bred and grown English roses for decades, and now has hundreds to his name. You can usually find some of his rose plants in garden centres, and some florists use his specially-bred cut garden roses for arrangements, particularly for weddings. Claire Cowling used his roses for a stunning wedding display - if you can get hold of Fusion Flowers Weddings magazine 2011/2012 or the book Florever Wherever, then take a look for yourself.

I have a Jude the Obscure and a William Shakespeare 2000 rose plant at home, although roses don't seem to thrive that well in my town. I'm not sure if it's the air, water, soil, or if we're just not good at growing roses!

Anyway, I got the chance to visit the David Austin centre in Albrighton, near Wolverhampton, this week. Even though it's December, I still thought it would be worth a visit. I wasn't disappointed. Despite the time of year and the cold, a walk around the vast gardens, followed by lunch in the pretty cafe, was a lovely way to spend a weekday afternoon.

I'm definitely planning another trip there in the summer!

Monday, 19 December 2011

Come and dream with me

I've just seen the Martin Scorsese film, Hugo. It's a delightful film to see at Christmas - tender and touching, exciting and magical, a real children's film for adults. It reminded me a little of Cinema Paradiso and The Fall, and the beautiful cinematography, set in a wintry post-WWI Paris, makes the most of the 3D filming.

Asa Butterfield is a wonderfully earnest and lonely Hugo, an orphan hiding in the clock of a train station. Chloe Grace Moretz, Ben Kingsley and Sasha Baron Cohen provide fine support, while there are some lovely cameos from Frances de la Tour, Richard Griffiths (I can't have been the only person who was pleased to see them united after The History Boys), Jude Law and Kevin Eldon.

The floristry-related highlight though, was when Sasha Baron Cohen's station officer nervously flirts with Emily Mortimer's character, who runs a dreamy-looking florist stall. 'Are they smelly flowers?' he asks, pointing to irises. I'll leave you to watch the film yourselves to see whether romance blossoms between them.

On the street tonight, an old man plays with newspaper cuttings of his glory days

I may not wear heavy black eyeliner, leopard print and a tiara these days, but I'm still prepared to brave the crowds and cold to see the Manic Street Preachers. They played a one-off singles gig at the O2 arena in Greenwich on Saturday, and it was fantastic.

Nicky had a costume change during the interval, and ended the gig wearing a white 'Spiller's Records' hoodie, a printed miniskirt and pedal pushers. Those of you with Welsh connections will probably remember Spiller's Records, a gem of a record shop in Cardiff. They had a special Welsh rock section, and when I was living in Swansea, I would often go there to get Manics bootlegs and fanzines. Sadly, like many record shops, it has closed down.

I felt a shiver down my spine when James sang the opening to Life Becoming a Landslide. And I'm getting soft in my old age - I was close to tears during Your Love Alone is Not Enough and when Nicky spoke of Richey. I'd never heard Nina Pearson sing live before, and I was mesmerized by her raw, beautiful voice as she sang lines like 'I could have written all your lies...I could have shown you how to cry'. Gruff Rhys also made a guest appearance on Let Robeson Sing - apparently, he was meant to sing this with the Manics when they went to Cuba, but he didn't make it.

James and Nicky were on top form, chatting to us and each other. 'You never f***ing liked this song, did you?!' James said at the end of Why So Sad. Some of us did, James! 'We used to write songs about the miners' strike,' Nicky told us. 'Nothing's changed. There's still a lot of a c***s in power.'

The golden Holy Bible era may be long gone, but I hope the Manics continue to write songs about the things that matter.

I am all the things that you regret
A truth that washes, that learned how to spell.


Sunday, 18 December 2011

Silver bells, silver bells, it’s Christmas time in the city

I finished my work experience at Nikki Tibbles Wild at Heart this week. I remember literally jumping up in the air when I listened to my voicemail message telling me that I had an interview for a placement there. I had just got off a plane to visit a uni friend in St Helier, and I got a few strange looks from the other people who were waiting to collect their luggage!
Nikki Tibbles Wild at Heart is an incredible company. It does flowers for weddings, huge events, private homes, and has four shops in London. I’ve been to the concession in Liberty (which is one of my favourite shops in London; not that I can afford to shop there!) and it’s beautiful. It’s just what I want from a flower shop – an amazing selection of flowers, many of them scented, and florists who will work with your budget and brief to create something gorgeous. I’d also seen that Nikki had designed bouquets for The National Gallery, inspired by some of the work on display there. You may have gathered that I’m rather fond of flower arrangements inspired by culture, art and fashion, so I do love these. The Dutch still life arrangement, in particular, is something I would never have thought to try, but it works so well.
When I started working for Nikki and her team in November, I got to see what a typical morning in the Pimlico shop was like, as well as the warehouse that also serves as a studio. During my time there, I did the stuff you would expect to do as a floristry student, such as conditioning flowers and cleaning up (when there are lots of florists making up wreathes and flower arrangements, the floor gets covered in pine, stems and leaves pretty quickly), as well as other tasks that are key to the run up to Christmas, such as wiring dried oranges and pine cones, and ribboning cinnamon sticks. A LOT of cinnamon sticks.

I had the heart-breaking job of dismantling two humungous and stunning arrangements that had been made for a bridal sample – one consolation was the sweet smell of the beautiful O’Hara roses as I worked. I had some 'Banksy' moments, as my friend described them, spray painting ivy trails red or silver or gold. And, sometimes, I had the chance to make arrangements and get some fantastic advice and feedback from the other florists. I made a few wreathes, some table arrangements, and on my last day, the marvellous Leigh stopped lambasting my football team and taught me to make this lovely, Christmassy table centre, and some tulip domes.

On my last day, I also worked the morning in the Pimlico shop. After the usual conditioning of flowers, I made up little bunches of mistletoe. Finally, I hand delivered a bouquet that had been made by the shop's amazing florist, Ruth, who I learned so much from. As the film Bed of Roses has been one of my guilty pleasures ever since I saw it on a weekday afternoon when I was off school with a cold, it was nice to see for myself why Christian Slater’s character (a florist) enjoys delivering flowers himself. People’s reactions when they receive flowers no doubt vary, depending on the person and the occasion, but they’re a reminder of why corny old romantics like myself want to become florists.
I’ll finish this with some photos I took of the Pimlico shop on my last day. What a beautiful place to work.

Sugar plum fairy in a pear tree

I was a bit sad to hear that my partner, who loves Christmas drinks in coffee shops and the Mariah Carey song, wasn’t going to have a tree this year. If it wasn’t for the trouble I had when I carried my topiary tree on the train back from college, I would have made another one for him. So, since he likes candles and prefers silver to gold, I made this table centre for him. Leigh at Nikki Tibbles Wild at Heart taught me how to insert soft-stemmed ranunculus into floral foam without squishing or snapping them, and as the market is full of them right now, I thought I would try them out at home. I used eucalyptus and berried eucalyptus, white and pink ranunculus, ilex leaves and thistles that I’d painted silver, and sugared pears. I think the berried eucalyptus has made this a bit flat, but otherwise, I’m quite happy with it. Let’s hope it survives my last trip to the Midlands before Christmas.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Decorations of red on a green Christmas tree

For our last week at college this term, we did lots of Christmas arrangements. The garland and the candle table centre were fun and comparatively straightforward to make, and the wreath took a while, but we were used to that kind of work after making two laurel chaplets in November (see Remembrance Day post). However, the topiary tree was a seemingly endless slog! I was so relieved when I’d finally finished making the ‘tree’ part, but I didn’t have long to decorate it. And as I carried it home on a crowded train, the tip broke off. I have since spruced it up a bit with a golden angel and some ribbon, and I will add those photos later.

There was no red or green on our classroom tree though. Every man I’ve shown this photo to has reacted with the same bemusement. But as our class is comprised mainly of girls, we loved it, especially with all the secret Santa presents underneath.

We're dancing in the midnight sky

Let’s have a different song this time.

Unfortunately, getting a market flower stall is not as simple as my friend and I had thought. For various reasons, we’ve had no joy so far. But we’ll keep trying. I really enjoyed planning our stall and the bouquets and posies I wanted to make, which are all inspired by Christmas songs. As I’m so keen to make them anyway, I bought lots of flowers from the market so I could start making them as presents for people. Here are three that I made for my tutors and the technician at college. They work so hard teaching us and organising flowers and sundries for all the students, and I feel very lucky to be doing my course.

This floaty one is called Walking in the Air. It’s funny, because I wrote out the kind of material I wanted to use in the arrangement weeks ago, such as fountain grass and lisianthus, and the delicate, ethereal effect I wanted it to have, and when I finally made it, it was just how I imagined it would be.

This pretty one is Fairytale of New York. I wanted it to be white, pale pink and green, and I thought the pastel colours of the anemones and Little Silver spray roses, the delicate narcissi and the big, sweet-smelling O’Hara roses would help to create a ‘fairytale’ effect. I also listened to The Pogues’ and Kirsty McColl’s song again and realised that there are some sweet lyrics in it, amongst all the insults!

And the last one is Blue Christmas. Due to budget constraints, I couldn’t buy all of the flowers I’d originally planned to use, so this arrangement didn’t really turn out how I’d hoped. But I think these anemones and beautifully scented muscari are pretty blue, while the thistles and eucalyptus are lovely and Christmassy. I have to confess, when I planned to do a Blue Christmas posy, I had the Shakin’ Stevens version in my head (I’m sorry, Elvis). He was my idol when I was about three years old. If I do this design again, I’ll see if I can get some denim ribbon to tie around it, in honour of him!

And everyone is singing, I hear those sleigh bells ringing

Another week, another lyric from Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas is You. I’m glad it’s finally ok to admit that this is one of my favourite Christmas songs; I remember being mercilessly mocked for liking this song when it came out in 1994!

I met my partner's family last weekend. I did a Christmassy bouquet for his mum, and a little jam jar posy for him, and managed to carry both of them intact up on the train. The hyacinths and eucalyptus smell gorgeous, as do the milder-scented Grand Prix roses; although I hope the fragrance wasn’t too intoxicating for other passengers on the train. I decorated the jam jar with ribbon and little bells – and yes, they do jingle!

I’m sorry, I just hallucinated

I’m fairly good at written work, unexpectedly good at botanical names tests, but find practical work more of challenge. So imagine my surprise when we had an assessment to do a corsage, something I’ve always found challenging (my wires are too thick and twisted; my branching unit isn’t great; flowers aren’t distributed well; there’s no focal flower), and I somehow walked away with a distinction for this design. I was gobsmacked.
A week later, it was back to reality. We had an ikebana-style hand-tied test and all of us, bar two students, failed it. Luckily, our tutors have given us the holidays to research and practise the design, and resit it in the new year.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

I won't make a list and send it to the North Pole for Saint Nick

We had our college Christmas party a bit early, due to assessments and Ofsted inspections. I managed to get my Secret Santa name a massively reduced Paula Pryke book – which seemed to go down well. I almost squealed when I opened my present. A girl at college works at Vive La Rose, a beautiful florist that I’ve mentioned before, and had got the mini milk bottles that I’m so keen on, filled them with different sweets, and put silver foil milk bottle ‘tops’ on them. These are so colourful and cheerful; I almost don’t want to eat the sweets! Except I do, because I’d like to have eight milk bottles in time for the eighth day of Christmas!

I did another candle table centre today. I got lots of coloured or scented candles and bought some eucalyptus and red carnations from the local florist (I would have preferred to use roses, but they won’t last as well in foam). I’m pleased with this one. I hope it brings a smile to my friends’ mother, whose birthday is next week.

Flowers; putting Prozac in the shade!

I had a birthday recently and got some lovely presents. This two-tier cake stand was a surprise from my friend in Jersey, who I’ve been out with for afternoon tea a few times. I love it! It didn’t take me long to test it out – cucumber sandwiches, mini scones, Welsh cakes, and birthday cake on the stand, and Ceylon tea in my Alice in Wonderland cup and saucer. I can’t wait to do a vintage wedding with flowers on cake stands and teapots – I know it’s a popular theme right now, but it’s so pretty and charming, who cares how many other people are doing the same theme?

Speaking of vintage weddings, here are a couple of table arrangements I did during my work experience. The background isn’t all that attractive (the floor of the warehouse), but I’m pretty pleased with the flowers.

I also got some lovely flower books and rose and ‘gardener’ hand cream for my birthday! Flower Shop Messages has some beautiful photos, and is full of messages which people have enclosed with the flowers they’ve sent. Some are touching, some are funny, and some are just curious. I particularly like this one: ‘Dear Granny, we’re glad to hear you are feeling better. Please don’t go up any more ladders.’ The friend who gave me the book is a dancer, and as we looked through it together while we waited in the queue for the Degas dancers exhibition, we were both amused by this message: ‘When we said ‘break a leg’, we didn’t really mean it!’ The title of this post is also a message from the book – I do agree that flowers are a wonderful mood-lifter.

And Mandy Kirkby's The Language of Flowers is a gorgeous book – I love the design of it as well as the fascinating text. It has entries on fifty flowers, from cherry blossom to wallflower. The entry for daisy starts off with this quote by John Clare: ‘Daisies, ye flowers of lowly birth/ Embroiderers of the carpet earth.’
Before I hid the books away on my shelf, I wanted to sit them next to flowers...seeing as they're all about flowers and they have such pretty covers. This is a little posy I made from worse-for-wear waxflowers and germini while I was clearing out my flower bucket at college.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!

I used to steadfastly stick to a 'no Christmas talk before December' rule – I wanted the Christmas season to feel short and special, and that wasn’t going to happen if there were mince pies and carols two months before. Now that I’ve entered the world of floristry, the goal posts have shifted a bit. I made my first Christmas arrangement yesterday. And on Wednesday, when a friend from my floristry course and I hopefully manage to get a pitch at a market, I will have made several more.

For this little table centre, I used fake snow-covered thistles, bright red hypericum berries, beautifully glossy ilex leaves, a little gypsophila, and a few spray carnations that have the marvellous name ‘Mr Rooney’. I had a candle disaster, and ended up using a scented candle that is a little too small for this arrangement. But hopefully my friends, who this is for, will forgive me!

I used a few broken stems of hypericum, a thistle, and some ilex leaves to make myself a buttonhole. I know corsages are meant to be for women and buttonholes for men, but just as I sometimes prefer to wear men’s trainers (they are better for playing football, albeit badly), I also prefer to wear buttonholes. I felt suitably Christmassy wearing this one as I caught up with friends at the beautiful William Morris exhibition at 2 Temple Place today.
And in other news, I got a lovely surprise when I walked around the garden last week. Firstly, there were a couple of very late roses that had blossomed. And secondly, my snowdrops have started shooting. I’ve heard that they rarely flower in their first year, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed. Let it snowdrop!