Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Greenwich Park in August

There are many wonderful things to see in Greenwich, not least the Flower Garden in Greenwich Park. It changes throughout the year, and I wonder just how much work goes into maintaining the garden so that visitors can enjoy different flowers depending on the season.

Right now there are glorious sunflowers reaching for the sky, white hydrangeas, luminous gladioli and dahlias, yellow red hot pokers, foxgloves, statice flowers, sedums, and (I think) daylilies.

But hurry – the leaves on the trees are already telling us that autumn is on its way!

Monday, 22 August 2011

Love is what you want

I saw the Tracey Emin retrospective ‘Love is What You Want’ at the Hayward Gallery today. I used to shun her art, thinking it had nothing but shock value, but a visit to Liverpool Anglican Cathedral changed my mind. She has created a pink neon lit sign with the words ‘I Felt You And I Knew You Loved Me’, which is displayed underneath a huge stained-glass window to stunning effect. You could interpret the words in a religious way or, as I did, in a non-religious way – and find them equally moving.

I’m not keen on all of her work, but some of it, especially her films, neons, appliqué blankets, and her works about pregnancy, are thoughtful and beautiful to me. My favourite piece in the exhibition is a neon with the white words ‘You Forgot to Kiss my Soul’ in a pink heart.

There is a huge, complex-looking neon rose called ‘White Rose’. And there is a blanket called ‘Mad Tracey from Margate. Everyone's been there’, made of pieces of clothing that friends donated to her. At the bottom, she has appliquéd these lovely words: ‘In turkey we say when you learn to love a rose you learn to love the thorns’.

The exhibition finishes on Monday, but please note that some of the work is sexually explicit, and the Hayward Gallery asks that under-16s be accompanied by an adult!

Sunday, 21 August 2011

How does your garden grow?

Roald Dahl, whose writing I adored as a child and still love as an adult, wrote a marvellous parody of the nursery rhyme ‘Mary, Mary, quite contrary’ which features in his collection of poems, Rhyme Stew:

‘Mary, Mary, quite contrary
How does your garden grow?
“I live with my brat in a high-rise flat
So how in the world would I know.” ’

Now I don’t live in a high-rise flat, but I am a novice at this gardening lark. I've felt incredibly inspired by Sarah Raven, who is to gardening what Jane Packer is to floristry, and I've been devouring her book, The Cutting Garden, every day. It's a must-read if you want to grow your own flowers for cutting - there are garden plans for each season, ideas for seasonal flower arrangements, and huge section giving detailed information on different plants to grow for cutting, including particular varieties for their colour or scent.

Today we started to prepare a bed for daffodil, muscari and tulip bulbs. I can’t believe I actually used a wheelbarrow without any disasters.

I’ve planted hyacinth, ranunculus, Anemone De Caen, and snowdrop bulbs in pots and left them in the greenhouse (which is in dire need of a tidy up). I’ve already learnt one lesson, which is that labels shouldn’t be written with a water-soluble pen! We’ll see whether I have any success with the flowers in the spring.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

The remains of the day

I only had two arrangements left over from the weekend – a mass of chrysanthemum heads arranged in floral foam, and a bouquet with different roses, hypercium berries, and aspidistra leaves. I met a friend for lunch earlier this week and gave her the latter – hopefully the flowers will last a couple more days. The chrysanthemums are with me, and they still look brand new.

With the few flowers remaining, I did three little arrangements for me. I re-arranged the teapot using new roses from the garden (spot the Jude the Obscure), I tried to match the colours of the spray roses and hypercium berries with the bright vase from Clermont-Ferrand, and I was delighted to have an excuse to use the Elizabeth Blackadder ‘Poppies’ jug that I’d got in the sale from the Royal Academy of Arts (my favourite gallery in London).

Like a kid at Christmas

I enjoy going up to New Covent Garden and Columbia Road flower markets, but getting flowers delivered for the first time was exciting. I felt like a kid at Christmas. Even though I knew what I’d asked for, it was still fun to open the boxes, cut off the tape that stopped the flowers moving about during transit, and peer inside each paper-wrapped bunch.

These pinky-orange Miss Piggy roses smelt good enough to eat. And all of the flowers looked like delicious pick ‘n’ mix! Below are mixed dahlias, Zebra chrysanthemums, and Shine spray roses. I thought the Zebras might be too overpowering to mix with other flowers, but they weren't; they were like tiny, colourful daisies...and I do like daisies.

Monday, 15 August 2011

This is south London

Last weekend, people from Lewisham and neighbouring boroughs came together for the Chinbrook Meadows art and craft fair. The fair ran for both days, and what glorious, sunny days they were. Children laughed and ran, adults and toddlers played football together, a lovely lady called Jo Jo bought chips for everyone to share, and music was provided by Alioune and his African drum.
There were stalls selling homemade jewellery and greeting cards designed by Ved Yilkan of V Seven Designs, photography by Lisa Hafey of Lemonade and Lamingtons Art, African clothing and art by Alioune and Helena Samb of SAMB Arts, as well as a charity tombola for Dementia UK, face painting, and portrait painting.
V Seven Designs

Lemonade and Lamingtons Art

And I did a flower stall for the first time! I absolutely loved it. I enjoyed the learning experience of seeing what people liked and what they were less keen on (everybody likes roses, especially when co-ordinating colours are massed together.) I also learnt which cut flowers can stand the sun (single stem roses, chrysanthemums, hypercium berries) and which are a bit more delicate (dahlias, spray roses) – I was spraying all of the flowers with water every hour, which prompted one man to nickname me 'The Reviver'! I made my first buttonhole with a Blizzard rose on Saturday, which reassures me that I'll be able to do the same for my friend's wedding in October!
One lady wanted small posies for her kitchen, and another wanted roses and flowering mint to thank her friend for babysitting. Jo Jo kindly bought all of my remaining bouquets and posies at the end of Saturday for herself and various people at the fair, including Carol who organised the fair and had been working flat out in the cafe all day.
Friends from Chislehurst, Bromley, Croydon and Blackheath came to visit me – one minded my stall while I ran home to get sundries that I’d forgotten, and another entertained us with his drumming and footballing skills.
I’m grateful to them, Carol for organising the event, and the other stall holders I met. But the biggest thank you goes to my dad, who helped me enormously, took lots of photos, and was pretty good on the drum.

The day after the London riots last week, people from towns that had been badly affected grouped together to clear up the mess and help locals restore their businesses and homes. Young people in particular wanted to prove that they should not be stereotyped as trouble-makers in a broken society. Lewisham at 9am on Tuesday did not seem ‘broken’ at all. And last weekend, it was idyllic. If only the world had seen these pictures instead.

Friday, 12 August 2011

The day before tomorrow

The art and craft fair is tomorrow, and although I'm really looking forward to it, I am exhausted! Today started comparatively late at 5am - I went to a local flower wholesaler instead of up to Covent Garden Market, which meant an extra hour's sleep. I'd ordered most of the flowers directly from Holland, but I got some aspidistra leaves, flowering mint (guess what it smells of?), and hypercium berries. I prepared them and waited for the delivery van - I will write a post later about that. Once the rest of the flowers arrived, I prepared them. It sounds like it would take no time at all, and I'm sure an experienced florist would be ten times quicker than me. But it took me hours!
Cutting the stem ends off dahlias
Stripping the thorns from roses
But I always find time to stop and smell scented flowers. These pinky-orange roses are called Miss Piggy. And as Shakespeare nearly said, that which we call a Miss Piggy rose by any other name would smell as sweet.
These are the flowers once they had been prepared and conditioned with water and flower food.
And these are the first few arrangements I did. The ones involving garden flowers or floral foam will need to wait till tomorrow morning. I'll update after the weekend.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Right place, right time

Last week was my friend’s 30th birthday. She used to be my mentor at work, and is one of the loveliest people you could hope to meet. When I asked if she had a present request, she said she wanted me to do a bouquet for her, which I did with pleasure.

It’s inspired by a beautiful dress that she wore when we saw Fantastic Mr Fox at the London Film Festival opening night (we got a kick out of walking down a red carpet!) – ideally I would have used purple and red anemones, but as it’s summer and not spring, I used lisianthus and vanda orchids.

Some flowers have such great names – the orchids are called Black Magic and the scented roses are called Norma Jeane. They even have a picture of Marilyn on the cellophane wrapper!

As I was carrying them, I was asked about them by some staff who work in the hair salon in Fenwick of Bond Street. They told me that their colleague was leaving later that week, and asked if I would do a bouquet for her. I was gobsmacked and delighted! I asked what she was like, so I had an idea of what sort of flowers and colours to use.

I did a softer and lighter arrangement with pink bouvardia, purple veronica, huge pink roses from my garden, and Norma Jeane roses and garden jasmine to add some fragrance. As I don’t drive and I had to deliver them to the West End anyway, I carefully carried them up on the train and tube – I went mid-afternoon so there was less chance of them getting squashed in rush hour commuter traffic! Judging by the reaction of the lady who ordered them, and the lady they were for, I think they liked them.

I’d gladly recommend the Headmasters Blow Out Bar in Fenwick – the staff are incredibly friendly and talented, it’s calmer than many other salons in Central London, and although they have a menu of styles on the wall, they will happily suggest something a bit different.

And of course I have to thank my friend – had it not been for her birthday request, I wouldn’t have got my first commission!

Jude the Obscure roses

I was so excited when I discovered Jude the Obscure roses. I bought a rose bush, developed by David Austin Roses, earlier this summer, and some new buds have developed in the last week. The roses are a delicate apricot yellow colour, neatly formed, and they have a gorgeous, heady scent. I'm hoping more will open up in the next few days and I'll be able to use some in small posies at the Chinbrook Meadow art and craft fair this weekend.

We read Tess of the D'Urbervilles at school and the Mayor of Casterbridge at college, but even those tales of woe didn't prepare me for Jude the Obscure. Thomas Hardy writes such evocative, epic tales, but man, does he like his mis-lit! Jude himself has a pretty unfortunate life, suffering from heartbreak and social discrimination. But the scene where Jude's son takes his destiny into his own hands, with devastating consequences, will haunt me forever. It’s my favourite Hardy book, but not one to read if you’re already feeling blue.

I almost wish that garden roses flowered in February so that I could do an Unrequited Love arrangement for Valentine's Day, with Jude the Obscure, Lady of Shalott and Ophelia roses!

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

With thanks to Jane Packer

After thinking about it for a while, I've finally decided to start writing about floristry and gardening. At some point I will probably get distracted by films (read The Dark Knight Rises), but I'm sure I'll get back to flowers.

Although I have a dark, masculine side, I'm quite a girly girl, and I have a soft spot for all the pretty things that girls are supposed to like. I would doodle pictures of flowers and butterflies as a child, draw a daisy after my name when I signed cards as a teenager, and as an adult, I was so blown away by the flower market on La Rambla that I bought a single iris and carried it around Barcelona all day.

I decided to book a hand-tied floristry course at Jane Packer, thinking it would just be a fun thing to do. I loved it! The course itself was wonderful, the tutor and the other people doing the course were lovely, and we all made huge bouquets of yellow and white spring flowers (including daisies!).

It wasn't long before I started buying flowers from the supermarket and local florist and tried to arrange them for myself and friends. My first attempts on my own were a bit hit and miss, but the more I practised, the more I learnt from my mistakes and (I think) improved. I signed up for more courses and started reading books about floristry, flower arranging, and growing a cutting garden. Now I've done my first commission (more about that later) and I'm doing the flowers for my friend's wedding in October. Oh, and this weekend I'm going to have a flower arranging table at a local art and craft fair.

I went to Jane Packer's shop again today. If you live in London and haven't been, I would strongly recommend going - it is a gorgeous shop. Even if you only want to buy a single stem, it will be worth it. And naturally, I also recommend doing a taster course. Be warned though - if you are anything like me, flowers may take over your life!