Sunday, 28 April 2013


The daffodils and narcissi have finally been flowering over the last fortnight, as have the fritillaries.  The tulips are growing very slowly, but the muscari are nowhere to be seen. I’ve been cutting some of the flowers to display indoors, and the scent of the delicate white Thalia and Yellow Cheerfulness narcissi has gently filled the room. Thalia has a similar smell to Paperwhite, but is less heady, while Yellow Cheerfulness has a sort of lemony fragrance.

One thing that is so wonderful about using garden flowers, is that seasonal flowers go well together and look so natural. None of this ‘orchids and roses’ sophisticated chic! The ‘just picked’ look has become so popular in floristry, and what better way to achieve it than to grow and pick your own flowers? I think the combination of white, yellow, pinky-orange (which is what ‘pink daffodils’ appear to be when I grow them), and deep purple is striking and beautiful. I can’t wait for the tulips to start flowering so I can add reds, greens and oranges.

These are some close ups of pink and yellow daffodils, white Thalia narcissi, purple and white fritillaries. I adore the nodding, paper-like heads of fritillaries and the bright lemon-yellow of one daffodil’s trumpet against the white of the petals and the Thalia next to it. It’s not a Cheerfulness narcissi, but it’s certainly cheerfulness in a jug!

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

RHS Flower Show Cardiff 2013

I visited my friends in Bridgend last weekend, and we took advantage of the glorious weather on Saturday to go to the RHS Flower Show Cardiff. Apparently, that turned out to be the busiest day in the Cardiff show’s nine year history, with 9000 people visiting.

Daffodils were all around us, as you’d expect, with some brilliant names – Baby Boomer, Sophie's Choice, and Doctor Who (Quality Daffodils developed this variety to celebrate the television show, filmed in Cardiff, which is fifty years old). Quality Daffodils won the award for the best exhibit in the marquee (you can see a photo showing the length of its gorgeous display) and what is incredible (and fascinating for a florist) is that the display was of cut flowers which had been painstakingly cared for and arranged. There were other spring flowers, including some stunning primulas, a pale and pretty muscari called Babys Breath (which, fortunately, has the usual bubblegum scent and not the slightly nasty smell of gypsophila) and an astilbe called Drum and Bass Pink! Pheasant Acre Plants, who I’d seen at Wisley (and who most of my indoor bulbs are from) also had a beautiful display.

There were more stalls and fewer big garden displays than some of the other flower shows, but there were still many beautiful displays by the growers, and a colourful exhibition of literary-inspired, plant-filled wheelbarrows which were made by Welsh primary school children. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Treasure Island were popular choices, but there were also great entries inspired by The Hobbit and Rapunzel, as well as one where I didn’t know the book but I liked the Cardiff City FC symbolism and the beautiful fritillaries and daffodils!

 The atmosphere was fantastic – maybe because of the location (right in the centre of the city, by Cardiff Castle) or maybe Welsh families are more outdoorsy than English ones (I’m sorry, what an unpatriotic thing for me to say on St George’s Day!) – but it felt like a festival rather than a flower show, with people sunning themselves and eating the delicious ice cream that was served in several stalls. And after the longest, coldest winter that I can remember, it was a joy to see blue skies and blossom-filled trees, and feel the warmth of the sunshine. By the time I returned to England on Sunday, the narcissi and fritillaries in the garden, which had been so shy to grow, had suddenly shot up and blossomed.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Dignity and new beginnings

It has been a difficult year so far for many people I know. Friends are losing jobs, two friends lost a parent, and some family members and friends have been very ill. I can only hope that things get better and that everyone finds some peace and happiness soon.

I went to the flower market today for the first time in months. Because the winter has been so prolonged, there were lots of spring flowers which had flowered later than usual. I bought some white muscari, which smells like bubblegum. I also bought white dahlias – I know it’s too early for them, but they symbolise dignity and they were so beautiful, I thought they would go well with the muscari.

I made a few posies in jam jars, a tea caddy, mini milk bottles, and a jug. I added some late-blooming daffodils, symbolising new beginnings, and Oliver Twist pittosporum from the garden.  It was nice to get back in the swing of floristry, and these are exactly the kind of arrangements I love making – pretty and textured, scented, country kitchen style flowers in complementary containers. I do like Tiptree jars and caddies – the labels are so beautiful, I never remove them.

Proof that you don’t need to spend lots of money on flowers: one short stem of muscari and a dahlia bud in a tiny jam jar. Small but perfect.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Joan Holloway, Copywriter

That’s what I’d love to see on her business card in the new season of Mad Men, which starts screening in the UK tonight.

Firstly, I’d like her to go back to her maiden name. Greg was manipulative, spoilt, and a rapist. So why keep the name Harris? Although, the show being set in the sixties, maybe it’s unlikely that a divorced woman would revert to her maiden name. I think the change in her over the first five seasons is gradual but beautiful to watch: from a woman who plans to find a husband, stop working and look after her family, to someone who realises how much they enjoy their work, and how their identity as an employee, an individual, and a parent is more important than their role as a spouse. I also hope, after learning that he voted in favour of her prostituting herself for the company, that she has no more involvement with Roger or anyone of his ilk. I wasn’t surprised by Pete’s actions – he was prepared to pimp his newly-wed wife out so he could have his story published in The New Yorker – but I honestly thought that Roger loved Joan deep down. Don’s not exactly a moral crusader, but I was glad that he was a voice of reason amongst the men.

Secondly, since Joan was made a partner at a HUGE personal sacrifice, I think she’s earned the right to a creative job. She has such a sharp sense of wit and comes out with great lines, which some of the copywriters would take hours to come up with. She’s not a ‘meaningless secretary’ as she explains in a roundabout way (but with her acid tongue) to Peggy; she understands the business better than most of the people in the company. Her enthusiasm when she was asked to help Harry read television scripts (to work out which adverts would be suitable in which shows) was obvious, she was told she did a great job, but was then replaced by a new, inexperienced man, and it seemed so unfair. Especially as Peggy’s now left the company (though I can’t help hoping she’ll return, like Ken), they need a strong, female voice.

As for the other women in the show, Peggy is a fantastic character, and it’s been wonderful watching her develop and seeing the changes in others’ responses to her and her job. I’m not sure what she wanted to do when she joined Sterling Cooper – I would have loved to hear her answer to the ‘Where do you see yourself in five years?’ question – but once she was given a chance to shine by Freddy with her ‘basket of kisses’ line about lipstick, it seemed to make her mind up that THIS is what she wanted to do. I think she’s in sharp contrast to Megan, who in Season 4 describes herself as an artist and actress, worked as secretary, but tells Don she thinks she wants to do what he and Peggy do (did she really want that, or was she trying to be what she thought Don wanted her to be – like when Sally cut her hair short?). But by Season 5 Megan was dissatisfied with office work and copywriting, even though she seemed to be good at both, and left to pursue acting. I liked how Peggy appeared to be threatened by another female copywriter at first, but ended up giving Megan praise and encouragement – I’m glad she’s not one to break through the glass ceiling and then pull the ladder up after her. I first saw Elizabeth Moss in Girl, Interrupted, so it’s still strange sometimes to see her play an adult in a male-dominated workplace!

I adored Betty in the first few seasons, but it’s a shame that being part of a family home other than Don’s means we see her less now. I loved the scene when she went to a casting and was sat in a huge, beautiful gown, surrounded by younger models in modern, modest sixties dresses, and the scenes in Rome, when she looked confident and sparkling – a million miles away from the bored, Ossining housewife. Her relationship with her daughter is fascinating, and Kiernan Shipka as Sally is such a mature actor for someone so young. It’s a shame we won’t see her and her character as adults in this show (there are only two more seasons to go).

Lastly, I think Trudy is a wonderful character. I wasn’t sure what to make of her at first, but that’s probably because she seemed so alien to me. I think we see Trudy’s optimistic and warm character as a necessary counterpoint to Pete’s complaining and lack of compassion. I saw Alison Brie in the film The Five-Year Engagement (which is surprisingly good, as rom-coms go) and she rocked a British accent.

And speaking of Americans doing British accents, Christina Hendricks does a fine one in Ginger and Rosa, although the story and her character are heart-breaking. I think she’ll have no problem getting good work in life after Joanie.

Indian Summer

What a joke. I remember as a teenager being surprised when it snowed as late as February. This year it snowed on Easter Day!

The daffodils, crocuses and fritillary have not blossomed in the garden. For that matter, neither has the blossom. But it looks like we might have some tulips in a month or so – provided it doesn’t freeze again.
The tulips that I grew in pots and brought indoors have done well. The tall, orangey-yellow ones are called Indian Summer. The luscious pink and white ones are called Innuendo (what a great name), and smell very sweet - there's a whoosh of scent when you open the door to the porch, where they sit. The small lilac and yellow ones are Lilac Wonder, and the small red ones are called Humilis.

I made an orange, spiced brioche wreath, from the Bake Off book. It was supposed to be for Christmas, but it suited Easter, I thought. It took a long time to make – brioche dough is sticky and messy, and there are a few stages of resting in the fridge and kneading – but it was worth the effort.