Tuesday, 30 July 2013

The Depressed Cake Shop

First there were lonely bouquets, now there are depressed cakes. While the Lonely Bouquet Day was a welcome excuse to be kind to strangers and promote local flowers, the Depressed Cake Shop is an awareness exercise, which will bring amateur and professional bakers together, and raise some money for mental health charities in the process.

In Nineteen Eighty-Four, Orwell said, “Sanity is not statistical.” In the context of Winston Smith’s plight, it wasn’t. But for organisations raising awareness of or funding for mental health issues, statistics are a way to show just how prevalent and how damaging mental illness is, and how important it is to discuss it. Although awareness is increasing, many people with mental health issues still feel there is a stigma attached to the illness, which makes it harder to reach out and get help.

The Mental Health Foundation gives these figures:

  • ·         Between 8-12% of the population experience depression in any year.
  • ·         Rates of mental health problems among children increase as they reach adolescence. Disorders affect 10.4% of boys aged 5-10, rising to 12.8% of boys aged 11-15, and 5.9% of girls aged 5-10, rising to 9.65% of girls aged 11-15.
  • ·         1 in 4 British adults experience at least one diagnosable mental health problem in any one year
  • ·         Depression affects 1 in 5 older people living in the community and 2 in 5 living in care homes.
  • ·         Suicide remains the most common cause of death in men under the age of 35.

So it is a very real and serious problem that not only affects the people with the illness, but their families and friends too.

The Depressed Cake Shop will appear in venues throughout the UK and there will also be pop ups appearing in the USA and Australia. These pop up shops will be unlike the pretty and colourful cake shops that have become popular in recent years, as all the cakes, biscuits and sweet eats will have the outside appearance of being grey. They will still be as delicious as the bright or pastel coloured sweet things that we are used to eating, but they may not appeal to our taste buds in the way that a bright blue or a pale yellow or pink cake would.

The outside grey colour will represent depression and it could stand for any of these symptoms: loss of interest or motivation or hope, difficulty in seeing beauty or good intentions or positives, the physical aspects of depression from lack of energy and insomnia to headaches and musculoskeletal pain. Not everyone with depression has the same symptoms; not everyone sees the world the same way. One person’s grey could be another person’s blue. One person’s black and white could be another person’s pink and green. The inside of the food will reflect these variations – with some bakers making brightly coloured cakes and biscuits, but others keeping the grey all the way through. The colour grey on the outside is just a representation of all of these, showing that depression is the one thing, the feeling, the illness, that they have in common.

The flagship Depressed Cake Shop will be in Brick Lane in London and will run from Friday to Sunday. I will be helping the Kent shop, run by the tireless Elisabeth Shrimpton of Lillyput Bakery. The Kent shop is this Friday 2nd August at Cinnamon Culture on Plaistow Lane, Bromley, from 10am to 5pm, although any donations of grey-topped cakes or sweet things can be dropped off from 9am-10am. Each pop up chooses its own mental health charity to donate the funds it raises to, and the Kent shop is donating to Bromley Mind. Hopefully this event will get people talking about mental health!

Thank you to the following bakers for sharing photos of their wonderful designs: Saff Miriam Kelly of The Dainty Bakehouse for the lemon macarons, Jacqui Kelly of Cake Revolution London for the iced gingerbread cookies, and Sarah Newman for the cherry vanilla layer cake. Also thanks to Paper Magpie for the brilliant poster for the Kent Depressed Cake Shop.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

London Lines – poems for every borough

As part of the Festival of Neighbourhood, the Southbank Centre asked some poets to write a poem about one of the London boroughs. Some poets went away and wrote the poems based on their stories and ideas, and these poems have been hidden in places around the Southbank.

Other poets asked for stories from people who live or have lived in the borough, who’ve worked there, visited for something special, or just passed through. They received stories of love, stories of sadness, stories of excitement and joy, and stories of quiet reflection.

A giant map of each borough was cut out, towers were made out of the stories, and many of the poets stayed up late on Saturday night, writing poems inspired by the tales they’d heard. Some poems were full of images direct from the people’s stories, and others were more subtle, conveying a feeling that all of the borough’s tales had evoked.

Some of the images and symbols that featured in many people’s stories were flowers, football and railways. From Gemma Seltzer's poem ‘Bromley Acquaints itself with the Butterfly Effect’: “On a Chislehurst street, children line roads, selling buttercups, wood anemones and wild orchids for fifty pence a bunch.” From Rebecca Perry's Croydon poem 'By Corridor, crocus and crumb': “On a good day we celebrate summer by gardening until nine thirty at night with you, perfecting roses and strawberries.” This dinosaur story is wonderful - it reminds me of the excitement of childhood trips to London:

Several poems made me smile. Either because they were funny or because they reflected back at me the London I know. There was something magical about reading the poems and the stories and feeling connected with so many people who I’ve probably never met and whose names I don’t know. Here are a couple of my stories that made up Dan Simpson’s Bexley tower. If you read them, I hope they made you smile:

Dan’s poem 'After the Last Day of School at Bexleyheath Clocktower' certainly made me smile. It reminded me of journeys home after school, when we should have got one bus, but we sometimes got two so we could go to the shopping centre in Bexleyheath afterwards. I haven’t been to Bexleyheath for years, but I can still picture the clocktower clear as day, and the mess we looked in the afternoon with our shirts hanging out.

The poem that took my breath away was this one.

For reasons I’d rather not go into in detail, it reminded me of love and happiness and heartbreak. Even the title itself. Forget-me-nots are flowers that I will associate with spring of this year, that flower stand outside Angel station I know very well, but my forties….well, they’re a few years away, but they are there, waiting for me. I hope that when I reach them, I’ll buy forget-me-nots and remember this year with fondness and sadness and a smile.

“But at the flower stand outside Angel tube, a blonde haired woman in her forties buys forget-me-nots.” From Simon Mole's Islington poem ‘Stay here a while longer’.

Midsummer in Greenwich Park

It’s been a couple of months since my forget-me-not and cherry blossom visit to Greenwich Park, so I thought I would go back and see what midsummer in the flower garden had to offer. These were taken a fortnight ago, so things will have blossomed even more by now.

The park didn’t disappoint me. There were alliums, baby sunflowers, and foxgloves. There were brilliant displays of colour from lots of dahlias, ranging from peachy-orange to blackcurrant-red. There were sweet peas climbing up frames and showing their gentle colours. And there were even late peonies in a border, still looking gorgeous. I think the peonies will be gone by now though!

There were plenty of pigeons and squirrels, and they were glad of the midweek feed from my little sister, although she was less glad when they started to crowd around and jostle with each other. At one point, a poor squirrel got trampled on by a bunch of hungry pigeons, but he did wriggle free. And there was a sweet robin who hopped over near me, before flying away. 

I’m still faffing around a lot when I take photos, trying to get the settings right but doing the opposite of what I need to do, especially when it’s as sunny as it was in Greenwich. I know I should properly read some books on photography, but at the moment I have too many new things on the go: screenwriting, short story writing, improvisation and acting, as well as editing, and also learning more about floristry, gardening and counselling. I might have to devise myself one of those timetables we made at school to help us revise – and it was always more fun drawing the table and colour-coding it all than it was doing actual revision (apart from French and English. I adored French and English).

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Sow unfair

Lots of my flowers haven’t fared too well this year. None of the sweet peas that I sowed germinated, then when I caved in and bought seedlings, all of my cosmos and some of my sweet peas got eaten by slugs. A load of new plants seemed blighted by something…I don’t know if it was disease or over or under watering. (Why is it that when amateurs like me look up symptoms or speak to an expert about problems with my plants, the problem is usually ‘overwatering or under watering’? Why do opposite problems cause the same symptom? It makes it very hard to work out what I’m doing wrong!) And of course there was the long, cold spell and the month of rain, which for clay soil like the soil here, is even worse than weeks of sun and no rain.

But then the sun came out, I replanted and moved some of the poorly plants to a sunnier, less slug, pigeon and squirrel-ridden part of the garden, and things are looking a bit healthier now. While I was at it, I had a big tidy up of the greenhouse. The neurotic organiser in me took a strange amount of pleasure in sorting out hundreds of pots and trays, and then stacking them on a shelf in order of size. Tragic, I know.

So here are some of the things, new and old, that are thriving now. My 'Who Dun It' Dahlia is marvellous – the flowers are huge, beautiful white and pink, and it’s such a great name for someone who likes film noir as much as I do! It lasts very well when cut, even in this heatwave. I cut one on Monday and it’s still doing well four days later; whereas the roses were gone by Wednesday.

I thought I’d killed my blackcurrant sage after leaving it out in the windy, freezing balcony last winter, but it’s come up again and is flowering its dainty little red flowers now. After lusting after stunning displays by Hardy’s, Hooksgreen Herbs and Pennards at RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show, I decided to buy a Salvia ‘Hot Lips’ plant from Shannon’s Garden Centre. It’s as dainty as blackcurrant sage, but it’s more striking, with its white and red flowers. I also bought a Cosmos 'Sonata White' plant from Shannon's Garden Centre (a lovely place in Forest Hill, with a great selection of flowers suitable for cutting and loads of varieties of herbs) to make up for my poor, eaten seedlings.

I’ve enjoyed a good month or two of ‘Pink Mist’ Scabious, but now, after weeks of looking decidedly peaky, my ‘Chilli Sauce’ Scabious is flowering merrily. Such a glamorous colour and exquisite flowerhead. The stems sometimes curve over, whereas ‘Pink Mist’ is always dead straight, but it’s ok – as long as the flower is ‘saying “hello”’ when you arrange it. By ‘saying “hello”’, as my old floristry tutor put it, flowers should be facing you and not facing away when you arrange them – whether that’s spiralling stems for a hand-tied, using foam, or arranging directly into a container.

I'd bought some lavender plants at the Mayfield Lavender Festival. Two English lavenders, Vera (yes, I liked the name) and Folgate, and one French, Papillion. If only I can find cutting flowers named The Great Escape, Thomas Crown, and The Getaway, I can make a Steve McQueen posy! My Verbena bonariensis, which seemed to be on its deathbed a month ago, has now made a full recovery and is flowering its dainty little purple flowers. Next to the lavenders, these tall, purple swaying flowers are a lovely sight.

I can see lots of foliage for my ‘Blue Dress’ flax, but no flowers yet. But my Gypsophila elegans ‘Covent Garden’, which I sowed with the linum/flax has started to flower. The stems are terribly thin and delicate, so I’m only using them in little milk bottles at the moment. But I love the dainty, little fairy effect - I’ve filled up some more bottles since this photo was taken, and this is my new favourite flower arrangement.

But I expect I’ll have a new new favourite next week!

Monday, 15 July 2013

An intriguing crush

I was asked to do some arrangements as film demonstrations. I have a new-found respect for Carol Klein chirpily demonstrating gardening and Nigella Lawson engagingly demonstrating cooking; it's harder than it looks!

I made a big, colourful vase arrangement, a small posy in an old syrup tin, a heart-shaped ring to decorate a garden party or wedding, and a simple tall vase. The acid-pink achillea and lilac-pink scabious were good to use in floral foam as they have small but sturdy stems. The nigella and matricaria were more challenging as their stems are very soft.

Put together, I think they show how you can carry a theme at an event, whether that's a small gathering of friends at home or a big wedding. You can use mixed combinations of flowers and colours for some arrangements, and just one or two colours for others. I like the simplicity of the tall, duck egg blue vase of blue nigella and a few stems of lilac flowering mint.

If I'd had the budget, I would have liked to do an extra vase of just pinky-red Flame peonies and William Shakespeare 2000 David Austin roses, and a small container stuffed with matricaria daisies. Ooh, and a jasmine garland!

The flower meanings of many of these are wonderful. Nigella means intrigue or a crush, so what a great flower to use for a party, when crushes are often present! Daisies represent innocence or loyal love, which are lovely sentiments for friends and family. And mint, despite being a herb that we associate with coolness, symbolises warmth of feeling. Achillea represents war or healing, so as per my method of picking a flower meaning from confusing, contrasting meanings, I am going with the one that conveys what I want to say here: healing! Along with red roses for love and jasmine for attachment, this is a good example of saying it with flowers.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show – Part Two: Planters, a Pink Shed and a Blonde Bombshell

In front of Allium bistro is a giant bug, surrounded by some pretty planters designed by different gardeners. The bug is like something out of District 9; but the planters are mesmerising – I could have photographed them for ages. Jekka McVicar has created a wildflower planter with ammi and poppies and daisy-like wildflowers. I really like the Union Jack palette with a dash of yellow; it’s pretty without being girlie. 

Now for girlie, you want to look at the planter by Ann Marie Powell. There are pinks and lilacs and it’s all very textured and fluffy and gorgeous. There are other planters, including the third one below - a sexy, bright number from Toby Buckland. If you didn’t go to the show, these are brilliant, inspirational ideas to recreate at home.

Further along were a row of hen coops. Decorated by people from Nikki Tibbles to Philippa Forrester, they were a cheerful addition to the show. I did like Philippa’s simple hen coop the most, but perhaps I'm biased towards the woman who used to wear multi-coloured chunky cardigans and introduce children’s television programmes from the CBBC Broom Cupboard.

Inside the celebrity speaker tent was a catwalk show. I thought it would have galoshes and wellies and cool trousers that have lots of pockets, but these models looked far too smart to be gardeners. I think the screen behind is a clue.

Remember I said in the gardens post to make a note of the entry sign? Well, look at this cheeky flower bed and picture-pretty shed by Pennards. I am a strong believer in breaking down gender stereotypes and I support the Let Toys Be Toys campaign…but I’m afraid to say that this shed brought out the inner Barbie in me! I was drawn to it, like a moth to a flame. A friend saw a picture of it and showed me a photo of her shed, which is almost the same, but pale blue. It’s lovely, and as she said, kind of looks like a beach hut – which is no bad thing. Have you seen the beach huts along the seafront in Hove? Oil painting-worthy.

Moving to the Roses and Floristry Vintage Tent, and it’s all a Technicolour riot of pinks and yellows, 50s fashion, and the sweet smell of roses.  Pride of place goes to a display in hour of Lady Marmalade, Rose of the Year for 2014. It is a warm orange-pink with huge, show-stopping blooms. The roses surround a mannequin in a coordinating 50s style dress and a Singer sewing machine. It’s a brilliant and simple display. I can’t believe just seven or eight years ago, I claimed I didn’t like wearing orange. More fooled me – just look at that dress!

There’s a floral tea party that the March Hare and Mad Hatter would be right at home in, a couple dancing to a jukebox, a young woman’s boudoir, and the girl from The Seven Year Itch herself. I think Marilyn would have loved it.

The Jane Packer team have created a dreamy high street with a perfume shop, flower shop, tea rooms and a hat shop. It looks so perfect, like a pastel-coloured set design for The Umbrellas of Cherbourg or the recent Populaire, which are both set at the end of the 1950s. If only the team could be in charge of regenerating high streets in Britain – they’d get people back in local shops again in no time!

Naturally, a rose tent wouldn’t be complete without roses. Aside from the award-winning Lady Marmalade, there were displays by an array of rose growers, including Harkness, Peter Beales, and the Historic Roses Group. Here are some pink Lakeland roses by Harkness in the foreground (I didn’t note the name of the red rose in the background), and displays across the tent. Followed by Burgundy Ice and Chevy Chase, which are both very striking, in hot pink and purple.

David Austin Roses won best roses exhibit and another gold. Another sumptuous display, with an inviting table with a hand-tied, cake and tea, and wonderful roses including the pale lilac-pink. Spirit of Freedom and the hot pink Heathcliffe. 

I saw one of my supervisors and had a lovely catch up. Ann Saxby has been working for the company for 41 years, has a rose named after her, but was originally only supposed to work there for two weeks! Despite all of the awards and praise that has been poured upon the company and the amazing work she has done at the shows, she was still emotional when she found out that they had won at Hampton Court this year. I think it’s so lovely that she still feels the energy that comes from a compliment like this:

I asked if I could share a photo of her here and she said yes. So here we are, getting in people’s way in the roses tent! She and Jane Williams may be a hundred miles away in Albrighton, but it’s good to know they are still my rose mentors when I see them.