Wednesday, 8 July 2015

British flowers at the Summer Tumblr Eco-Design Fair

I had a stall at the Summer Tumblr Eco-Design Fair at the Garden Museum. It was like the Christmas fair, but summery!

I had buckets of British flowers from the garden, from a friend's garden (she let me raid it with a bucket and scissors), and from Pratley and Dennis Edwards at New Covent Garden Market. Summer is certainly the best time to buy flowers - the prices are cheaper and more things are local. You can't get outdoor-grown sweet peas in January, and if you could (like imported peonies at Christmas) they would cost a bomb!

I got lovely, small poppy seedheads from my friend - the cultivated ones at the market are great for bigger arrangements, but are too dominant for smaller ones. I also snipped some feverfew (which means protection in the language of flowers) and scented dianthus (aka carnations).

Pratley was full of boxes of beautiful flowers...but the heat was getting to some of them. Even though the market is temperature-controlled, of course if it's hot outside (it was like a furnace outside on Saturday morning at 6am) it's going to seep indoors, particularly with doors opening and closing all of the time. I bought pale blue delphiniums, powder blue scabious (which I love to buy, in case you hadn't noticed), and white, lilac, and pink larkspur. Delphiniums symbolise levity and larkspur, their annual sisters, lightness. I was told that the (boxed) larkspur weren't happy with the sun, but I took a chance and bought some - hoping that several hours in water, flower food and a cold shed would perk them up (which it did).

Dennis Edwards (where you can buy David Austin cut roses and Withypitt dahlias) had British stocks, peonies, veronica, garden phlox, sweet peas, and alchemilla mollis. I bought pale peach stocks (which were in water and seemed much healthier than the stocks I sometimes see in boxes) and veronica.

This is how to condition garden hydrangeas - upside down in lots of water. Their delicate petals tend to wilt if they are not properly conditioned, and I guess it's hard work for them to suck up water from their woody stems if you condition them the usual way. After a few hours like this, I turn them upright.

I had a calamitous morning on the day of the fair, with a nosebleed ruining my outfit and my face, and my two left feet tripping up the stairs twice. But after that, there was calm (followed by a downpour of rain).

I made lots of tall bouquets in buckets that people could cut down as they liked when they got home, rather than aqua-packed handtieds with shorter stems. I made up bunches of flowers, from gorgeous seedheads to hydrangeas that are at that pretty, pastel pink-pale green stage. I made small posies in tins and bigger posies in posh coffee tins that I've been saving for years.

And I had some plants grown from the seeds that were given to me as a thank you for doing some funeral flowers last year - these are Impatiens balsamina.

The most popular seller? My friend's poppy seedheads!

And the posh Fortnum and Mason coffee tins of scabious and veronica.

I had a wonderful day, made even nicer by family and gardener friends from the museum helping out or stopping by to chat. And at the end of the day, two lovely things happened. A Swedish woman told me that the word for carnation in Swedish is the same as the word for clove, because of the scent. Ooh, what about stocks, I asked - they smell like cloves too. She smelled some stocks and smiled - oh yes.

Then a family bought a plant to give to a friend, and were going for a tea in the cafe and picking up the impatiens later. I was about to start packing away, but I had a small bucket with larkspur trimmings. So I made a posy with these and tied it with yellow ribbon. When they came back to pick up the plant, I gave the posy to their little girl. The shocked look on her face reminded me of when I went to Dickens and Jones (an old House of Fraser on Regent's Street) with my mother when I was a little girl, and a sales assistant gave me two perfume samples, which I thought were real bottles of perfume. At the stall, the girl's mother said, "Oh! You look like a flower girl," and the girl said a shy "Thank you" to me.

And that's what flowers are for.


  1. Wonderful bouquets! And good tip on the hydrangea. I can never keep them in a vase.
    Love from Holland

    1. Thank you. Yes, hydrangeas do drink up a lot of water - just remember to turn them the right way up in the bucket after an hour or two, otherwise the petals go brown!

  2. You can't really tell in the picture, but along the sides of the church on the shelves by the windows, are bouquets of mini carnations that were created from leftover stems. forget me not flowers