Flower Arranging: A Competitive Activity

Time stands still for no one and nothing and that includes formal flower arranging. Forty-five years ago my mother belonged to the local Flower Club. The ladies used to meet once a month with visiting guests demonstrating how to create pedestal, triangular and cascade arrangements amongst others. My mum’s favourite was the Hogarth Curve.

And, as with every other aspect of life, arranging flowers has fashions and favourites and, of course, time inexorably ticks on bringing gradual change, though not uniformly and not for everyone. Here’s a wee snapshot of a formal pedestal competition. The brief was titled ‘In Memory’ with the entrants free to choose a well-known person as their subject as well as their source of inspiration.

This arrangement ‘In Memory of Edith Cavell’ by Maggie Morton won Best Use of Colour, First Prize and Best in Show.
This arrangement won Second Prize. The judge commented “A delightful pedestal with great movement depicting your chosen subject. This needs a stronger link to the base of the design”. Area Judge, NAFAS.
Third Prize was awarded to Julia Morley for ‘In Memory of Kevin Beattie’. The judge noted “A beautiful design depicting your chosen subject. Maybe a few less accessories would improve the overall look of the arrangement.”
This was my personal favourite “Remembering David Hockney”. This arrangement, despite having an interesting palette, was not to the judge’s taste who commented “An unconventional approach to a pedestal design. The landscapes are rather flat and would be improved by using bolder local flowers.”

Now I realise that the ‘pedestal’ form of arranging flowers is the epitome of formal flowers, not least as it is still used in churches, but isn’t it time to loosen up the form a little. There were a further two, different flower competitions in the Floral Marquee at the recent Suffolk Show, but no entries were to my taste. I wandered away, disappointed and moved on to the displays from the local growers and nurseries. Now this was a completely different story.

Horticultural specialists arranged their flowering beauties as if they were at last month’s Chelsea Flower Show. Thoughtful form and colour combinations bedecked their stands in an informal, naturalistic celebration of plant possibilities for your garden. I can’t help but feel that in these times of climate crisis that the formal displays of cut flowers could move towards a more informal regime to include naturalistic designs and wildflower arrangements perhaps even reflecting local biodiversity.

Bearded iris with white alliums as part of a nursery display.

If you would like to see a more contemporary approach to flower arranging have look at the displays produced by florists The Flower Appreciation Society.

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From then to now

It’s late May and the irises are in full bloom. Irises are definitely in my top ten favourite garden flowers along with roses, foxgloves, poppies, lilies, hellebores, tulips, clematis, dahlias, and, those great favourites of the medieval illuminators, columbines. Each May when the aquilegias flower I think of illuminated manuscripts and the unnamed artisans who spent hours in their workshops decorating religious texts.

Columbines (aquilegia vulgaris) decorate this page from the Isabella Breviary, 1497, Flemish. MS18851, f.124

And, it wasn’t just aquilegias that filled the margins, for illuminators included images of the different flowers found growing in their own local districts. From about 1300 onwards there is a wonderful variety of illustrations including daisies, honeysuckle, clover, cornflowers, the dog rose along with the blossom of fruit trees and the blooms of flowering herbs.

Irises decorating the Bourdichon Hours, early 16th century, French.. MS 18855, f.33

Gradually, during the course of the 14th and 15th centuries, the making of illuminated texts became a specialist business with the production of breviaries, prayer books, psalters and books of hours from workshops across Europe. Stylised and simple motifs of flowers gave way to more naturalistic representations such as the irises seen in the Bourdichon Hours (above) and the almost ‘impressionistic’ iris seen in the Huth Hours (below).

Iris from illuminated page of The Huth Book of Hours. 1485-1490 Flemish. MS 38216, f130v

I haven’t got any irises in my backyard as yet, and I’m still wondering if there would be enough hours of direct sunshine for them to bloom, but, fortunately, halfway down my road I spotted some in the little community plot.

Irises bringing some colour to the raised vegetable beds at the local community plot.

This plot was one of those small, unloved areas which didn’t belong to anyone and has now been turned into a shared space, a community veg plot with a handful of raised beds and some seasonal flowers to brighten the whole affair. A number of local people who live in neighbouring flats or homes without gardens, spend their spare time planting, weeding and harvesting. This attractive project was instigated by one of my neighbours who’s also the Green Party candidate for our ward.

There is something heartening and positive about the continuing existence of a genus of flowers, admired and illustrated, that way we can track through the centuries. It would be nice to think that humans will be around for the next 700 years to enjoy the iris and the rest of the natural world, but that requires the present generation of world leaders to put their own personal ambitions aside, take a longterm view and start to deal with the climate crisis – seriously.

Come on more spring flowers please!

Last month we had strange weather. February had days feeling like spring and I saw people walking around in T-shirts! In climate terms a week of warm weather in February is disturbing.

However, March, so far, is turning out to be more like a usual March. It has been very, very windy, but that hasn’t affected these British grown tulips. They come from some of the extensive glass houses in Lincolnshire. Growing under glass has enabled British tulip growers to compete with imports from overseas and there are no air or sea miles. Growing under the protection of glass also lengthens the season for growing all kinds of cut flowers. Have you noticed how stocks (Matthiola incana) have joined the buckets of roses and lilies commonly available? However, for us domestic gardeners in East Anglia it will be another month before even the tulips are blooming in full force.

This bunch of tulips lasted well over a week before fading away.

This year I resisted the temptation to plant seeds in February. I am holding my nerve even with the indoor sowings. I am trying to avoid weak, leggy seedlings as I don’t have a greenhouse to provide consistent good daylight.

It is early days in the ‘new’ old backyard and too dreary to photograph with piles of rubble left behind by previous owners. Although it is a small space, it’s going to be a long old haul to sort out, but some pots of pelargoniums and dahlias, and a mini swathe of hardy annuals should at least add some colour for this summer.

Looking forward to having bunches of cosmos and dahlias – hopefully.

Expecting the best, I have already had a poke around in the pots of the overwintered dahlias and, fingers crossed, so far they’ve come through the winter. From now on I just have to watch out for early slug damage to the tender new shoots.

At last I have a rough plan, you could, at a stretch, call it a design for the backyard. It has been just over a year since I moved in and I have been observing the sunlight and shade patterns and I can see I have my work cutout to achieve any kind of flower garden. Disappointingly, there’s more shade than I had expected, not least from the enormous eucalyptus tree three gardens down.

It is a long-established tree and is easily 10 feet or so taller than the surrounding three-storey houses. As I write, its upper branches are violently whipping around, bending this way and that in the strong winds. It is really quite inappropriate for a Victorian terrace backyard and it overhangs six gardens. I am guessing it was originally planted to screen out the neighbours at the bottom of the garden and has just been left to grow and grow by a series of non-gardening homeowners.

Finishing on a more optimistic note I am looking forward to more of this

and many more of these!

My daylily potted up in Norwich, transported and transplanted and forming a healthy, vibrant clump with shoots already over three inches tall.

Sunflowers

sunflowers1There is something perennially charming about a jug of fading sunflowers. You can see why Vincent Van Gogh was so taken with them. Famously, he painted sunflowers many times including the seven ‘Sunflowers’ canvasses which were ‘nothing but sunflowers’.Sunflowers-detailOf the original seven sunflower paintings, five are now in museums around the world, one was destroyed in a fire during World War Two and one, amazingly, is still in a private collection. These paintings have been frequently reproduced and used to decorate all kinds of merchandise. I recently spotted these Vans on the Internet.Van-Gogh-Sunflowers-VansWhen I was younger I had a small print of this version below.

Van-Gogh-1888-Tyson-Philadelphia
‘Sunflowers’, Vincent Van Gogh. Arles 1888/1889. Oil on canvas. 92 × 72.5 cm Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, United States.

I copied these exuberant flowers onto a couple of metres of silk which I made into a top.

Nile-1992During the intervening 25 years, I, as well as the top have faded a wee bit, but here’s me earlier this year during the heatwave caught on camera mixing up some dyes wearing my old sunflower silk. It may have been very hot in Ipswich this summer, but nowhere the 45 degrees we had experienced in Egypt.

Me-working

At last a few blooms

Sweet-peas-dahlias-1As we are almost into September the temperatures have finally dropped enough for my sweet peas to bloom. They were an impulse purchase, reduced to clear at the DIY superstore when I was buying yet more paint. In all honesty they were planted too late, in too small pots and then were unfortunately hit with the heatwave we experienced this summer.

Mantlepiece-basementApparently, high temperatures cause sweet peas to pause their flower production, they prefer cool nights and cool days, so that would be a normal English summer! But finally, yes, they are blooming.

Sweet-peasAnother impulse purchase of desperation back in May were some random dahlia tubers. They too have eventually begun to bloom displaying ‘surprise’ colours mostly neither colour combinations nor shades I would choose if picking from a dahlia catalogue.

The very dark red ones are fine and can stay, but I have been busy in the backyard ticketing the rest, yellow, messy yellows and muddled pinks as ones for the compost at the end of the season. Somehow they just made the dreary backyard (not even a work in progress as yet) look even more of a dump. However, when I chopped off all the flowers and brought them in (any flowers indoors are better than no flowers at all) I was genuinely surprised that they made a passable arrangement.

Dark-red-dahliasNow I have the dilemma of whether to keep them or not. Mmm, actually that will be probably not. If I had more space or an allotment where I could grow flowers just for cutting I would, but in such a small backyard all plants will have to work hard for their space and fit into my overall scheme.

Yellow-dahlias-bunchOh yes, there will be an overall scheme, but, deep sigh, it is all going to have to wait at least another year.

 

 

 

Where are the flowers?

Garden-poseyWhere are the flowers? Well, certainly not in my backyard. Disappointingly, this is the second summer for me in my 20 plus years of gardening that I have not had a patch of earth yielding some floral delights. The fencing was only erected last week so at least now I can begin to see ‘defined space’ (or lack of it) to plan some planting. As a stop gap I have stuck a few pelargonium and sweet pea plugs into pots, but they went in rather late and show no signs of blooming yet.

Feeling flower starved I trotted down to the local florist. I think like many small businesses old fashioned florists have had their casual, walk-in trade almost obliterated by the big supermarkets undercutting them. It seems to have left florists with the traditional wedding and funeral business plus the odd corporate event. The consequence of this change in retail habits has resulted in some florists, understandably, reducing the range of flowers being stocked in their shops. I was disappointed with what was on offer especially considering that we are in high summer. Dispiritingly this is the best I could manage

florist-flowers.jpgand the arrangement includes stealing a blousy hydrangea bloom from the single surviving shrub at the front of the house.

The local park has offered more treats for the florally deprived with swathes of English lavender contrasting with clumps of achillea.Park-lavenderAnd, last month there were field poppies blooming cheerfully in the unexpected heatwave.Hairy-stemsHowever, back home it was a disappointing and scentless flower situation until a visiting friend came to the rescue with a gorgeous scented posey of flowers from her garden.Sweet-Peas-daisiesSweet peas and cheerful daisies. I really don’t think you can beat homegrown flowers. In this case there are no air miles, very few road miles and no excessive irrigation and/or glasshouse heating costs. There is just a delicate, visual treat and an intoxicating, seasonal scent filling my workroom.Cheerful-daisies

Reviewing Rose Possibilities

Botanical-illustrationsIt is now June and the classic flower of the month in England is usually considered to be the rose. Apart from the fact that I still have endless weekends of internal decoration to attend to, and, as I type, I am manfully ignoring one entire room left in an almost derelict state, I have started to think about the garden.

I realise one way and another I have missed this year for some of my flowering favourites such as the hellebores, tulips, aquilegias, irises and roses not to mention a flowering fruit tree or two. However, now is not the time to moan, but to get on and get planning. It is a good time to think ahead as although quite a few container grown roses are now out of stock for this season, they can still be ordered for delivery as bare root plants for this coming autumn and winter. Naturally, recent evenings have been spent perusing my old copy of ‘The Graham Stuart Thomas Rose Book’ in the hunt for suitable roses for very small gardens.

Graham-Stuart-Thomas-go-to-rose-bookAlthough I do love many of the old fashioned shrub roses that I have grown in the past not all of them are as robust as some of the more recent introductions such as rosa Queen Elizabeth (1954, see below) or the David Austin rose, rosa St Swithun (1993, above right).

Modern-hybrid-tea-Queen-ElizabthCurrently, I am tending towards a thornless, reliable modern climber for my very tiny front patch, possibly the David Austin climbing rose, rosa Mortimer Sackler (2002). It needs to be thornless as it will eventually top the boundary wall at waist height between my property and a side passage used as the rear access for my neighbours.

David-Austin-Mortimer-Sackler
Rosa Mortimer Sackler introduced by David Austin 2002. Photo: David Austin website

Mind you I have been tempted by Stuart Thomas’s comments on rosa Agnes, “Unusual with delicious scent”, but despite the appealing name (😉) I don’t feel I can fit a yellow rose, even this pale, muddled beauty, into the planting scheme.

Agnes

It is a while since I have taken my copy of the Rose Book off the shelf. Indeed, it has been boxed up with all the rest of my books for the last 18 months during the moving process and consequently I was surprised when a slip of paper fell out. As I picked it up expecting it to be a now redundant list of roses from my last garden, I noticed with curiosity that it was a poem. One of my favourites originally copied out over 15 years ago.

ee-cummings-poem

 

A Little Wisteria Appropriation

May-blooms-arrangementSome of you may remember seeing photos from my old garden of the white Japanese wisteria that I trained over a pergola. I originally bought it as a grafted specimen and it flowered from the first year, but it really got into its stride around about its fifth year. By the time I left that garden to a new custodian the wisteria was 11 years in place and blooming spectacularly every May. It also provided a canopy of green shade for all those long hot days of summer!

Wisteria floribunda (Japanese Wisteria)
Drooping white Wisteria floribunda (Japanese Wisteria) flower arrangement and my one attempt at stained glass behind.

I have moved from the outskirts of city living back to urban life proper and no longer have the space for such a rampant plant in my backyard. Well, that’s not entirely true, but I need the sunny area for some fruit as well as flowers.

White-flowers-wisteriaHowever, despite my ‘restricted space’ predicament, I am not entirely starved of this beautiful, May blooming flower as from the bedroom window I can see the charming Chinese wisteria decorating my next-door neighbour’s pergola.

Nextdoors-chinese-wisteria.jpg

The Romantic Rose for Valentine’s

Romantic-rosesWhen folk consider flowers for Valentine’s Day, the perennial favourite is the red rose. I think there is something intensely romantic about a single, velvety, dark red rose, but if I were to be receiving a bouquet of roses, I think I would prefer pink roses.Romantic-roses-2The bonus with giving or receiving roses is many are fragrant too, with most of the old fashioned varieties perfuming a whole room with their beautiful, rich scent.

Of course, as you may have already guessed, I don’t just love old fashioned pink roses, but pink blooms in general and find them a great source of inspiration for my flowery silk scarf designs. And with that in mind, here’s a jug of last summer’s dahlias providing just such stimulus!

Golden times – inspirational plants

RudbeckiaRecently, just before the first full, proper frost I took some photos in the local park of the classic warm golds of autumn. Drifts of rudbeckia capped with their rich, dark brown top-knots looked fabulous in Holywells Park and they’re also very useful in a domestic garden.

Personally, I am not a fan of grasses in my own garden spaces but, I think that in larger grounds, when they are planted in graceful drifts, they work very well. And,

then there are the autumn berries. Another plant that I don’t have in my garden due to its inch long spines is pyracantha. I can understand its value in some situations as a ‘deterrent’ plant whether that is to deter persistent, destructive wildlife or feared burglars. If you need the long spines you also get the bonus of clusters of vibrant, orange or red berries. These berries of pyracantha ‘Orange Glow’ fairly zing. Quite inspirational.

Orange-and-golden

 

Stealing from other people’s gardens

OsteospermumAs you may already know earlier this year I left behind my Norfolk home and garden of 12 years and moved south to Suffolk. In actual fact it is a return to Suffolk after 21 years away, but, as yet, I am still in temporary accommodation and it’s a flat with no garden.

Sea-kale-Crambe-MaritimaAs suggested by fellow bloggers I’ve been out and about stealing from other people’s gardens, local parks and even from the shoreline on the Shotley Peninsula. No, not digging up precious specimens in the dead of night, but stealing shots of all the different blooms I’ve spotted on my wanderings. Braving the salty breeze, along with the naturally adapted sea kale (above), I found these petunias and osteospermums surviving at the bottom of a local garden close to the estuary shore.

It has been good for me as I’ve had to identify all kinds of plants that have been new to me rather than just relying on the old favourites. The flora in the local park has moved on from the early to the late flowering plants with this sweep full of bee favourites.

September-park-flowers-for-beesThe bees have introduced me to new wildflowers such as the Devil’s Bit scabious (Succisa pratensis) as well as reminding me that some standard garden shrubs, for example this purple hebe, are also a good source of nectar.

The drifts of perennial and annual flowers were truly buzzing in the September sunshine.

Bee-friendly
Drifts of blue cornflowers (Centaurea cyanus), corn chamomile (Anthemis arvensis) and corn marigold (Glebionis segetum).

Busy-Bee