2021 – A Year in Two Parts: The Colour Version

January 9, 2022

And so, as a more abundant and optimistic May settled into June, thoughts turned to….love, actually. 

Doing the flowers for the wedding of Rachel and Reece, on the first really hot day of the year, also seemed to bring back the colour to our lives. Working with a neutral palette isn’t that easy to achieve in June, but we managed it and the new Mr and Mrs James had the wedding of their dreams at the most tasteful location, captured by one of the best wedding photographers there is. Against a background of exquisite caramels, the guests stood out, all in jewel colours of cranberry and emerald as if to say ‘at last, a celebration’. I shed a couple of tears as the small crowd of 30 loved ones gathered on the lawn for the confetti ‘money shot’ and I think Jill and Kirsty were surprised to find that I might, after all, have a heart.

Working on that wedding, our first in over a year, taught me several things. You never lose those wedding nerves, but, with the right flowers, lots of planning, and the best team ‘it’ll be alright’. Oh, and most importantly, and I’ve said this before, having a couple who are happy to trust you means everything. 

Whilst I was still enjoying the neutral colour palette and channelling my ‘black and white’ summer flower phase we had guests at workshops who were dying to use colour, for many, many reasons.  

I can’t mention every workshop guest from the year in one blog post – and it goes without saying that none of them are ever forgotten; their work immortalised in photographs that I revisit frequently because I learn something from every one of them – but the month of June brought us three guests, on separate days, all from the health service and all desperately in need of some escapism through flowers. To see the light in their eyes as they looked at bowls, bouquets and urns in places which also have good light, well, it was priceless. And, without knowing it, Lindsay, Sally and Catrinel each persuaded me that the Amazing Grey Poppy works best when placed with peach-coloured flowers.

A short, and very wet, week in Sussex allowed me to rummage through the garden of a holiday home and borrow light for photos as well as giving me time to write some words for our new website which might be ready soon. The bowl of flowers with foxgloves and philadelphus will forever serve as a reminder of a much needed day with friends who like flowers. The day that the dog says was the best day ever when she got to run free with some much prettier rescue dogs at the new Nettlewood Flowers HQ. I really want to go back there soon. 

July started equally wet with a storm that shattered every rose. But, mid way through, we were joined by two Foxtail Lily lovers who made the annual Simply Yorkshire class unforgettable. Again, there was an emphasis on colour. Both Prue and Joanna (real names Sara Pearch and Gill Stewart) are artists – one a potter, the other a painter – and it was fascinating to watch them work. Smudgy grey was Gill’s colour of choice, reminiscent of the Yorkshire stone buildings and, on two days, the sky. Amazingly she found it, even in summer flowers, skilfully choosing those grey poppies and some Misty Lavender Larkspur as her accent flowers in a set of Matryoshka-like bowls that ranged from tiny to a bit bigger and echoed her paintings perfectly. For Sara, brighter colours are usually her favourites but to see her pairing an orange Calendula with more muted dusky colours and a small collection of wildflowers from a local walk, as well as the last apricot foxglove from the ‘special’ behind-the-workshop border, revealed to me that artists also work from the soul, and what she really wanted was to try to get every special bit of Yorkshire into her bowl. The tale of the bright yellow lily is best remembered by those who saw it….and laughed a lot.

In fact, there are plenty of tales from 2021 that won’t make it into this. One I can’t reveal yet, lest I give away too much about the upcoming Flowers From The Farm Conference, but let’s just say it was a day of golden memories and might be a contender for a Globe (joke). Cambo, as you know, is always a highlight and could have a post of its own. The year’s memorable Cambo colour was red. I wish we had used more than two tiny branches from my favourite apple tree by the banks of the burn because it was later taken out by Storm Arwen. I’m just relieved that Becky from Erda Botanicals used some of it in her installation and that I had the foresight to rummage through all the left overs for a piece which went into a Saturday bowl.

Red was also the colour of my favourite bowl from 2021. A muddy red admittedly, but I do like a challenge and photographing red is definitely that. Interestingly, our favourite dahlia this year also came from the red bed; Schippers Bronze. I’m sure you know it already. It’s a bit bronze too. 

Talking of photography, spending time with ‘the superstar Éva Nemeth’ (which, if you know this brilliant and modest woman, is obviously said tongue in cheek) I hope might eventually improve my own photo-taking skills. Actually, it won’t, because on the days when we run classes I’m in the workshop talking flowers with one guest while she teaches the other the magic of still life photography…which I’m led to believe involves a lot of hanging around waiting for the right light and the right weather if you’re outside. And, whilst waiting for the optimum conditions you can always photograph the lunch (aka one of Jill Shaddock’s sunflower pies) or some of the guest’s props (in this instance a huge and photogenic collection of terracotta pots from Julia at The English Plant Company). The after class evening wander around the garden in August gave Éva an idea for her first solo book – Shooting Through Fennel.

All below photos by Éva Nemeth www.evanemeth.com

I should really find a way of highlighting this next bit and shouting it loudly somewhere. I love September weddings! For a million reasons, well, for reasons that are so many I can’t write them all here, the wedding of Deborah and Robert was magical. I do love it when the circles of life meet up, and two previous brides had roles in this special day and neither one is connected to the other. Small world. 

In contrast to the summer, autumn in the small corner was glorious. A riot of colour until November with leafage of every colour. The last one-to-one flower class of the year was a chance for Jenny of Seapink Studios to have a ball in the barn, and all Cinderella puns are intentional. 

Winter arrived early with November snow. Dangling pine cones replaced jingling bells and an agreement was reached between me and the dog. On days in winter when the weather is good, we will walk before we start any work. The chances are that it’s unlikely to affect productivity, although I genuinely believe that your best ideas can be found on a walk, as well as pebbles, and properly arching branches. On grey days when there are no flowers the dog has also agreed to sit in good light and be photographed – but only if wearing my softest scarf. 

As we move into another new year, still surrounded by uncertainty, I’m remembering the words at start of one of my favourite films, and as Hugh Grant might not have said: ‘Whenever I get gloomy I think about…..flowers actually’.