A Floral Retreat

July 16, 2023

This year marks ten years since I decided to retreat into a world of flowers. A world that could not be further removed from twenty years of kicking around the criminal courts of Burnley, Blackburn and Preston, carrying to work each day a huge suitcase full of briefs containing tales of human frailty, greed or cruelty. Never not wearing high-heeled shoes just so I could at least have the advantage of being that tiny bit taller than the bloke on the other side of the bench. A world of rooms without windows where the light of day was only ever noticeable on the drive home across the hills in the summer months. Sometimes an owl would glide alongside the car as I dipped down into the Happy Valley, often with a migraine that I hoped would be shifted by ten minutes dead-heading roses before picking up the paper piles again and settling down to fill my jaded brain with more facts. 

I often wonder what might have happened if floral retreats had existed then. Would just being able to take a few days away from reality to sink into the softness of flowers have been enough to keep me going in my life of crime? Back then that choice didn’t exist. Floral workshops were still quite rare and floral retreats were unheard of. Instagram hadn’t been invented. And now, after ten years in this other world of lightness, a world where, instead of looking at photographs of wounds or worse, my tiny mind is blown away daily by visual images of breathtaking floral creations or new flowers growing, I crave…a silent retreat. Somewhere I can go to be very quiet and do some flowers just for me.

“I’m not daft”… is something I say a lot. Maybe just to reassure myself that I’m still sane but more to convince others that I won’t be hoodwinked by all that we are bombarded by in this “age of influence”. One thing I’m not daft enough to do is to allow myself to be so consumed by this business that I grow to dislike it, like the old job. I never want to not love doing stuff with flowers. A couple of long hot summers doing too many weddings with big workshops at the end had me thinking hard. A small re-calibration was required. And then came the pandemic, which forced the change. I suppose I got my silent retreat then. A few months growing the flowers with Jill and making stuff for nobody but me. Not financially sustainable but, to use a word I see a lot these days, highly “nourishing”. And since then things here have been done in a way that lets me try and cling on to all of that peace. Workshops for one or two people at a time, where folk can come and really delve deep into creating something beautiful. And the by-product of these smaller classes…no waste. Alongside the knackeredness that accompanied those long, hot, busy summers was a real concern about my consumption of flowers. Inevitably for weddings you buy in too many flowers, especially when it’s hot because some will die before they even reach the venue. So, I revised my strategy. 

Smaller weddings, possibly not in the height of summer, where the designs are carefully thought about and where flowers are placed in areas of visual impact but never in places where they have no chance of survival, were what I wanted to do. And classes. Teaching others to grow or develop their own small businesses. Classes have always been my main focus and now, with ten years of history, it feels right to be able to help others not only to develop their flowery skills but to think about how best their businesses can run too. The Tea and Simply business chats that I started back in 2020 have kept me “well hydrated”. 

Fast forward to June 2023, exactly ten years since I decided to start this small business with flowers. A slightly different business back then alongside Mrs B (the rock, who is now happily retired but only a phone call away). A business that grew and developed in ways that I never imagined, but one that still remains true to the original concept: to teach others how to “do” seriously good flowers. This June I could have been doing two weddings. One in a huge country house, with runways of flowers leading guests to several areas, as well as a church full of urns and a marquee with far-reaching views. The kind of wedding that ten years ago I dreamed of. Another in a beautiful family home with much-loved garden. Also a wedding of my dreams. But June can be hot. And so instead, I opted for the next best thing to a silent retreat – a week up at Cambo gardens, seeing the summer solstice, teaching a class, and freelancing on a wedding for another florist. Mr Simply and the small dog came too and, since neither of them is particularly loquacious, the aura of quietness was easily achieved. I think it was a good choice. This June turned out to be the hottest on record. Without all of the angst of keeping flowers alive after picking/delivery and without all of the worry of whether every design would wilt, a week in the relative cool of the Scottish coast turned out to be the best choice or, should I say, the best choice for me.

And so to the month of July. And a real flowery retreat. The one I always call Simply Yorkshire. We’d not seen our friend Daisy since 2019, the year she came to Cambo and made a yellow bouquet. Now, as mum to mini Daisy, she was back in Yorkshire for the third time, for a mini break of four days to be spent with two others, Jiseon and Tae, in the house up the hill where the skies are vast. If you’d told me ten years ago that this little business would see us entertaining (sorry, teaching) people from far off places like Seoul I’d have told you not to be so daft. But flowers have a magical way of bringing people together. 

Talking of magic, you know I love circles and how everything and everyone connect. Whenever we do the Simply Yorkshire Retreat (which isn’t every year) there’s often a special guest star. One year it was Frida Kim, one year it was Rachael Scott of Hedgerow, and on Daisy’s previous visit there was no guest star at all. So, when I asked Daisy if she’d like me to find a special guest this time  she said that would be most appreciated, and when I asked if Anna Potter of Swallows and Damsons would do, you can imagine she was most agreeable. 

One of the classes I’ve been most enjoying recently is my career class. It’s a combination of business mentoring and flowers, where just a few guests come (individually) for a whole year to build up their skills, portfolio and ideas in relation to where their small businesses are going. The first “Guinea pig” for this concept was Annabel (who now runs a workshop related business under the name of The Contented Mole). 

We decided that it was a good idea to invite along a couple of day guests to the part of the retreat where Anna Potter joined us, and, wisely, Annabel jumped at the chance to spend the day exploring light, colours, urns and the sacred art of the tablescape. Annabel has also experienced the power of the Cambo magic, so she and Daisy had plenty to discuss.

One of this year’s careers class guests is Rebecca, who I’ve managed to persuade to start a new Instagram account (@herbivore.floral) to show her delicate and beautiful flowers to the wider world.  She does a great urn and loves a tablescape. She also works for Swallows and Damsons. So there we have it, a completed circle. One where the magic touch came from Anna’s urn class and the creation of six breathtaking and highly individual urns, all gathered together in the dappled light of the window in the barn. Roger would have loved this sight. 

Here’s some photos from the Simply Yorkshire 2023 album. A week I’ll remember as being full of laughter, great friends, superb flowers, good food, warm rain, spectacular evening skies, tea and leftover steak parcels for Molly the dog. As I trundled along with Daisy’s suitcase at the train station (since mini Daisy’s brother is expected soon) I reflected on the power of the flowery retreat and how far they can take you. 

And this morning as I clear the barn, I might make my own urn out of the remnants of six others, and contemplate, in silence, how much I love flowers. I might also ponder extending my Tea and Simply business chats to those who dream of running their own floral retreats…silent or otherwise. Do get in touch if you’d like a business chat, or maybe let me know if the idea of a silent floral retreat (one where phones get left at the door) appeals to you and I’ll look into it.

Guests on Simply Yorkshire 2023 were:
daisy (@flowersbydaisy)
jiseon (@solemoonstudio)
tae (@_ccoture)
annabel (@thecontentedmole)
rebecca (@herbivore.floral)