A Year in Flowers Part 1 – Winter into Spring

January 26, 2023

Do what you love….is something I’ve mentioned a few times before. So, at the start of 2022, after the hiatus that was 2020-2021, I decided to create a small project, just for me. What do I love? Flowers, grown in gardens, and being able to photograph them.

You don’t need me to tell you about British Flowers. You can find all the statistics on the Flowers From the Farm website alongside all the places that are near you that will supply you with anything from pick-your-own sweet peas to a full wedding. If you’re a large event florist, or someone who loves to buy flowers each week for your home, then you might buy imported flowers because they are what you need. Let me be clear – you won’t disappoint me, you can choose whatever flowers you like. I don’t mind at all because I understand the need to have flowers. But what I’m hoping to highlight by sharing my year’s project is that there are flowers out there in the UK from January to December.

Flowers that offer a more ephemeral quality because they grow for only a few weeks, to be replaced continuously by new ones as the year progresses. Flowers that will anchor you to the right season. Flowers that will make your wedding or event unique. Flowers that will bring any room in your home to life and provide those brief moments of joy that you can’t buy over the counter like a lipstick at John Lewis. Flowers that will make your heart sing as you go to check on them each morning. Flowers that you can grow yourself.

I decided not to limit my project to Yorkshire even though, it being a county roughly in the middle of the UK, it is probably a decent representation of what flowers grow when. Instead I drew a rudimentary S curve. Meaningful in a way, because us floral designers love an S curve and this particular one connected Scotland to Sussex, and three women called Sarah.

I’ll not draw any further “line of beauty” comparisons because I think all of us will agree that our modelling days are behind us and that we have transferred all of our aesthetic aspirations into growing flowers that could grace any catwalk. So, a simple project. To record some of the flowers that grow in each season in the South, at Nettlewood Flowers in Sussex (run by Sarah Whiting), here mid country in the small corner of Yorkshire, and up North in Scotland on the Fife coast at Keeping The Plot (run by Sarah Hunter). Sometimes the flowers would be sent to me in the post but occasionally (the bit of the project I liked best) I’d go and pick them myself or a Sarah might just happen to be passing and call in here with a couple of buckets. Just in case you question the integrity of all of this, I must tell you that all of the flowers were paid for by me, lest you think that this is some dubious piece of promotional work or one of those god-awful influencer strategies that will now date this piece if ever it’s found in history. 

I must also tell you that hundreds of photographs where taken and so I’m splitting these blog posts into seasons. Let’s start with deep winter going into spring. So, January to May 2022.

January can feel sparse. I find that quite pleasing after the decadence of Christmas and all the foliage you end up eating. A morning in the chilly air up on the Fife Coast revealed…..catkins of alder and some contorted hazel. And priceless treasure from Sarah’s daughter and son-in-law who grow an abundance of veg for all the fine restaurants in the area. Lettuce. Not just any lettuce. A rusty/muddy pinky one that had all the charm of a rose. Raddichio. It lasted a week in a bowl alongside those catkins before I ate it. 

Back home as January, arguably the longest month of any year, gave way to February, the early snowdrops – some of them scented – were begging to be brought inside for a turn on the windowsill. Tiny snowdrops need only a few other delicate leaves to provide further depth to the arrangement if they are placed in a small footed bowl. You might notice a few epimedium leaves, which at this time of year have good colours and are long lasting. I always just use a pin frog (kenzan) and, after lots of practice, placing the delicate stems into this contraption has become second nature. Snowdrops weigh next to nothing and so it’s relatively easy to get them to stay just where you place them. If in doubt pretend you’re a ballerina; it makes you handle the flowers in a more delicate way. It’s the closest I’ll ever get.

By early March I decided to “force” a small magnolia branch into flower for a minimalist arrangement in a flat bowl. How simple is this? One branch, carefully cut an angle, with a slit made into the bottom so that it sits more securely in the pin frog. A bit of nice side light and there it is – early spring, at last.

2022 was a bumper year for hellebores in our garden. I think they must enjoy the damp, grey Yorkshire weather and they put on a very impressive display for a day of photography with Éva Nemeth. The very best double hellebore, possibly the most exquisite flower I’d seen for a while, the one with a deep pink back and a paler “blushed” front, with veins running through like a deliberate pattern, had a vase of its own, by Charlotte MacLeish. Right vessel; right flower.

The rest, in hues of smoked plum and pale pistachio green, were combined with some white cherry blossom and the first fritillary raddeana in a low black bowl by Noe Kuremoto. Momentarily I was transported to a small garden in Japan. The real floral year had truly begun. Add to that the perceptible change in the light and the familiar Yorkshire dawn chorus of sheep, lambs and birds that takes my breath away each year and I felt like the richest person alive. I think that really is the power of flowers. Each time a new one appears you feel as though you’ve won the lottery. 

And then we also won on the premium bonds. A box of true spring arrived in the post all the way from Sussex, stems carefully wrapped in layers of damp cloth to keep them hydrated. The first narcissi and more blossom, the purest white anemones and some speckled hellebores. Only the golden bowl with the feet was good enough for these belters from Nettlewood Flowers. (14th March)

The end of March felt like my birthday. It was in fact my birthday and after two spent in lockdown it was time to celebrate, with a morning picking from the plot of she who keeps the most immaculate one you’ll ever see. It was the primroses and the cowslips at Keeping the Plot that captivated me the most. Leading into a yellow palette with a touch of Delft blue from the muscari that I can almost still smell now as I look at their photos. Muscari bulbs, still in their soil placed into an old pot – the easiest floral arrangement you can make. (28th March)

Talking of ballet, there is no flower more ballerific (a word I thought I’d made up until I found the dictionary definition to be “something good, desirable or inspiring of envy”) than the fritillary. Anyone who has been here will tell you that creating movement in a bouquet or bowl are key elements in my limited floral rule book. The snakeshead fritillary and the grey-with-yellow-tips uva vulpis (fox’s grape) give you the full grand jeté.

Moving swiftly on to April and tulips. They move too – of their own accord. I’ll not go on. I love them. These are ours. Grown in Yorkshire, in abundance during April and May. Closely followed by ranunculus and poppies….so many poppies, from the seeds sown by Jill Shaddock the preceding autumn. 

Spring ended in Sussex, or did summer begin? It’s hard to say because my day at Nettlewood on 26th May, balancing wild sorrel and buttercups with poppies and ranunculus was, as I recall, full of sunshine and warmth. I’m going back soon! 

A small basket full of poppies and ranunculus made it back to Yorkshire where, by 30th May, the auriculas were in full flower, peeping coyly from their terracotta pots. Imagine them down a table at a wedding…..

To be continued…

Useful links: 

Flowers From The Farm: https://www.flowersfromthefarm.co.uk/
Keeping The Plot: https://keepingtheplot.co.uk/
Nettlewood Flowers: https://www.nettlewoodflowers.co.uk/
Éva Nemeth: https://www.evanemeth.com/
Charlotte McLeish: https://www.charlottemcleish.com/
Noe Kuremoto: https://www.noekuremoto.com/