I usually say the year really starts in April. This year was a little different. We got going in March, with a large class to celebrate spring flowers and natural design techniques that don’t use floral foam. Two weeks later, the world stopped – a brief pause in life to tackle a deadly virus that none of us could ever have imagined. What follows is a story from less troubled times, when all we cared about was flowers and what to do with them.
It started with a phone call from my pal Kirsty (or Kirsty the Wilde as I call her). “They’re going foam free at Middleton Lodge” she announced one Monday night in October just as I’d snuggled down under a blanket with the dog to watch a re-run of Scott and Bailey. ‘Thank God for that” I replied, “I’ve never liked all that fancy frothy stuff on food”. “Don’t be so daft. They’re stopping florists using floral foam on all weddings and events. Aren’t they brave?”. Brave indeed, and much needed in the current climate where we are all increasingly concerned with our impact upon the planet.
A couple of days later Kirsty and I met with the team at Middleton Lodge and devised a two-day class, primarily aimed at florists who do wedding work there, to demonstrate that doing the flowers for weddings and events using designs that don’t involve the use of floral foam isn’t something to be scared of, and that well considered foam-free designs can look impactful and dramatic and beautiful.
Foam-Free Flowers in the Fig House (a two-day spring retreat in the North Yorkshire countryside) in the end drew several guests from North Yorkshire – florists who are lucky enough to do wedding flowers within the three breathtaking settings available at Middleton Lodge. But, some guests came from further away – Seattle, New York, Brittany, Berlin and ‘our John’ from Liverpool.
Over two days we set to work as teams, designing as if for a real-life, real-time wedding in which a bride and a photographer would arrive somewhere near the end. We covered tablescapes, two archways (one fixed structure and one freestanding), urns, bowls, window and mantel arrangements. Every corner of The Fig House at some point was adorned with delicate spring flowers, just catching the right light. Once everyone realised that all you really need is a decent amount of chicken wire, a reliable water source, some sound mechanics and a little bit of imagination, there was no stopping them.
With the prospect of a botanical cocktail at the end of each day we all worked quickly and demonstrated that all of these (essentially old-fashioned) techniques can be used today if you have the right flowers, the right vessels or structures, and a good team. Aside from a set of notes for each guest on ‘how to do’ installations in a foam-free way, Kirsty and I put together a little team that we thought would inspire the guests, as well as a colour palette of ochre (aka yellow), olive and muddy pink that we knew would challenge many preconceptions about weddings being ‘blush, blush, bloody blush’.
We were joined by Rachael Scott of Hedgerow who could provide plenty of information about Sustainable Floristry as well as other sound advice. We asked along Vicky Traynor of The Linen Garden to talk on the subject of table setting and styling in unique ways that add a magical touch to the overall look and take into account that all important consideration: ‘the sense of place’ (pun intended).
Vicky created a set of wedding stationery echoing the aged bare plaster walls that are the outstanding feature of The Fig House. Ceramicist Jill Shaddock also joined us, to illustrate an ingenious way with clay and grasses as an everlasting idea for tables or floors. That Jill is also an expert in bringing dozens of drooping hellebores back to life was a godsend too. And we were chuffed to bits that photographer Eva Nemeth agreed to come and capture student work.
In keeping with the eco-friendly theme we chose a set of bowls for each guest from Aerende (www.aerende.co.uk
). Aerende is an online shop selling beautiful products and gifts for the home, all of them made in the UK by people facing social challenges. It’s a place to find a range of carefully crafted products from around the British Isles, created by makers who struggle to access or maintain conventional employment.
The wedding dress worn by our model Steph was sourced via a local wedding dress supplier, Elisa Belle Bridal (www.elisabellebridal.com),
who supply dresses by Irish designer Edwina Arya (www.edwinaarya.ie
), a vegan brand whose simple, exquisite dresses are designed, created and supplied always with careful consideration for the environment.