January is a time for reflection, for new plans, for keeping warm and cosy, and, for us, a welcome month to rest a little after two busy months leading up to Christmas.
Top of my own list for Christmas was Alan Bennett’s latest book. I grew up listening to his calm, Yorkshire voice, appreciating his clever observations on life and his humour. He is the one person I would dearly love to meet – ok, there is also Shane Connolly, the true gentleman of the flowery world.
When asked by a friend if our little business had any plans for the year ahead I said yes: to keep on doing what we’re doing, or, in the words of Mrs B, to ” keep buggering on” – a phrase she and I love to use, as well as “standards” and “maintain dignity and sense of humour at all costs”.
It’s 3 full years since we started Simply By Arrangement. Mrs B and I had worked together in our life of crime for years and so we are in some ways a crack team. When doing workshops either in Lancashire, where our larger groups come, or here in Yorkshire where I live and where there’s a garden to raid, we have a tried and tested routine. I get up early and bring tea to all house guests. Mrs B takes charge of breakfast and then any last minute preparation starts. Flowers for the tables, cooking that must be done on the day, a trip around the garden to identify the best bits to snip when guests go out, sweeping paths, lighting candles (geranium) and, oh yes, the switching on of the ‘urn’ – there must be constant tea and fresh coffee for the hardcore guests, who always get warmed milk: see what I mean about ‘standards’.
This past year we have been lucky enough to extend the team a little – more about the big-eared puppy another time – by working with other people; people whose work we respect and admire, and people who also have dignity and a GSOH. Here’s a brief look at these collaborations, and we are chuffed to bits that this coming year we get to work with them all again.
Louise Curley aka Wellywoman has long been a heroine of mine. She was on the list with Bennett and Connolly once but now I’ve met her! Our class on the propagation of scented pelargoniums and designing with dahlias smelled sublime. One guest has now had constructed a greenhouse for her new collection of tiny terracotta pots. This year sees Louise return for 3 more courses in March, August and September. Dahlias, annuals, herbs, bulbs are all on the list.
Deep in the heart of Cheshire is the flower farm of Carol Siddorn, where she and her husband Paul – plus dogs Charlie and Gwen – live in a little slice of paradise. I honestly thought I’d gone to heaven when I spent the day there ‘appreciating Autumn’. This May I’m going back to make sense of Spring! I hope she’ll let me saunter in Summer too.
Doing the flowers for Christmas with Rachael from Hedgerow was the best prelude to the festive season we have ever had. Flowering up Simply Towers with two talented flower-fettling guests – Kate Rusby singing about sweet chiming bells, and Kate from Greens Farm telling us of her little donkeys was a day we’ll never forget. The following day saw us end by taking our three guests into Hebden Bridge for a late pub lunch. Stepping out of the door to hear a brass band and carols, marking the turn on of the festive lights, we could hardly have planned it better. We are already working with Rachael on other flowery projects including a new joint Instagram account and more later this year.
Living in Hebden Bridge means we are surrounded by talented, creative people. Last year, and again this, we will be working with our friends Ed Chadwick and Jill Shaddock. Jill designed us a special collection of vessels last year and this May she’ll be designing more for our Modern Dutch Masters days, which we are running with Ed. We have only two places left. I’d like to think it’s us and Ed that have attracted such attention but I suspect it’s the prospect of taking home a special Shaddock.
Finally, to another top team, who definitely are possessed of dignity and humour – Sarah and Suzi from Sarah Mason Photography. We are indebted to them for the breathtaking photos they have taken of our garden and our workshops this year. I spent a day with Sarah learning how to improve my own photography – there’s much work to be done! Our workshop film was created over several weeks and captures perfectly the essence of what our workshops are all about. Sarah also helps our guests on one-to-one classes and the photographs of our time with Carol of Painterly and Bloom are some of my favourite memories of the year gone by.
And so we keep on keeping on into 2017. The new addition of the homeless pup Molly might see us occasionally lose dignity – when she refuses to leave any nice warm establishment with a fire – but we will maintain humour at all costs. She is currently reading ……the latest Alan Bennett.