When looking at a florist’s life through the filter of Instagram, it can sometimes seem that flower arranging and flower growing go hand in hand. I have to admit to being a little envious of the jaw-dropping flowers that some grow, arrange, and then scatter beautifully across my feed. Despite desperate attempts to step up and grow myself, I’m afraid to say that the ongoing results have been decidedly poor. Think dead snails, cat poo, children-trodden, bug-eaten, not-so-pretty florals.
Ladies and gentlemen, may I present myself honestly as the non-green-fingered, non-gardening florist.
So when the opportunity came to work with flowers grown at Chatsworth House, I jumped at the chance. Chatsworth itself is astonishingly beautiful. The 105-acre gardens have evolved over more than 450 years, set in amongst the rolling hills of Derbyshire — you could not wish for a more epic or typically English setting.
My good friend Becky is a gardener in the cutting garden and she and the team there very kindly agreed to let me cut and arrange flowers on site. One frightfully stormy June evening, with no plan or strategy, I grabbed my old cast iron urn and without my floppy sun hat or vintage floral dress (I was so un-prepared), I set off to live the Insta flower-grower/florist dream.
When choosing flowers for an arrangement my usual instinct is to stay simple, subtle, selecting one or two main shades. However, the sheer choice of flowers in the cutting garden was overwhelming. Like a child let loose in a sweet shop I was jumping for joy at the chance to pick flowers I had never before been able to get my hands on: bearded iris, cerinthe, fennel, Himalayan blue poppy and angelica, to name a few. Subtlety blew out of the window on the wild peak district winds — I wanted to use everything! We took the collected bounty across to one of four 50-foot glasshouses, (built in 1890) to create the arrangement. —Anna of Swallows & Damsons
All photographs by India Hobson
Creating the Arrangement
I wedged a watertight container into the middle of the urn, then placed some florist’s mesh wire inside and secured the top with strong waterproof tape. I then filled the container with water.
I like to create the basic shape and structure of my arrangement first with foliage. This time I used large branches of beech to allow height and movement. Eucalyptus, fennel and cerinthe to add different tones and textures.
Next I placed my taller flowers and focal flowers, following the structural lines I had already made with the foliage. The otherworldly lupins and foxgloves provide the height; garden roses and peonies made strong visual statements lower down.
Stage fright set in when it came to using the enormous bearded iris that I had been pining after on the internet. Once added they transformed the entire mood of the piece, instantly giving it more grandeur and status. It was incredible how one flower that I had never used before had the power to evoke such strong feeling.
Lastly I filled in the gaps with smaller, more delicate flowers. The astrantia, Ruby red, Sweet Tea heuchera and lysmachia added volume and aided the overall wild garden aesthetic. The Himalayan blue poppies came last. It may have been the self-induced state of euphoria setting in, but for a second the electric blue paper-like petals looked like tiny butterflies fluttering around the flowers.
The resulting finished arrangement reminds me of an old Dutch masters painting. I find it fascinating how the environment in which I worked and the kind of flowers that were available from the garden shaped the end aesthetic in this way. The experience of cutting and arranging flowers on the grounds of an English stately home influenced the arrangement in a way I hadn’t prepared for, and allowed me to create something closer to the paintings I often refer too and love so much.
I feel utterly privileged and humbled to have worked in grounds steeped in such great English heritage. To quote from Pride and Prejudice, which was in fact filmed at Chatsworth,
“Miss Bennet, there seemed to be a prettyish kind of a little wilderness on one side of your lawn. I should be glad to take a turn in it, if you will favour me with your company.”
Said by Lady Catherine De Bourgh to Elizabeth Bennet, I am now quite sure that she was referring to this cutting garden.
Special thanks to Chatsworth House
All photographs by India Hobson