AAt McQueens Flower School, I try to get in the game. I don’t have the visual flair for it. Every time I make a bouquet, it always looks like it was picked from the median of a freeway. Principal tutor Christophe Berreterot, on the other hand, worked on the flowers for Meghan and Prince Harry’s wedding, and now presents a crisp, hand-tied bouquet with Secret Garden roses, blue eucalyptus and cotoneaster. âThe flower arrangement is a reflection of the personality,â he whispers. I watched a lot of the classic matches of the day, which in my opinion is not the required personality.
We learn to spiral the stems, rather than jamming them into a fist in a crisscrossing mishmash. It’s useful. Think about visual weight, balance and color, advises Berreterot. Anna, assistant today, places flowers on our individual tables and we get to work. I throw leaves, Christmas berries, stuff that looks like Elmo the muppet’s fingers. It’s the 4-4-2 of the flower arrangement, I think. A couple of fat guys sit in the middle of the field to hold the ball, carry long boys backstage, a bit of wispy stuff up top for the highlights. Sorted.
From installations and flower walls to event dressing and fashion shoots, floristry is arguably the the art of the Instagram era, even more than short poems, or sticking out your butt. Extravagance and evanescence make flowers a luxury currency. McQueens, which has outlets in Mayfair, New York and Seoul, still advocates for seasonal flowers. They are cheaper and last longer, while reducing air miles. They also recall that it was originally a domestic practice that anyone can try. âIf you don’t know what the season is, take a look at the front gardens,â advises tutor Sophie Powell.
My asymmetrical bouquet is wild and loose, yet overflowing with joy, like a punk wedding. Even Berreterot is impressed. I took control of the game when I started out! Everyone’s bouquets, using the same flowers, are particularly different. Our class includes a super-yacht flight attendant, someone taking a break from a career in finance, and a critical care nurse taking a break fromâ¦ well, you know. Directly in my eyes I see a living masterpiece by Ambrosius Bosschaert, already finished and hand-tied with a ribbon. It belongs to the white-haired retiree Gus, clearly an active dowser. I feel deflated.
In the afternoon, work on the vases. We put chicken wire in pots so that the mesh will hold our rods. Powell presents a sculptural “crescent moon” arrangement. The others conscientiously imitate: using the foliage to build the shape, avoiding “bald spots” or sudden drops in height. I develop the form, trying a purple side and a green side. “Do you work with groups, an almost two-tone composition?” Powell asks. More than a game of two halves I think, but don’t say it out loud. I have to admit it sounds bad. Powell skillfully transforms things, teasing the packaged buttercups, putting air between them, softening the effect with the lisianthus. âThink about negative space,â she advises, sounding like Arsene Wenger. I like to work with flowers.
The material in my hands can cost several pounds per rod. How to get started in flower arranging without going bankrupt? At the florist, advises Powell, choose a focal flower that captivates you. Choose filler flowers to surround it that complement its shape and colors. Foliage is sold by weight – much cheaper than flowers and good for bulk. Keep in mind that a filler can be a focal point – it’s all relative to what else you are working with. Flowers traditionally considered less pretty, she adds, can be at the heart of the most striking arrangements. I like this attitude.
Flowers work on me too. I whisper their names as I put them in place, the scent curling through my nose. Amaranth Red Velvet. Astrantia Rome. Peach Ranunculus. Delphinium. Sounds of ancient magic. I think of my father’s garden. I think of my mother walking through Kew and the Natural History Museum, pointing to the botanist’s scrolls. I loved those delicate old sketches, the brainchild of long-dead scientists holding pencil and pastels. Bear breeches, Milkvetch, Aster, Solidaster. Anna extends a wand of blue trumpets. “Oxypetalum,” she said, sounding like Harry Potter. It seems to me that the flower arrangement is, by any other name, bewitching.
I would be replaced though, having undone Powell’s good work. My vase seems to have antlers. My net is overcrowded and there are so many leaves below the waterline that I can see Charlie Sheen wading through it with a knife between his teeth. It is a recipe for bacterial infection. These are fundamentals, and I messed them up. “How pretty! So that’s how you group together,” Gus the bell ringer says, looking over. It’s worse than I thought.
Still, it was a perfume advertisement for a day. I’m not Constance Spry, but my eyes are open. I bring home flowers and a new language. Glad I can walk into a florist and see the possibility, rather than buying ready-made bouquets. For some, the flowers will never be just bug porn or a first-rate gift. But there is musicality in this orchestration of color, form and fragrance. And philosophy. We are also flowers, born to disappear. There is a beauty and a lesson in our brevity. Rather than the war of the roses, I feel a sense of beauty and peace. Not expensive at all costs.
Some things are alive
I look at the front gardens near my house to see what is in season. Mattress, weird socks and fox poo. It’s a hell of a bouquet.
The root subjects are really fundamental. 4/5