It is a beautiful June day. A t-shirt and espadrille day, finally.
The better half of Aesme is at present galavanting around Scotland in a Landrover (you can see some pics of Jesse's trip on our Instagram page here), without a care in the world for the poor old minion back here in the studio, nose to the grindstone. I have had sporadic reports of lochs and botanic gardens and wee drams but - you know what? Speak to the hand.
Actually, I just miss her so much it hurts. So there's that.
May passed, all skittering leaves and stormy nights and power cuts, and incorrigibly cold for the time of year, as if spring were, on a whim, refusing to relinquish her grip to summer. I still wore riding boots most days and the evenings were chill enough for a shawl and a log fire to ease the longing for some faraway sun. I devotedly took up cooking again, because leaf sodden weather like that always makes me want to retreat to the kitchen and cook - and eat - comforting, reviving broths that warm the cockles, consolatory French toasts and delicately scalloped Madeleines, and piping hot new potatoes sauteed in a heavy bottomed pan with shallots and rosemary.
Before bed, I read food blogs and cookbooks - not one in particular, not all at once, but I dip in and out of Elizabeth David and Jocasta Innes, Sophie Dahl, Mimi Thorisson. I read a chapter, one or two recipes; recipes can be poetic pieces of writing, and I find them to be very conducive to winding down at the end of the day.
I love this excerpt from Elizabeth David's Christmas... David was a wonderful writer.
If I had my way – and I shan’t – my Christmas Day eating and cooking would consist of an omelet and cold ham and a nice bottle of wine at lunchtime, and a smoked salmon sandwich with a glass of champagne on a tray in bed in the evening. This lovely, selfish, anti-gorging, un-Christmas dream of hospitality, either given or taken, must be shared by thousands of women who know it’s all Lombard Street to a China orange that they’ll spend both Christmas Eve and Christmas morning peeling, chopping, mixing, boiling, roasting, steaming. That they will eat and drink too much, that someone will say the turkey isn’t as good as last year, or discover that the rum for the pudding has been forgotten, that by the time lunch has been washed up and put away it’ll be teatime, not to say drink or dinner time, and tomorrow it’s the weekend, at it’s going to start all over again.
When I am not reading cookbooks, I am reading the Madderlakes, or Ruth Gannon - 'a perennial border can be a veritable goldmine' - or my beloved Constance Spry, who must have been the greatest flower arranger that ever was. David Hicks also wrote an excellent book The David Hicks Book of Flower Arranging that is magnificently insightful - his arrangements, like his interiors, were divine.
Flower arranging is almost even more an act of love for me than cooking; though they concentrate on shared elements: colour, season, temperature, texture, fragrance, perishability. And ingredients; in the studio I often use a variety of fruits, as well as rosemary, myrtle, thyme, and mint. The scent of garden herbs in a bouquet is completely transportive.
Cooking, the preparation of food for consumption, and floral design, conditioning and arranging cut flowers as a decorative feature for a home or event setting, are both art forms that I am still very much at the beginning of what I suspect will be a life-time journey of study and practice. Perhaps most fascinating of all, are the ways that the techniques and ingredients vary the world over, depending on and reflecting their environment, the economy, the cultural traditions and current trends.
Dishes of food and vases of flowers are created as much for pleasure as they are for function, and they complement eachother so perfectly that perhaps it is not so surprising that I should take so much inspiration for flower arranging from the kitchen.
After studying the technical basics, and having spent two years practicing and reading every flower arranging book I could lay my hands on, I still feel that I am only scratching the surface. I have found my artistic medium in floral design because of the ingredients, because they are natural and wild and complex and nuanced (and difficult) like no other - but the process of establishing my style will, I know, take many more years yet. Maybe it will take a decade, maybe two. This, though, is the compelling point, why I have fallen so hard for this particular art form - and why I have decided to teach myself, rather than continue with the more formal training route of a further floristry qualification. The answer is to keep reading, keep arranging, keep talking to florists and growers and importers and not limit myself by cancelling anything out, whether it be a way of designing, or a particular ingredient.
(Except, Gerbera. I still cannot abide Gerbera.)
Interestingly, I think that I do have an inherently English way of working with flowers. Starting out, or even now when I am not concentrating or too tired, I revert to the English Garden style - abundant, radial, reminiscent of the meadow and the hedgerow. I don't much like it; I find it boring and limiting and constantly want to challenge myself to break from the mold. This was why I went to New York, to spend time in Sarah Ryhanen's studio at Saipua, because I so admired the artful looseness and movement in their designs, and for a while I certainly tried to emulate this in my arrangements.
In New York I had a simultaneous love affair with ranunculus and lobster rolls, and resultantly, for some time afterwards, felt dissatisfied, because - rather like when I was writing a book (unfinished, and very, very bad) and read a Margaret Atwood novel, or Donna Tartt, or Hemingway - I felt so inspired by what I had seen and learned there that I could hardly bear to continue. What was the use, when it had already been done so well? But then time passed and I kept reading and practicing and I discovered that the American way was not my way either, although I believe I took many important lessons from them.
Next was Scandinavian minimalism - glass and grasses - and then the Australians' use of colour and light. One day I should like to visit all these places I have read about - study Ikebana with a master in Japan, compare the world's flower markets.
Everywhere I go now I am always thinking about flowers.
Well, flowers and food.