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 Jess' trip on our Instagram page here), without a care in the world. I have had sporadic reports of lochs and botanic gardens and wee drams. Back home, I miss her.
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 Constance Spry. 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 a gerbera.)