Violet + the Vicarage, Hackney, London, Autumn 2016
It is unequivocally winter now. The Japanese maple in the garden has jettisoned its lemon-yellow leaves. I find them in drawers, at the bottom of buckets, little pieces of jewellery; they scuttle across the floor of the flat from room to room, like crabs, into corners and shadows.
Autumn always spills into winter this way. The sudden flip that is almost, almost, unnoticeable unless you are paying attention. Yesterday Jess and I were driving back from a foraging foray into the Chiltern Hills - it was the most magical evening weather imaginable - and we were noticing how beautiful and petrified trees look without their leaves, all the withered, twisted, dancing shapes of the bark and branches, dark against a watery sky. I wonder whether the silhouettes of winter trees look the same underground as they do above, whether the roots and branches almost mirror one another, with the line of the earth’s surface between them.
One day towards the end of autumn, we drove buckets of flowers across town to Kristin Perers' beaiutiful old vicarage. After working on a photoshoot together in the summer we were back for the styling and photography workshop hosted here with Claire Ptak of Violet’s Bakery. It was the last hurrah of the yellow maple, and of the elderflower foliage too - dark blood red, but met with the first amaryllis of the year - a curious, bittersweet moment of flowers at the point of the season-flip.
The vicarage is a dream space to arrange flowers for. Like a creaky old ship, it has a wonky charm and warmth to it that is only enhanced further by company and laughter and flickering candlelight. In the downstairs dining room beside the fire, we made a wintery little urn of mocca amaryllis - cream, with a smudge of taupe-red at the centre - and icy white ranunculus, with spindly long fingers of silverberry, pieris japonica and knotted vines of ivy from the garden.
After dark we popped over to Wilton Way and hung a green foliage garland and wreath with myrtle and cedar at the Bakery. Up a stepladder, stringing festive decorations over plates of cakes, it was the first time this year I had felt Christmassy. We drove home through a city glittering with lights eating salted caramel cupcakes.
The following day as the workshop began, the Vicarage smelt of woodsmoke and oranges. Claire Ptak and Lucy Burton prepared an extraordinarily delicious and plentiful lunch of rustic bread, an enormous section of Comté cheese, radicchio salad drizzled with dressing, marinated olives, soft-boiled eggs, piccalilli and charcuterie, among other delights.
Later, we gave a flower-arranging demo, a spilly bowl arrangement of our favourite flowers from the cold season, peppered with spindle berry and pops of citrus-y ranunculus that was later used as a still-life scene to photograph, alongside a pear and buckwheat cake of Claire’s. Claire introduced me to a tisane she buys from a little teashop in Mayfair - a few dried lemon verbena leaves infused in hot water - utter heaven. I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.
It isn’t often that Jess and I have the opportunity to teach together but it is the way we often arrange these days, in tandem, quietly, occasionally stopping to discuss colours or the inclusion of extra elements. We’ve developed this way of working fairly organically and it has produced some of my favourite work to date. We somehow assume the same role each time - I create the shape, she makes the final edit on colours, and we layer up from there.
That day we talked a bit about foraging, about how the extra, wilder elements are the ones that bring the magic to an arrangement, the quirks, the interest points. Particularly in winter, when we are past the season of using our own cut flowers, or the wispy British blooms that we’re so blessed with in such quantity earlier in the year. For me, that crescent-shaped arrangement was as much celebrating the burnt, perished roadside bracken as it was the striped amaryllis at the crest of its beauty, as much an ode to the fragile necklace of variegated leaves strung along the vine at the front as that exquisite white-eyed anemone. It is so often the strangling vines and cruel, thorned briars that elevates a vase of flowers, that creates a sculpture of the season and weather beyond the window.
So the Japanese maple in my garden that had all summer been so decidedly green-leaved, turned to the colour of parchment and, reverently, because maple is not to be pillaged often, we pruned a few branches, and this is where they ended up - immortalised perhaps, in a few photographs. And beyond the hallway window are unadorned branches that scratch at the glass pane on stormy nights and otherwise remain wanting and dormant, waiting for spring. Each time I find one of their errant citrine leaves on the floorboards I collect them into a bowl as if they were talismans, and remember the taste of lemon verbena tea.
With thanks to Claire Ptak and Kristin Perers, whose work and stories have so inspired us.