an autumn wedding in oxford

 English Miss garden roses | Photo by Aesme Flowers

As I write it is just over a month since our friends Leo and Annabel were married in Oxford. In those few weeks they travelled to Texas and New Orleans, and flew up to New York, and flew back home again. Here, summer turned to autumn. With each night the streets grew twinklier, the leaves and temperature crisper.

In autumn dusk becomes my favourite time of the day. Some days, the days that I go into the city, I walk home from the tube, crossing Richmond Bridge and then cutting across Marble Hill park. On the corner by the church a purple smoke bush - in the summer a cloud of feathery pink - has darkened through mulberry and plum to scarlet. At this moment in the year, aside from the odd rose in a final flush, and the last few Japanese anemones, foliage takes centre stage in molten, flaming colours and streaks. The parks and gardens are vivid with colour, jewel-like berries, gleaming conkers, Japanese barberry 'rose glow' with its variegated leaves like Venetian marbled paper.

 Cutting garden flowers | Photo by Aesme Flowers

One morning I wake up and am, for a brief moment, completely disorientated. The light in our apartment is different; the bedroom is the warm colour of buttermilk rather than its usual clean, cold white. It takes me a few minutes to work out that the huge tree beyond the garden has turned a yellow lime, and the light in our living room, filtered through it, has taken on the same citrus-y glow. I stand out in the garden in my slippers with a mug of burning hot coffee and watch the steam drift up over the moss encrusted roof of the garden shed and into the sunlight.

 Autumn wedding colours | Photo by Aesme Flowers

In a week the temperature dips by several degrees. It is suddenly scarf weather. On cue Jess and I both get sick. For days on end I make the same supper - a clear soup of chopped vegetables, ginger, lemon and dill with a piece of baked fish nestled on top of a steaming pile of greenery. It's a bastardised version of Sarah Winward's 'Wilted Winter Greens' from The Kinfolk Table - essentially using up whatever vegetables are around, with a large, steaky chunk of white fish - the most cleansing, nourishing food in the world. One evening, I leave out the fish, and serve up the soup in deep bowls without much of the liquid, and then, to appease my husband who is clearly tiring of kale broth, a bread board stacked with piping croque monsieur straight from a hot pan, oozing melted gruyere and strong mustard (recipe via John Pawson & Annie Bell's Living and Eating). Lemon-clean soup and greasy fast food? A match made in heaven. 

 California poppies | Photo by Aesme Flowers
 Autumnal wedding flowers | Photo by Aesme Flowers

Back in September, our cutting garden was thick with cosmos and Californian poppies, larkspur, scabious, anemones and sweetpeas. We cut so many buckets that we had to use yoghurt pots for the overflow, rather than leave the last precious flowers of summer behind on the compost heap. A van load full came with us to Oxford where we took over our parents' house to prep for the wedding - flowers and plants gradually filling the sitting room until it was indistinguishable from a late summer garden.

 Small elegant bridal bouquet | Photo by Aesme Flowers
  Wedding at The Old Parsonage Oxford | Photo by Aesme Flowers

Annabel was terribly strict with me about her bouquet. She wanted massed roses, something very simple, very small, and very cream. I pretty much stuck to the brief, with a couple of little exceptions - those Japanese anemones, and a few Juliet sweetpeas left on the vine. Silk streamer and lace ribbon to finish. She wore a beautiful sliver of a dress and looked an absolute picture.

 Wedding at The Magdalen Arms Oxford | Photo by Aesme Flowers
 Wedding at The Magdalen Arms Oxford | Photo by Aesme Flowers

It was a very emotional wedding. I sat and watched my friends become man and wife, seated between the two best men who wept unselfconsciously thoughout, passing a handkerchief backwards and forwards between them. Snivelling at weddings is infectious, and I am rather partial to a bit of group tear-shedding myself - plus the bride is half Italian, so it went with the territory. As a bridesmaid and the florist, I had on two hats, so as soon as we had toasted the new bride and groom Jess and I tore back across town in the van to attend to the flowers for the evening do. Flowering in a figure-hugging forties number and four inch heels is no mean feat, I can tell you.

  Wedding at The Magdalen Arms Oxford | Photo by Aesme Flowers
 Wedding at The Magdalen Arms Oxford | Photo by Aesme Flowers

Dinner was c/o The Magdalen Arms in East Oxford. We had an hour to place the arrangements, tweak and fill, and we sprinkled late summer fruits along the tables, with tall tapered candles in pale pink, burgundy and cream, set in antique brass candlesticks. The space had a moody French bistro feel that afternoon after the rain, scents and sounds of cooking from the open kitchen, waitresses laying the tables and straightening napkins, and the dim lighting and library-red interiors were the perfect backdrop to that delectable, fruity palette of flowers and fruit scattered along the tables. Even now, I can remember those flowers in almost forensic detail - the cafe latte roses, each like a perfect individual mousse; flowers masquerading as dessert.

 Reception dinner at The Magdalen Arms Oxford | Photo by Aesme Flowers
 Autumnal flowers and fruits | Photo by Aesme Flowers
 Reception dinner at The Magdalen Arms Oxford | Photo by Aesme Flowers

It isn't often that we attend the events that we work on. Doing your job for people you love is a rare treat - witnessing the effect throughout the day and night; so often, of course, you leave before the party is underway. During dinner - the most delicious antipasti, followed by the sharing platters of succulent lamp and beef that The Maggie does so well - I had a vantage point across the room filled with conversation and emotion, that peculiar cocktail of relief, togetherness and elation that follows a wedding, glasses sparkling, candlelight flickering. The flowers were truly a gathering of the bounty of an English garden in early autumn, and I was proud of them, that they had been carefully sourced, many grown by us from seed, and that they accompanied perfectly the warm commotion of that happy evening, the Bacchanalian feast of food, the busy restaurant and candlelit faces. It was a rare, brief moment of genuine job satisfaction. Followed by whiskey and dancing at another Oxford institution, The Rusty Bicycle, bedecked with garden roses, dahlias and wild clematis.

 The Rusty Bicycle Oxford | Photo by Aesme Flowers