It is mid September and blustery weather in London; the wind has whipped the heat away and the leaves are beginning to fall. In my garden the Japanese maple remains resolutely green with the exception of three citrine leaves - every year I watch them turn and tumble with a certain sense of melancholy that the summer is over, mingled with anticipation for the new season. Many years have passed since the days of packing our trunks to be dispatched back to school for the new term but the feeling has never quite left me, this time of the year is always evocative of goodbyes and new leather shoes and a slight sense of anxiety. I think of late summer as being a season unto itself - the serotinal period - and that autumn really only lasts about six weeks before we’re into the festivities pre-Christmas and then the long trudge of those first months of the year. It is the most beautiful time of the year in England, shifting colours, mellow warmth and the scent of drifting bonfire smoke and windfalls.
Down at the cutting garden the cosmos and amaranthus are head-high, the dahlias and roses still flowering abundantly. The hedgerows are jewelled with rosehips and gleaming berries and the tomatoes are ripening on the vine faster than we can eat them. We bring overflowing flower pots of the fruits back with us twice a week; they go into almost every dish I cook - open tomato sandwiches with basil, tricolore salads, baked with fish or with eggs for brunch. I’ve been making a Nigel Slater recipe a lot - orecchiette with roasted tomatoes until they are blackened, lots of garlic and basil and a little cream. Its so good and a little too moreish.
Another month and we’ll be coming to the end of the growing season. This week boxes and boxes of bulbs arrived at the studio for planting into our new polytunnel. Narcissus, fritillaria, ranunculus. We are growing far greater quantities next year than we ever have before and its so exciting to hold a bag of crispy bulbs or gnarly corms and imagine where those flowers will end up and as the diary gets busier for the spring and early summer, specifically who they will be for. But for now I am hoping for an extended, warm autumn, that elusive ‘Indian summer’, so that we can revel in the roses for as long as possible…
August was a busy month but not quite as hectic as the earlier part of the summer; we had breathing time between each project and a healthier amount of sleep. The cutting garden was prolifically productive - so many wonderful ingredients, as though the plants were giving it that ‘final push’ before the season-turn. I wonder whether other growers anthropomorphise their gardens in this way too? I feel like we are always talking to, and attributing an almost human effort to our plants, they are commonly ‘he’ or ‘she’ depending on the variety; “she’s doing so well!”, “look at her go!” or occasionally “come on you bastard” (usually reserved for the invasive weed or particularly thorny specimens).
Late August we decorated a wedding in Herefordshire for the sweetest couple, Rhona and Joseph. I do so love a road-trip - packing up and getting on the move with all your kit and tools, an overnight bag of bare essentials and a lot of flowers and plants. Dewsall Court is just this side of the Welsh border, a homey country house in idyllic rolling countryside with views over the Black Mountains. The house completely lacks the ‘conveyor-belt’ feel of a lot of wedding venues - it is beautifully decorated and appointed, and is still imbued with the feeling of being a family home. Plus the gardens and outbuildings are all exquisitely well cared for - and the little church at the bottom of the garden is an ancient, shadowy delight. We created an asymmetric arch climbing up the wooden porch sprinkled with garden roses and dahlias, pampas grasses, Japanese anemones, amaranthus and tobacco flowers.
In the barn we hung garlands of foliage, dahlias, roses, Japanese anemones and wild clematis vines from the beams, highlighted with lime-y bramble leaves and orange rosehips. Autumnal hues from dusky pinks through rust and gold to burgundy decorated the tables with flowers at varying heights in smoky blue and amber bottles, with the open flames of tall tapered dinner candles dancing above. Later that evening we checked into our Airbnb in Hereford which turned out to be the very roomy and stylish first floor of a Victorian villa on the slopes of the town overlooking the cathedral, and after luxuriating in hot showers we all walked down into the centre to find some food. After a wedding, and especially following a long day that began hours before dawn, you really want something carb-y and preferably meaty, like a steak or spaghetti bolognese, followed by a very early night. We happened to stumble upon a great little burger joint run by A Rule of Tum - and honestly, it was pretty spectacular, and I’m not even a burger person - sweet, glazed brioche rolls, Hereford beef, caramelized onions and rosemary fries. Sometimes when you have no expectations you stumble upon little treasures and have an ‘accidentally’ memorable meal - this was one of those nights. We ate and wandered sleepily back to our comfy digs. I think we were all out cold by 9pm.
A couple of days later and we were back in London with a studio of freshly cut flowers for Kat and Tom, who had an intimate wedding with friends and family in the City. I adore restaurant weddings, there is something very cool and informal and sexy about them, and The Kitty Hawk was a fun venue to decorate - industrial and ambiently lit, with an open kitchen and marble bar-top along the back of the restaurant, and floor-to-ceiling windows at the front overlooking the street.
I’ve been obsessing over this slightly off combination of pink, coffee and red ever since - the merging of girly-romantic with muted and tasteful, and that injection of the seductive, glaring red.
The very elegant Nixie joined us for a two-day class from Jakarta, just at that point in the year when the elder leaves began to redden and curl. For a few weeks we harvest them obsessively, tramping along the Hampshire hedgerows with long clippers looking for the most interesting, curving branches, the colours ranging from a creamy yellow to flesh pink, copper and raspberry.
Arrangements can be so deliciously textured and nuanced at this time of the year. In the herb-bed the spearmint leaves are fading and have that almost dusty texture, there are panicum grasses like fireworks and the feathery metallic pink fronds of miscanthus. One of my favourite flowers at the moment are the zinnias, so tall and robust and full of complicated colour combinations that make them such a useful ingredient for ‘bridging’ within a palette.
On the first day of September we held our ‘Tableau’ class at the studio, experimenting with composition to create autumnal urn arrangements and styling them against a cloudy green-black backdrop with swathes of fabric and seedpods, candles and fruit. In comparison to the hell-for-leather nature of working on events, days like this feel like a creative reset - a collaborative, artistic retreat, time to luxuriate in the process of making without having to glance at the clock. Creating an image; beauty for beauty’s sake.
Teaching is becoming such a joy now with the garden producing in such abundance and the studio renovations finished. And we’re meeting so many wonderful people from around the world - just recently we’ve had Abigail from Tasmania, Constance from Malaysia, Latifa from Qatar, Anne Marie from Canada. These are some of our favourite days, sharing the best of what the garden and surrounding fields have to offer that week, making yummy lunches, talking flowers and growing, business and start-ups, films and fashion and music. Everyone makes something completely individual and we’re learning how to be flexible teachers and to adapt our instruction to each class which is always different to the last - some people are experienced florists who just want to experiment with new ingredients and spend a day of creative play, others are beginners who need step-by-step tuition, some want to explore styling or achieve a certain image for their portfolio, others want to focus on quotes and pricing, or on mechanics and building foam-free installations. The common theme is that each day is collaborative and convivial, we listen to a lot of BB King and Nina Simone and we drink a lot of tea. Like, a lot.
I suppose I can’t sign off without mentioning the most important of recent happenings, which is that Jess and Ben were married last weekend and are currently off-grid in deepest darkest Cornwall, no doubt enjoying many a crab sandwich and wind-whipped coastal walk, a little ‘mini-moon’ before their voyage to India in the New Year. It was such a lovely, low-key day - the perfect autumnal sunshine, chic suits, an exquisite bouquet (Jess, cool as a cucumber, made her own the afternoon before - a massed concoction Julia’s roses, elder and little lilac asters), a long Italian lunch and a wonderful, wild party at the studio with a lot of dancing and cocktails and delicious little Middle-Eastern canapes - and a lot of love. The wonderful Naomi Goggin was taking photos so I’m hoping I can sneak a few onto Instagram at some point in the next few weeks…
I’m heading off for a little sunshine and calamari and swimming in the Aegean next week, hurrah! - before we start work on our autumn weddings and classes. Speaking of which, we are holding our last ‘garden-grown’ Intensive Design Workshop of the year on the 5th and 6th October at the studio, for which we have two tickets left. Over the two days we’ll be covering the key aspects of floral design for events, from bridal bouquets to centrepieces, large-scale urn arrangements and the mechanics of foam-free installations. This is our last of these workshops until April when the growing season begins again. If you’d like to join us please book in via the website; we’d love to see you there!
Looking forward to being back in a couple of weeks full of vim and vigour and sharing our exciting October projects with you all. In the meantime, wishing you a wonderful, productive and delicious season of mists.