Lizzy & Giles, 26th November 2016, Trinity Buoy Wharf, East London
Our final wedding of the year on an ice-laced day in late November. Jess's 29th birthday. And for a bride dreaming of crisp wintriness and golden sunlight, a real blessing of a day - pink at dusk and dawn, and crystal-glittering clear in the hours between.
We accumulated flowers gradually as you do in winter, the week before. Hoarding roses and anemones, ranunculus, nerines, which all have their own particular schedules of opening up. Ranunculus seem to be at their most beautiful between 8 and 10 days - they arrive tight and mean-looking, nothing special, like upside down exclamation marks, and they puff out layer by layer - the transformation happening very slowly. I love them best right before they go over, when they are the size of a garden rose. Mille feuille; a thousand leaves.
Lizzy and Giles were married at Trinity Buoy Wharf, on a little boot shape of a peninsula between the East India Dock Basin and Bow Creek, where the river Lea runs into the Thames. Beside The Chainstore, where the reception dinner is held, stands the only lighthouse in London. Also, an oddly nostalgia-inducing Fat Boy's American Diner of Sliding Doors fame, which I remember my Dad taking me to for malt milkshakes in Maiden Lane, when they still had one in Covent Garden; I didn't know any of the diners had survived. South of the river, directly opposite, is the spaceship dome of the O2 and silver highrises with mercury windows, and endless scaffold structures of cranes. It's a stark, dark industrial landscape with a strange brutal beauty of its own.
Flowers are an incongrous sight on the wharfs. The eye grasps hold of them, grateful for something soft, something natural, in the face of so much concrete and metal. They are even more beautiful, more flutteringly fragile and precious, because they are utterly out of place in this very masculine environment. I love these photographs, the juxtaposition of colours and texture, the rough with the smooth.
This, I will always remember as the bridal bouquet that nearly got the better of me. The one that, for most of a morning - and I can relate this now with the benevolent benefit of hindsight on my side haha! - made me, please god, want to be anything BUT a florist, the one that made me flail my arms, yell expletives across the garden and then lock myself in my own bathroom to weep like a teenager (to which Jess simply raised one eyebrow and kept loading the van). Sometimes, I guess, this happens. Sometimes you just can't, no matter how many hundreds of times you have done it before. It's funny, because bouquets were once my most feared, least enjoyed thing to create with flowers, but I've grown to love them more than any other kind of arrangement. Now I relish that part before a wedding when I'm alone with the bride's flowers. It's a ritual, a concentrated, strange little 360° dance with the most exquisite stems of the whole wedding, and for that time, nothing else on earth exists. That day in November was a lesson in perseverance - the day of the eighth attempt bouquet - sent to keep me on my toes.
In the beautiful brick-built Chainstore, we dressed the arches with wild constellations of curving stemmed ruscus, long branches of silverberry and garden viburnum, and along the tables threaded garden roses, narcissus, anemones, snow-white ranunculus and eucharis in glass vessels, bottles and vases of different shapes and sizes - some with small, loose bunches, others with a lone stem, a single botanical specimen. And in the nearby Electrician's Shop we constructed a ceremony installation to bow from the ceiling with long vines of variegated ivy leaves, several different foliage and herb varieties and a proliferation of apricot, coffee and blush roses off-centre.
It is the day before Christmas Eve, and the end of a long, frenetic and marvellous year. Yesterday we finished up our final and biggest event of 2016 and it felt fitting to end the year surrounded by hundreds of stems of our favourite winter flowers, bone-tired, but in fired-up anticipation of all that lies in wait next year.
Last night, wrapped up against the cold, Jess and I drank a glass of prosecco in the garden looking at the Christmas tree that I haven't got around to putting up yet. We were feeling tired and unusually sentimental, talking back through our year; our first full year in business, our first season of our own-grown flowers, the long, drawn-out and arduous move back to London, all the wonderful projects and clients we have been blessed with since. We decided that, all in all, it may have been the best yet.
On my desk, amidst the detritus of bills and receipts and flower frogs and empty coke cans stands a single rose stem, too long and spindly for the wine glass it stands in. It is a 'Keira' rose, a David Austin import from Kenya. Its petals are faintly scented, debatably a rose scent, but I can't decide. At the centre of the rosette of creamy petals is a flush of pink. The outside petals are just faintly limp to the trained eye, just losing their elasticity, and soon the face will elongate, and the head will flop downwards, and that will be the end of Keira.
When people ask you what you do and you tell them you're an event florist they invariably say oh, that's the dream job, oh how wonderful to be surrounded by beauty all day long, oh I always wanted to do that. Or at least some variant of the above. But the truth is, it's hard, tiring, physically gruelling. It is forever early morning, you are forever watching your beautiful, hard-won/hard-grown product die and decay, forever seeing weeks of planning and designing torn down after a matter of hours, and then you have to get up and clear it up and get hustling again. I've realised, recently, that you really do have to do this for the love of it, and love the reality of it, the pain, the highs and lows, the peaks and troughs, the momentum. You have to be a bit of a masochist, I guess. But the upshot, to end on a positive note rather than my stream-of-consciousness-delirium-induced-diatribe ... there's always - always - something new. Something just around the corner you could never have expected. A new season, a new project, a new flower that has you dizzyingly swearing your allegiance to the cause all over again. And that's the extraordinary, humbling, crazy truth. Nature keeps on giving.
So here's to all the many Keiras of this year, and to all those roses of next, that we probably (and this is the best bit) haven't even met or conceived of yet. And to you, dear readers, for following along on our rambling journey. We wish you a very, very Merry Christmas, one and all.