Autumn. Chimney smoke and windfall apples and Catherine wheels. I make excuses to drive around the city at this time of the year. I could drive and drive for hours, twisting and turning, mapping all the little lanes and streets. London is exceptionally beautiful right now, particularly at twilight - shadowy and glittering, red brick and orange leaves and smoky allotments, grey stone, glowing street lamps. So very ancient and yet so new, so futuristic. I'm in love with it, I take a different route home every day, looking for ways to get lost.
These are some flowers we did for a client's drinks party in September at her new apartment in Whitehall. Some apartment, too, right on the river with huge windows filled with the perfect circle of the London eye on the opposite bank. It's such a privilege when we are trusted to go to town with our own ideas for the materials and colours. The studio filled to the brim with goodies up from the garden and we foraged wild fruiting branches and rose briars from the field hedgerows. We drank tea and made arrangements all day, taking our time, speckling them with those delicious 'Summer Fruits' scabious, velveteen chocolate cosmos, pheasant's bush hanging over the lips of the vases like intricate pieces of jewellery, and drove over to Westminster to place them a couple of hours before the guests were due to arrive. I saw my reflection in the polished glass of the gleaming lift up to the apartment - a very messy bun appearing over a large ceramic vase exploding with flowers, scruffy baseball boots protruding beneath onto a carpet far more accustomed to Ferragamo. It was a brief moment of surprise and elation. Tiredness/dirtiness aside I stood there, arms aching, and thought how bloody lucky am I?
It's that point in the year when the hedgerows are still tumbling with honeysuckle and garden roses are likewise plentiful, but the blackberries are withering, the clematis going to seed. Days of undecided weather, wintry mornings melt into afternoons just as warm and mellow as late summer. Regardless of fluctuating temperatures, I buy a new coat. It is a soft, cinereous marl alpaca, the colour of cinder flakes, and it is so beautiful I have only had the courage to wear it out once. In the autumn I think about clothes more than any other season. I daydream about mustard cable-knit cardigans and guernsey jerseys and corduroy. In reality I've worn the same thing every day since September - a pair of Margaret Howell dungarees in a deliciously soft navy drill that my husband gave me for my birthday. Workwear is a prerequisite in this line of work but Margaret Howell workwear is the cat's pyjamas and lasts forever and a day.
This time of the year is full of strange, disorientating energies, creative but somehow also destabilising. Driving home last week I was stopped in traffic on Kew Bridge. Looking east up the river, the Harvest Moon hung low in the sky, a fiery orb reflected in the lapping water. It seemed powerful, as though the light it gave off was magnetic, but perhaps I was just tired and delirious.
Some evenings I walk the dog through Marble Hill and across the park. The leaves have started to fall, the dusk has a witchy wind that picks them up swirls them through the air in little eddies and Mavis hurries after them, leaping and pouncing, her little black eyes glinting with the thrill of the chase. One night a bonfire has been lit in one of the gardens along Orleans Road and I watch the blue smoke drifting through lemon-yellow leaves.
How beautiful is this arrangement above that Camille made? That flaming poppy nestled next to the pale dahlia and blush pink, it's just SO good.
We had a pretty magical time getting deep into exploring the Dutch Masters with Lia who was over from the States and came to spend a couple of days with us for a 1:1 (correction, 2:1 - or if you count Mavis, 3:1!) With over twenty years experience as a floral designer it was inevitably more of a collaborative session but such a welcome excuse to experiment with scale, composition, dense layering and prop styling to evoke the rich, moody abundance of the still life paitnings of the Dutch Golden Age. We bravely undertook an extremely wet cutting garden trip together to gather flowers and battled the elements for wild foliage and vines to bring back to the studio.
Look at the contrasting textures of the petals on that Cafe au Lait dahlia from the garden - almost as if it has been gently streaked with a fine brush dipped in pink paint - with the feathery clematis and spikiness of the horse chestnut casing. I love those dwarf strawberries, the little peachy potentilla 'belly button', the drama of the Californian poppy falling towards the table with its undercarriage like crimped silk.
Some of my favourite still life paintings of this period are the simplest and the smallest - the exquisite Still Life of Apple Blossom by Simon Verelst, Still Life with a Lemon and Pink Roses by the Dutch painter Cornelis Kick (both in the extensive collection at the Ashmolean museum in Oxford, where Lia was heading on to after our class). The latter inspired us to try the unravelled-lemon-rind-thing and I think the effect is so beautiful. Highly realistic, the somber paintings of the Dutch Golden Age were chock-full of moralistic 'vanitas' symbols - skulls, decaying fruit, withered leaves, wisps of smoke, mushrooms and insects, dead game, birds and fish - intended to symbolise the transience and futility of earthly life. In theory they should be depressing but instead are exquisite and, of course, impractical to recreate, the arrangements impossibly containing flowers from every season together in one quixotic scene. Styling little tableaus with flowers is a lot of fun and something we haven't done in a while - we hooked up the darkest backdrop we have, and played with carelessly crumpled fabric, scattered food, near-empty wine glasses, each set-up a small, private universe of its own.
These little bunny tails were sent to us by the lovely Nina of English Country Roses (very sadly no more now that she is emigrating to Australia at the end of the year). Nina has been the most incredible supplier this year - 100% reliable and always including interesting little extras in among our boxes of garden roses - local cherries in the summer, blushing autumn apples, beautiful grasses and reeds. We are really going to miss her and her beautiful flowers.
Towards the end of September we were joined by Alice from Sydney for a two-day workshop. Alice had spent the summer working for various UK growers and designers and was heading back home not long after. Her time with us coincided with the elder turning, which is always an anticipated moment - so decidedly green all summer, they wash out to the most delicious muted yellows, nude-pink and copper in September and October.
Alice's centrepiece design combined elder and dogwood foliage with the glowing globes of Romantic Antike roses and pearly brown lisianthus from Japan, which we're going to try to grow in the garden next year - apparently they are challenging but worth a try. We made bouquets with some of the last of the summer flowers from the cutting garden - frilly scabiosa, little thin stems of gaura, ammi, cosmos and calendula. The foliage at this time of the year is the best, because it isn't a uniform green - the dog rose is fading out, some stems are a vivid lime, some pistachio.
Pink and red isn't a palette we often work with - it's not a usual choice for brides because there's the adage that they aren't 'complimentary colours'. Increasingly though I find that really almost any colours can blend together if they are used in the right way, and with the right foliage. So here's a red, pink and brown concoction for you which personally I think is kinda perfect for this time of year, the slow cycle of moving from pale to the rich darkness of winter. For this feathery little installation we used a base of dogwood, dried buddleia, wild rose and mixed grasses - pampas, miscanthus, sea oats and meadow grasses that grow wild around the garden, roses moving from pale to that sumptuous Beauty and the Beast Falstaff.
Autumn doesn't last long. There's the anticipation of it, from late July all through August and its my favourite season of all but there are really only a few weeks of that distilled, smoky autumn weather before the frosts come and the garden is fallow again for a time. For these few weeks there is chestnut roasting and sparkler swirling and new cardigans and candlelight and before long my beloved Japanese maple through the French doors will have paled to that citrine colour that spells the close of another long season of our enchanting garden flowers. But not yet - not quite yet. For now the branches remain an adamant, tender green and not one single leaf has fallen.