The Flower Festival: An English Country Garden

Fiona Pickles sets the floral scene at Castle Howard

Fiona Pickles sets the floral scene at Castle Howard - Credit: Archant

Forgotten and less well-known plants are the focus of the Castle Howard flower festival this month

‘Every top restaurant talks about how their food is sourced locally, but so many of the flowers we see today – in supermarkets and florist alike – are imported and force-grown to create perfect long stems and incredibly vibrant colours,’ says Fiona Pickles the creative director of the fifth flower festival to fill the halls of Castle Howard in North Yorkshire.

‘Consequently, traditional British flowers are often overlooked in this unnatural pursuit of perfection. Plants that naturally have wonky stems and leaves that have been nibbled by insects have a natural beauty that reflects the countryside in which you find them.’

She aims to help visitors rediscover forgotten British flora, with a focus on less well-known but equally appealing flowers that have been grown in this country for hundreds of years, bringing the natural beauty of the Howardian Hills right into the house itself.

Fiona is working closely with Castle Howard’s own gardens team to source foliage, twigs and sculptural aspects for arrangements in every room, corridor and public space in the house, but has a unique plan to work with her network of artisan flower growers and arrangers around the country to deliver her ambitious plan. ‘For this concept to work, we can’t simply go to flower markets to source these native varieties, but when I’ve reached out to flower growers and florists around the country who specialise in this natural approach, over 50 people have come forward with offers of help,’ says Fiona. ‘They will collect the unusual flowers from the artisan growers along the way – a superbly sustainable approach – and arrive with blooms and enthusiasm ready to pitch in.’

This approach may be many florists’ nightmare – making planning far more difficult, as weather conditions right up to the flower festival itself will influence what flowers are available – but it plays to Fiona’s strengths. In fact, it is why her work has been featured in Vogue magazine, and she has been named by the Daily Telegraph as one of the top 20 creative florists in the country. To add to the challenge, she avoids using floristry foam – the hidden substance which flower arrangers usually use to keep flowers firmly in place and hydrated – wherever possible. ‘I’d much rather use moss, wire, hidden water-filled jars and tubes to keep the flowers in good condition,’ she says. ‘There is a huge movement towards a reduction of the use of plastics in all walks of life, so we try to limit using this unnatural substance in our natural creations when we can.’

Alongside installations in the house, the festival will include a series of talks, demonstrations and workshops from local professional growers and arrangers, with a focus on English grown flowers and tips for visitors to grow their own cutting garden. Caroline Beck at Verde Flowers will highlight the importance of buying British as part of her ‘Grown Not Flown’ talk alongside Jonathan Moseley’s talk as UK Ambassador for British Flowers. Katie Kearns from Flower Show Presents will be hosting informative and fun headdress and arrangement workshops.

The Flower Festival: An English Country Garden, Thursday, June 28th-Sunday, July 1st. For more details, visit

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