Florist Jonathan Moseley on designing for Chatsworth and judging the ‘Big Allotment Challenge’

Jonathan Moseley in the Big Allotment Challenge (Photo: BBC Pictures)

Jonathan Moseley in the Big Allotment Challenge (Photo: BBC Pictures) - Credit: Archant

Derbyshire Life meets Jonathan Moseley, who is the sole designer for Chatsworth’s annual ‘Florabundance’ extravaganza and floral expert on the BBC’s Big Allotment Challenge

The Dining Room at Chatsworth with exquisite floral table decorations

The Dining Room at Chatsworth with exquisite floral table decorations - Credit: Archant

When did you first know floristry was the thing for you and how did you become a florist?

Florabundance in Chatsworth's Painted Hall

Florabundance in Chatsworth's Painted Hall - Credit: Archant

My love affair with flowers began as a small child. My granddad was a great gardener and I was always gathering bunches of flowers on country walks. I was also intrigued by growing plants – sowing seeds and then waiting for the gift of them flowering so that I could cut them and bring their wonderful colour and fragrance indoors. My parents gave me a greenhouse as a birthday present when I was 11 and I won my first competition when I was 12.

no caption needed

no caption needed - Credit: Archant

I love the creativity that designing with flowers affords and the fact that all your creations are transitory, therefore you can keep experimenting and developing your creativity by planning and executing new designs.

A design incorporating 'tricky' sunflowers

A design incorporating 'tricky' sunflowers - Credit: Archant

Floristry is hard work and nowhere near as glamorous as people perceive but it is a wonderful career in which you are constantly surrounded by beautiful plant material.

I really fell into floristry after leaving university. My passion for flowers reignited and I realised it was something that I was naturally gifted at and that it could develop into a rewarding and exciting career choice. In hindsight it was a natural choice, although at the time I did feel pressured to use my academic abilities to pursue what was considered a more befitting career.

How did the latest Florabundance event at Chatsworth and your appearance on the Big Allotment Challenge come about?

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Instigating the annual floral event at Chatsworth has been a fabulous experience. It takes a tremendous amount of planning and organisation to deliver. I plan it as a military exercise but I am always thrilled to see the final transformation of the magnificent interiors enhanced by spectacular flowers, all delivered with floral theatricality and they are certainly larger than life!

I was thrilled to have been approached to become the Floral Expert on The Big Allotment Challenge as I knew I had the opportunity to bring the world of arranging flowers to a much wider audience via the magic of the silver screen. I also feel the show gives the message that anyone and everyone can grow and then arrange flowers and it can be a hugely rewarding hobby which everyone can enjoy.

Tell us about taking part in the TV programme

Filming throughout last year’s spectacular warm and sunny summer was a real treat. I felt very lucky to be working in the stunning location of the walled garden at Mapledurham, surrounded by an amazing array of beautiful flowers. It really was a little piece of heaven on earth. The crew and contestants were all such wonderful people and I am sure the magic of the location combined with the simple and satisfying feel-good factor that gardening created made everyone more relaxed and calm. Naturally we were working long hours and to tight schedules but it was all very harmonious.

Presenting the timed challenges was really tough, especially to people who on the whole had no floristry knowledge. Also it was a really big ask for them to have to create all the floral challenges from garden grown materials – it is all subject to the weather conditions, pest and disease, plus the temperatures on some of the filming days was remarkably hot.

I felt the topiary tree challenge was the most demanding as it requires engineering to ensure the design does not topple over. Also sunflowers are a heavy clumsy flower to arrange, so it really made the contestants sweat as they battled to think about the mechanics of making the structure and then also impressing me with a creative and visually pleasing floral design.

Is there a revival of interest in growing produce and self sufficiency?

I think people have once again become interested in ‘growing your own’. People also want to know where their food is being produced and also ethical and environmental factors are a big concern. As is often the case in times of uncertainty and financial challenges, people have reacquainted themselves with the simple pleasures of gardening, flower arranging and other domestic crafts. Councils are witnessing huge demands for allotments and there is something charming about getting in contact with the soil and the magic of nature as a sown seed germinates. A little time and effort results in a wonderful vegetable or a splendid flower. From sowing a packet of seeds you get so much for very little investment.

What do you enjoy most about floristry?

I love the fact that no two days are ever the same, my job description (should I ever write myself one!) would be so diverse.

I am constantly lucky to be offered some amazing commissions and enjoy working with the most fabulous flowers. Career highlights have been demonstrating at Chelsea Flower Show – in 2012 I designed a spectacular 20ft square NAFAS stand based on Monet’s garden – and I will be back demonstrating at Hampton Court Flower Show in July after representing the UK in June as the international demonstrator at the 11th World Flower Show. It’s held every three years and this year it is being staged in Dublin.

Have you a favourite design style?

I love the informality of massed garden-style urn designs, wonderful frothy exuberant flowers arranged naturally and informally – always guaranteed to ‘wow’ even the most sceptical of viewers!

What makes a good florist?

To be successful as a florist you need a very strong work ethic and the resilience to work extremely long hours, always under pressure. By its very nature our job has to be last minute and we are always battling to deliver against the clock. People also have to be creative – without creativity you can only ever copy and you need to be able to experiment and dare to be different. Speed in workmanship is essential, and it is hard for those entering into the industry to realise that you have to work speedily yet deliver work of a high standard – the pain on your poor old back and feet is the toughest thing to get used to!

Is there a piece of equipment you couldn’t manage without?

My florist’s knife.

Where do you look for inspiration for your arrangements?

I am always inspired by nature and the seasons, the natural world is the best source for inspiration. When out walking with the dogs I love the contours of the landscape, the structure of the bare tree branches in winter, the vivid lime greens of spring or the rhythmic lines of a ploughed field.

Gardening or flower arranging – which is your favourite?

Gardening is a pleasure, floristry is my work. It would be hard to separate the two as for me they are intrinsically linked. To understand how a plant grows, to study its needs and nurture its success in the garden aids my floristry. By understanding the plants then you can arrange them better. I know many florists who have no interest whatsoever in gardening. They buy in flowers and have no idea of growing plants, this mystifies me and saddens me too. I was after all a gardener first and by growing flowers I began this journey of arranging them.

What do you think is the hardest flower to grow?

Wow, there are so many, and it is so dependent upon your soil and the location where you garden. I actually think to grow good showbench standard roses is tough, especially here in Derbyshire because the weather can be so inclement.

What are your favourite flowers?

I adore the humble snowdrop. It is the first flower of the year and looks so feeble and innocent yet braves and withstands our harshest weather.

I also love all the herbaceous, cottage garden style of flowers, such as lupins, delphiniums, aquilegias, campanulas and hollyhocks. Although to be honest I love all of them at the different times of year. Hyacinths in spring, lily of the valley for scent and sweet peas too... bold bright zinnias in summer, oh and alliums and... my list is endless. Yes, I admit it – I am a flower addict.

If you’ve never tried flower arranging before what’s a good way to start?

Just have a go, experiment with looking at different shapes and textures within flowers, mix and match colours to see what works together. Become confident with a few tried and tested containers and allow your confidence to build by working out which flowers work best in them. My top tip would be don’t over-complicate and allow the natural beauty of the flowers to shine through.

To take part in one of your courses, at Chatsworth or at your Flower School, how much experience do you need?

None, I teach everything from birth to death! I demonstrate all the required skills and techniques, and then I am there throughout to guide you through the tasks. I love teaching people; I’ve done it now for well over 20 years and it thrills me to see people’s confidence grow as they create magnificent designs.

Does a future in television beckon?

I would love to continue to get the floral message out there, certainly 2014 is proving to be an exciting year on many levels and there are a number of splendid projects that I am involved with. Television is a wonderful medium that encourages people to have a go at trying new skills or developing a new hobby. Arranging flowers seems to have been forgotten, so perhaps I can help reignite interest in what is a most enjoyable hobby.