Flower courses at Daylesford

'Hello, this is the bouquet residence...' (c) Mandy Bradshaw

'Hello, this is the bouquet residence...' (c) Mandy Bradshaw - Credit: Mandy Bradshaw

Daylesford is about to start another season of flower courses. Last summer, Mandy Bradshaw sampled what was on offer and put together these words and pictures

Courses are held in the new Daylesford Garden Shop (c) Mandy Bradshaw

Courses are held in the new Daylesford Garden Shop (c) Mandy Bradshaw - Credit: Mandy Bradshaw

I soon decide the main problem is the size of my hands. They simply aren’t big enough. The bouquet is nowhere near finished and I’m running out of space.

Daylesford’s head florist Tina Stallard-Pearson smiles encouragingly and instructs me to just add at an angle and twist. Slowly, the flowers I’m clutching are beginning to take on the look of something that’s been arranged rather than merely hurled together.

I’ve joined seven other would-be florists on a course at Daylesford’s Garden Shop to learn how to make a handtied bouquet. Given that I’m generally more of a ‘plonk them in a vase’ type of flower arranger, I’d expected it to be challenging. In fact, I’m rather enjoying myself.

Of course, being surrounded by beautiful flowers helps. As befits an upmarket venue where the products are chosen as much for their looks as their use, the flowers are quite stunning.

Dainty pale pink rose buds, delicate white nigella with petals like a ballerina’s tutu, blowsy cream peonies, lavender with a deep purple hue, and lime green Alchemilla mollis were all familiar but I’d not encountered the small-flowered thlapsi or lilac-coloured Rosa ‘Quicksilver’ before.

We are given free rein to use whatever we want and the temptation to have something of everything is immense. But, as Tina had told us earlier, restraint is key when it comes to creating something good; using just one type of flower en masse, or sticking to shades of just one colour will work better than too many different elements.

“People try to complicate things too often with flowers,” she says.

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Then there’s the foliage. Glaucous eucalyptus and green-leaved cotinus with feathery ‘smoke’ are the necessary foil to the flower stars.

Rosa 'Quicksilver' was a popular choice (c) Mandy Bradshaw

Rosa 'Quicksilver' was a popular choice (c) Mandy Bradshaw - Credit: Mandy Bradshaw

“You actually don’t need many flowers, if you put foliage with it.”

These were all added to pieces we’d foraged earlier from the Daylesford grounds. Armed with trugs and snippers, we’d been let loose in the cutting garden and among wild flowers under orchard trees. We were even allowed to cut pieces from fruit bushes – currants that were just getting a blush of colour and thornless blackberries with delicate pale flowers.

“It’s bringing nature in from outside,” says Tina, who had earlier picked ox-eyed daisies and placed them in simple bud vases made from recycled glass to decorate our table.

The cutting garden is a new venture for Daylesford and, like the rest of the enterprise, is run on organic lines.

Tina works closely with gardener Jez Taylor to decide what should be grown to best implement Lady Bamford’s ‘theme’ for not only the shop but also its café and Daylesford’s London branch.

Roses, peonies, hellebores, scabious, foxgloves and erigeron are just some of the things being raised in long rows through weed-supressing membrane.

What can’t be grown is bought in: “A lot of flowers come from Holland. We do try to source from British growers as much as possible but in winter there’s not much in England.”

Tina is also resourceful when it comes to putting something different on show and sometimes pots up small vegetables, such as beetroot, to create displays for the café tables.

Mandy's bouquet (c) Mandy Bradshaw

Mandy's bouquet (c) Mandy Bradshaw - Credit: Mandy Bradshaw

We’d started the morning with a general chat about flowers including their language – rosemary stands for remembrance while myrtle is an emblem of marriage. Tina also explained how flower arranging has changed through the decades from the rather stiff, formal designs of the sixties when celebrity florists such as Constance Spry were working to the sort of bouquets we were going to attempt.

“It’s gone back to being more natural, looser and working with nature.”

She passed on tips for the best time to pick – early in the morning when the flowers are more likely to be full of water – and how to ‘condition’ them by standing the stems in deep, cold water for several hours to maximise their vase life.

Among the many ‘tricks of the trade’ we were given was advice for reviving wilting blooms – wrapping their heads in brown paper and standing in cool water – which also works for ‘righting’ bending tulip stems, while dipping the stems of drooping flowers into hot water was another suggestion.

Stems should be cut at an angle and always with a sharp knife, or secateurs: “You don’t want to crush the stem.” Meanwhile, vases should be clean enough to drink out of.

Thankfully, all this was summarised, along with a step-by-step run through of the method for making a handtied bouquet, and neatly placed in folders for us to take home. There’s also a recipe for homemade flower food to make our bouquets last longer and keep the water fresh.

Now, fuelled by coffee, tea and cakes that get almost as much attention as the flowers, we are ready to begin.

The first stage is sorting our material into different piles and removing any foliage that will be below the water line, as this will decompose. It’s also a good idea to have the piece of tying string cut and ready.

Then, starting with a piece of foliage, we simply add flowers and foliage a stem at a time, always at an angle and turning the bouquet, which is held in one hand, after each addition.

When it’s big enough, we tie the bouquet and trim the stems to the same level – preferably leaving the outside longer so that it will stand up – and finally, wrap it all in tissue and cellophane.

Given that we all started with the same choice of material, it’s surprising just how different our bouquets are. Some have gone for a simple mix of just one or two colours, others have chosen the brightest blooms. One of our number even manages to get her bouquet to stand, unaided, on the scrubbed pine table.

And mine? While not as ‘polished’ as Tina’s demonstration bouquet it’s a far cry from my usual rough and ready result. I’m really rather pleased.

Daylesford Farm runs a number of flower workshops throughout the year. These range from the hand-tied bouquet course I attended to foraged displays and vase arrangements.

For more details and to book, visit the Daylesford website.

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