Tonight was the monthly meeting of my garden club. The topic was cut flowers, and I'd assumed it would cover what we could grow at home to pick, lists of useful perennials, annual varieties for cutting, and so on. Instead it turned out to be mainly a demonstration of flower arranging.
I am not really a devotee of the floral arts, especially when props and weirdly twisted lengths of twig start being involved. It was an awful disappointment when we went to Salisbury cathedral and the interior was cluttered up with flower arrangements. Plonking some cut stems in a jug is about as far as I normally get, and even then I have to be careful with the design of the jug and where I put it, or a cat will knock it over. Traditional straight sided pitchers with a base wider than the top are just about OK, but the tall, rectangular Rosenthal vase with a barley sugar twist in it has to sit on the mantel piece.
It is oddly fascinating watching somebody else stick stems in oasis and twist phormium leaves into loops, even when you are fairly sure you are not going to do it yourself. The first arrangement was one the florist had done for the Royal Box at the Derby, or rather designed on the same principle, which was that you stuck an enormous number of mostly fairly dainty flowers vertically into a round of oasis, beefed up with a few tulips, until it looked like an ultra-floral version of Durer's Great Piece of Turf. I was fairly sure I wouldn't be copying the band hiding the side of the oasis block, which had overlapping Stachys byzanitina leaves stuck to it like fish scales, but sticking the stems into the oasis didn't look difficult, and an arrangement using an assortment of this and that sounded easier to achieve than one requiring numerous large perfect flower heads.
The next arrangement was described as being more contemporary, which meant five each of globe allium heads and tulips backed by twisted phormium leaves, in a home made cellophane and oasis container covered in bullrush leaves. I think the point of casing the whole contraption in cellophane is that then you can give it away without having to explain to the recipient that the flowers are a gift but actually, when they die you'd like the container back. I was fairly sure I would not be arranging alliums and tulips in a vertical column, and absolutely certain that I would not be surrounding them with rehydrated pink water retaining granules.
The final demonstration was of a hand-held bouquet, one of those things that an expert makes look easy and is almost certainly pretty difficult without a lot of practice. You choose a central stem then arrange the rest of the flowers and foliage in a spiral around it, so that the flowers fall out from the centre in a graceful fashion while their stems splay outwards like the head of a besom broom. Tied securely at the waist, if you can then manage to cut the stems straight through it will stand up on the squared-off ends. Dressed with several layers of thin glittery fabric and cellophane, and with the stems tied into another big square of cellophane filled with water, it becomes a go-anywhere bouquet with its own inbuilt jug. I was impressed, but will probably still be taking hostess presents of eggs or honey rather than hand tied bouquets for the foreseeable future.
Then we were all given a little pot of sandy compost and invited to take our own cuttings from the pots of reliable, almost cast iron guaranteed plants brought along. We'd been warned beforehand to bring sharp knives, which had me hunting around for my gardening knife. I'd done my best to sharpen it before going out and had doubts about the quality of the edge, but it sliced through my chosen two stems of Monarda 'Saggitarius' very well. I am a coward about using a gardening knife and was completely hopeless at my brief introduction to grafting at Writtle because I was always scared of cutting my thumb, but the Monarda was very soft and I managed to tidy the stems into presentable cuttings while holding my pot of compost between my knees without mishap. Some organised person had even brought small plastic bags for us to cover out pots of cuttings before going home.
The final touch was to raffle the three flower arrangements, tickets being dished out free and gratis, one each, and as my number was second out of the basket I am now the proud (or at least amazed) owner of the Great Piece of Turf. Not being a regular user of oasis I really didn't know how much to water it when I got home, and so at the moment it is rather inelegantly displayed on a thick pile of newspaper on a large plastic bag, so that I wouldn't find in the morning that I'd watered the dining table. It will be very interesting to see how long the various components survive. I can imagine the olive twig and the tulips might do quite well, but I never imagined parsley leaves as material for flower arranging, and the cowslips were wilting before I left the hall.