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Flower-arranging for me is rather like peering into the fridge and wondering what there is to cook

From his home at Glendurgan, hotel florist Charles Fox

Never before has there been so much to pick and in such good condition but so little reason to pick it! Each spring I cannot quite get over the intensity of the beech tree leaves: their almost transparent pale lime green-ness. They are such an excellent foil whether it be for pale colours or intense strong colours. Or just on their own, five thin branches can be put into a 3’ high cylindrical vase and create a bower over a dining table. Hornbeam also is good, slightly stronger in form and in colour.

I try to avoid anything looking as if it’s come out of a magazine or a florist’s shop. To this end flower-arranging for me is rather like peering into the fridge and wondering what there is to cook, always looking for just a few of the best ingredients and the best way they will combine, and, for me, in a way which involves minimum effort but maximum impact. It is also important to look at the purpose and place of the final arrangement. I simply cannot stuff vases full of twigs and 50 florists’ flowers, all with their leaves on, and drive them off in a transit van to their destinations…

I look around the garden until something grabs my imagination. More often than not it’s a shrub which needs pruning: a bough which can be removed to the advantage of the plant. Alternatively I will go for flowers which are growing in abundance.

Then I look at containers. Presentation is everything and containers have an important part to play. Glass is best because it catches the light but sometimes I will use a china vase such a plumbago-blue pot I bought in a second-hand shop specifically for daffodils. Just as good if not better, it contrasts well with an acid yellow rhododendron. Some flowers, like these,  will rest on their own merit and do not need any companions: less is more. But at other times flowers can look slightly austere on their own. They appear to be hungry, and need enhancement; and that is when I will throw in anything extra I can find. I call this un-contriving contrivance. It doesn’t matter if the result looks untidy or lacking in symmetry, or if there is a clash of colours: all this gives an arrangement character and helps it to sing. One only has to think how any room is transformed by a handful of wild flowers which have been randomly picked and shoved into a jug…

A guest at the hotel was one day watching me arrange flowers. ‘You are lacking a leader’, she imperiously announced. I apologised and rearranged the flowers to create the pyramidal effect so beloved by florists. Half an hour later her husband passed me and whispered in my ear ‘Pay no attention to her. She is just the head of the flower arranging rota at Westminster Abbey’.

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