Christmas at Ted Martin Flowers

Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without going to see everyone at Ted Martin's flower shop. I call in to collect some flowers for my final workshop before Christmas. This is a special workshop as I am helping friends create advent rings for their tables and wreaths for their doors. My friend Deena also wants a special wreath for her parent's grave and feels she would like to make it herself, so I am very pleased to be able to help her to do this.
The weather is bitingly cold but the front of the shop is festive with holly trees, lanterns and wreaths. There are cerise cyclamens and scarlet roses mixed in with anemones and deep bronze chrysanthemums.
The shop is packed to bursting with a new delivery of flowers. Ted tells me that when she arrived this morning she could not actually get into the shop, so many boxes had been delivered from the market.
There are candle arrangements and tree decorations that have been made by the girls in the shop, ready for people to buy. I particularly like the hearts of red wooden beads.
Apart from the flowers for my workshop I have ordered a treat for myself. A box of tall, stately amarylis - they are the most wonderful colour, a deep plum velvet.
No time to stop for a coffee this visit, but I will be back on Christmas Eve when I might bring something a little stronger with me!

The Self Employed Ladies Christmas Lunch

Anyone who works for themselves will know how lonely it feels at Christmas when friends are heading off to their office Christmas parties and you sit around feeling like Norman No Mates. So this year my friend Hilary decided to do something about it and organise a Christmas lunch for those of us who are self employed.
So six ladies head for lunch at the White Lion in Bourton - a real mix of professions; there is Hilary who works in HR, Lucy who sells clothes and also works in TV production, Denise who is a cleaner, Sarah who is a sculptor and me.
As I had been demonstrating Christmas arrangements at Kew the night before I have some spare flowers, so put together a tiny bucket of flowers for each of my friends. I place each of the small buckets in a glass bowl so I can carry them to the lunch - then decide if I pop a candle in the middle I will have a table centre for our table too!

Cafe des Fleurs

Is there a better way to spend a Tuesday than to drive down to Rye in Sussex and visit a gorgeous flower shop that is also a cafe? I don't think so. And the sun shone for me. As Billy Kelly says, if I fell in the docks I would come up dry!
Cafe des Fleurs overlooks one of the fingers of water that push their way into the town of Rye from the sea, and is an enticing mix of flowers and gifts - and of course, cupcakes & coffee. Owner, Lucy Forrester, has read my books and has kindly said she will help me with a new book I am researching.
But first stop a cappuccino amongst the flowers.

It's not everyday you have coffee with six foot teak horse! Lucy says she saw this wooden sculpture at a recent trade show and had to bring it home with her. We discuss whether it would be undignified to hang a wreath of flowers around his neck, or maybe add some Christmassy antlers.
Over coffee we chat about the book idea (more of that closer to the time) and Lucy asks about my book Flower Shops & Friends. In this book I visit 12 beautiful flower shops around the country and as part of getting to know the florists there I ask them to tell me their favourite flowers, food, drink etc.
It is not long before we are discussing what would be on Lucy's list - so here goes.
Favourite flower: Peony (good choice)
Favourite food: Roast Beef and Yorkshire pudding
Favourite drink: Vodka
Favourite view: The sea at Camber Sands
Favourite song: Stir it Up by Bob Marley
Favourite fragrance: Scented roses
It is very easy to lose yourself amongst the flowers, gifts and Christmas decorations. I see a pink stripy heart decoration that would be perfect for my daughter Libby, but decide to wait and let her choose herself. It is a tradition that the girls and I each buy a new tree decoration every year. Now our Christmas tree is a record of all the things they have loved as they have grown up. Libby's are mainly pink and involve a lot of sparkle (my budding fashion journalist) and Alex's are mainly animals (my budding zoologist). Funny how things turn out.
Just time to take a photo of an antique bowl of roses and it is time to head home. Sadly not in the car that is now parked outside the shop - but Lucy does send me off with a box of cupcakes tied up with satin ribbon and a rose. All this and a car like that would be greedy!

A Week of Bookshops & Flowers

As we are fast approaching Christmas I had been asked by a number of bookshops and florists to conduct book signings and demonstrations for their Christmas events. So last week was a very busy week,  - but a very happy week, as I was out and about meeting new people, driving around the country with my Mini filled with flowers.
First stop on a cold winter's evening was the Old Hall bookshop in Brackley. This lovely old bookshop is situated in a Georgian house just set back from the Market Square. After demonstrating some Christmas arrangements I was kept busy signing books - including some copies of Love Pink which was written by my daughter Libby (I had been singing her praises during my talk). I explained that I shouldn't really sign them as they were her book, but the ladies of Brackley decided I should sign them 'Libby's mum'!
Next stop was Paperview in Ringwood, a great spot for a book signing as owners Trevor and Barbara are friendly with the florist next door - Patricia Taylor. So I spent the evening talking about books and drinking red wine and Patricia demonstrated flower arrangements and drank white wine. A perfect combination!
The great thing about meeting other florists is that you pick up new ideas. I would never have thought to combine cabbages and peach gerbera like this, but with cones, cinnamon, oranges and a touch of mistletoe I think it looks subtle but still very Christmassy.
Final stop for the week was an old favourite, Stourhead, the National Trust property in Wiltshire. I like to think that at the end of the day I had the most festive display!
Mixing oranges with purple or burgundy has been a favourite theme for me this year.
And even a smart glass arrangement can benefit from a bit of gingerbread!

Book Signing in Farnham

I am back at Patricia Knowles flower shop in Farnham with Emma and Hazel, and what nicer place to be on a cold wintery evening with mulled wine flowing. As the shop wouldn't be able to hold all their guests the boys across the road at Headcase barbers open up their salon for them to use. And very smart it is too with huge mirrors and old fashioned barbers' chairs. The vicar, who has popped in from the rectory next door (the flower shop is on Church Street) reliably informs me that the walls are painted Venetian Red, he recognises it as the same colour as his vestry.
One of the things I love about these evenings (apart from the wine and conversation) is I get to see different flower combinations, ones I would have never thought of. I would never have combined oranges with red roses and orchids as Emma and Hazel have done in this wreath - yet I think it looks wonderful.
As the evening draws to a close we pack all the flowers from the display on the street back into the shop. It has been a great evening, many new faces and one or two old ones, people I hadn't thought to see - which is always a pleasure.

A Great Welcome from the RHS

I arrive at the RHS gardens at Wisley ready to conduct a Christmas flower demonstration for their Plant Centre customers. The staff help me in with all my flowers and manager Nigel fetches me a cup of tea (which it turns out I am too busy to drink). Before I start the demonstration I have a quick wander around to look at all their decorations, gifts and books - quickly falling in love with their reindeer doormats!
As the evening goes on I am kept very busy arranging, talking and answering questions. One lady, who is leafing through my books spots my florist friend Jennifer, and turns to me in amazement. She had known Jennifer forty years ago but they had lost touch, and she had been wondering how to find her again. It is obviously a week for coincidences, as the previous evening I had been running a flower workshop in Cheltenham as a birthday treat for a lady, and one of her friends, Liz, spotted a house she knew in The Flower Shop book. It turns out we have a mutual friend, and further on in the book I was able to show her photographs of her.
Everyone keeps saying it, but it's true - it's a small world.
As a variation on the advent wreath, I place a vase in the centre of my hydrangea and rose hip wreath and add four candles to it.

One of my favourites; a Christmas pudding basin of flowers. Although one lady did ask me, what do I now use for my own Christmas pudding?
(The answer is easy; M&S!)

One final browse around the shop and it is time to go home, although I do spend quite a lot of time lingering over a Father Christmas snow globe. I decide I really am too old for it and don't need it so leave it on the shelf, but I can't help feeling this may have been a mistake!

Workshop with a Christmas Twist - and Cake!

The thing about visiting Chiaki and her friends, is that they do like their cake! Mariko, especially has been busy baking; there are coffee muffins, stollen, petite madeira cup-cakes and a beautifully decorated chocolate yule log. Well, this is a Christmas workshop after all!
We fill baskets with orange roses and purple anemones, And then add some pine cones and wax flower for good measure. We tuck in some glass tea light holders etched in black for a finishing touch - making sure there is no overhanging foliage to set alight.
Time for cake!
Chiaki particularly wanted her friends to make a wreath, but some of the ladies had been to other wreath making courses so I want this one to be a bit different for them.
What every kitchen needs, a wreath with added herbs, cinnamon, gingerbread and even egg cups! The good thing about egg cups is it means the roses I add will last as they are in water. You could also try this with small espresso cups.

Nurse Davies and The Railway Children

Today my friend Michelle is graduating (and as I know she is too modest to say this) she is graduating with a very good degree and at the top of her year. Michelle decided to retrain as a nurse in her 40s - not easy when you are fitting this around children and home life - but today it has all been worth it.
To celebrate her graduation Michelle is hosting a supper in a room at our local rugby club, and myself and friend Jane volunteer to set the table for her. Now this is a room that has been decorated by men, and rugby playing men at that! It is painted in strong tones of yellow and green and has bright fluorescent lighting. At first we are at a bit of a loss as to what to do, and then I remember the film The Railway Children - the scene where the table is set for Bobbie's birthday. If we just use greenery and candlelight we are sure we can transform the room. So Jane and I gather ivy, lanterns and every tea-light we can get our hands on and set to work.
We even discover a few dragonfly lights along the way!

Then the final touch; a balloon, Champagne and Michelle's favourite flowers - gerberas.
Congratulations Michelle, we are so proud of you.

The Potting Shed

I don't need much of an excuse to head up to Navenby in Lincolnshire to visit Becky at her Potting Shed flower shop. So I am delighted when she says she is organising a signing event for my latest book. Becky is the August florist in my Flower Shops & Friends book. (And no, we have no plans for a nude florists' calendar - People do keep asking!)
Becky and her assistant Fiona, have spent the previous day cleaning and planting, and the shop looks wonderful. I have already spotted something I want to take home with me for my kitchen table.
Becky's shop is a posh Potting Shed, complete with chandeliers and venetian mirrors, but part of the shop has been filled with all the paraphernalia from a real potting shed, including an old garden gate, flower pots and tin cans planted with tomato-red geraniums.
In between old china bowls planted with hyacinths and pots of vintage bunnies, I am pleased to see my latest book gets a spot. 
Those of you who have come across Becky before will recall she is a great believer that a wreath is not just for Christmas and invariably her shop door is hung with a seasonal offering. Today it is a sweet avalanche rose surrounded by late lavender and eucalyptus.
Visitors are welcomed with a glass of Bucks Fizz and lavender shortbread hearts.
And I can't resist taking a picture of my daughter Libby's book as I am sure she would approve of the setting!


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