Happy Christmas One and All!

There is nothing like a trip to London at Christmas to get you in a festive mood.
So the girls and I decide on a day out for some shopping, a bit of chatting, some more shopping, a spot more chatting (you get the idea!) and then off to see a show. And in my opinion there is no better place to start than Fortnum & Mason on Piccadilly.
Until recently I thought of Fortnum & Mason solely as a food shop.
How wrong I was!
If you are in London and want to spend a gloriously girly hour, I suggest taking the lift to the top floor in Fortnums and then wandering slowly down through the departments. There are heavenly fragranced toiletries, sumptuously silken lingerie, Doris Day hats and gloves and banks of exquisite stationery. This is a soft carpeted world of understated, undiscovered, luxury. On the way through the store there are enticing spots to stop for coffee - or in our case a brunch of mini pastries, muffins and smoked salmon and scrambled egg, served with freshly squeezed juice and fabulous coffee (all for a very reasonable price).
The ground floor is an Aladdin's cave of all things foody. But make sure you leave some time to sweep down the circular staircase to the basement, as this is where the flowers live.
Using as much home grown as they can, this is a deliciously English display of blooms and bouquets.
And what better place to be (with a very big smile on my face ....flowers ...Fortnums ...a day with my girls) to be wishing you all a VERY happy Christmas.

Now for Something Completely Different!

Not a flower in sight. But instead lots of festive candy canes & sweets.
When I am not being a florist and photographer I fundraise for a children's charity, Hope and Homes for Children. At their head quarters (grand name for the converted pig farm that houses the charity!) there is a fierce competition being waged for which office can have the best Christmas decorations. I immediately emptied my garage of vases and baubles for the cause. But my daughters, when they heard about it, went one step further and decided to make the Fundraising Office a gingerbread house. How can we fail to win?!
The only problem I have is that we are currently snowed in so we may have to eat it before the judging!

Snowy Hedge Rose

I have decided the best thing to do is to give into the snow and just enjoy it.
And it is SO Christmassy!
I have both my girls home. We have logs in and food in (and the odd bottle of wine) so I am one happy Mum.
As I drive (very slowly) on snow packed roads to Kate's new shop, Rustic Rose, to collect some flowers for a flower workshop I am running for some friends, my daughter Alex is out and about with a camera. These are some of her shots.

Further north in the town of Marlborough, another florist friend, Kate, is getting ready for Christmas.
Kate used to have a small shop in the potting shed of a local nursery, but earlier this year she took the plunge and moved into a shop near the centre of Marlborough.
I love Kate's idea of filling the base of a large vase with cones, cinnamon and oranges.
Kate's shop, Hedge Rose, looks beautiful, and oh so gorgeously festive.
Kate has been sourcing a lot of her foliage from Cornwall, including these plump swags, perfect for mantelpieces. The shop is scented with a delicious combination of pine, fresh flowers and the soaps and toiletries Kate stocks.
It is a snowy, frosty day here too, so we are both wrapped up against the cold. But the icy temperatures and sharp weather cannot put a dent in Kate's Christmas spirit or the obvious pride she takes in her new shop.
In between chatting to customers Kate and I makes some plans for the new year, when I hope to be back to conduct a talk called Paint Pots & Petals - which is all about how to use flowers to help decorate your home.
But that is for another year. For now I just enjoy Kate's shop and make a note of a few festive tips that I know I will be borrowing from her.
That, and pausing to enjoy the coffee and cake.
....some things never change!

Snow was Falling, Snow on Snow

To my mind, there are few more welcoming sights than a candlelit flower shop on a cold crisp winter's night.
I am back at Knighton Flowers in Leicester for a book signing. And my journey up here has been past frozen fields and white, shrouded hedges.
The shop is scented with a spicy mix of blooms, fragrant candles and mulled wine.
There are canapes from the local restaurant - and on my 'signing' table a huge plate of chocolates.
I met Natasha, Michelle and their assistant Stuart when they helped me with photographs for my most recent book. Many of the shots we took on that day found their way into the pages, and I was very grateful for their enthusiasm and skill with the styling.
And of course, the cake they had fed me during my visit!
Pretty in Pink
With snow still fairly thick on the ground, a flower shop can be a cold place to be. So Natasha is taking no chances.
Knighton Flowers is a festive mix of deep reds and bronze with juicy, citrusy highlights.
Even the bath bombs look good enough to eat.
We chat about some of the new flower varieties the girls have fallen in love with - one I particularly like the sound of is a rose the colour of old linen, called Quick Sand.
I also fall in love with some vintage bouquets a local friend has made out of old broaches, beads and buttons. Perfect for a sparkling wintry wedding.
Later as we leave to go to Michelle's house for supper, the snow starts to fall. In the distance I can see some customers wandering up the road clutching the flowers, books and lanterns they have bought.

Welcome to Rustic Rose

The next morning it is still bitterly cold, but I eventually make it over to see Kate's new shop. The windows are steamy from the icy air but I can see flashes of colour through the gloom, and Kate's blonde head busily bent over an order. Encouragingly I can also see what looks remarkably like Bucks Fizz on the counter - so it seems I am not too late to celebrate.
I knew this would be a wonderfully cheerful shop. Everywhere you look you are welcomed by great splashes of colour.
What a difference a day makes! Not a broom or a duster in sight.
I am touched to see my books on prominent display and Kate tells me she will shortly be framing the £10 'Hansel' that my partner Billy gave her to hang on the wall.
In Ireland it is traditional to give a new business the gift of money, known as a Hansel. This money can never be spent and it means that your business will have luck because as long as you have your Hansel you will never be short of money.
This of course is delightfully Irish. It reminds me of the Whiskey that Billy once won in a rugby club raffle in Limerick. Later in the evening as he headed for the door with the bottle in his hand, someone reached out and twitched it out of his grasp. He was told 'The winner always gives the Whiskey back."
But I am getting side tracked. Back to the Shop. And back to those aprons. Kate was right, so much better than plain ones.
Oh, I seem to have finished my drink already.

It really is a lovely shop and Kate should be very proud. As should Holly and Jennifer who I know have been by her side for the past days preparing for the opening.

Everywhere you look there are great touches; like teacups planted with pansies, an old trunk filled with baskets and teapots filled with bulbs.
So if you are anywhere near Sturminster Newton I strongly recommend that you call in and say hello. Although you will probably find that when you arrive I have drunk all the Bucks Fizz.


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