This episode is subtitled: ‘Jenny McKendrick, Florist…’
Those of you who tune into our Facebook page may remember that you were promised a tutorial for making a Christmas table centre around this time, using fir cones that had been collected from the ground in May! Well here we are, still a few weeks to go so you have time to gather your supplies and, maybe, get a bit of practice in.
I was asked to make a table arrangement for Petra last week, only this one was definitely not to have a Christmassy theme. Petra is, very loosely speaking, my sister-in-law. Actually, she’s my sister’s husband’s brother’s wife so fairly well removed from me, thank goodness. You can read about my last encounter with her in episode 31, if you like.
‘Petra’s invited us all to their house on Friday night,’ Laura said. ‘She asked me if ‘my gang’ was free but promptly added that the children weren’t included.’
Definitely not Blue then, I surmised.
‘She would like you to take a floral arrangement for her side table and I get the impression it needs to be showy. Hang on, I wrote down the names of the flowers she mentioned, it’s somewhere in this bag.’
Laura delved into her bag, pulled out a neat little notebook and opened it at a page with the words Ginger, Heliconia and Anthurium written in her neat handwriting. They were words that meant nothing to her but meant ‘exotic’ and ‘expensive’ to me.
‘She said that of course she’d pay you.’
Oh dear, that could be awkward. This was going to be a very expensive arrangement but should I bite the bullet and take it as my gift for the hostess? Probably.
I didn’t actually want to go to Richard and Petra’s but Laura pleaded because she’d be less likely to get stuck talking to Petra’s friends with their Gucci handbags and personal trainers. She’s convinced that the only reason Petra invites her into her circle of friends is to make the rest of them feel smug that they don’t have the tedium of a little office job at the local primary school. Most of the time Laura knows that her life is far richer than theirs but occasionally I see a speck of doubt in her body language and she slips into the trap of thinking she’s failed because she can’t afford a monthly trip to the spa. So I went for Laura’s sake.
Off we set, Laura and Ray with wine and a sweet box of homemade chocolates that looked amazing (Laura is so clever) and me with a large, exotic (and expensive) floral arrangement that Jaz had created earlier in the day. There was no way this could fall short of Petra’s expectations for impressing her guests.
‘Wow, that looks great,’ said Richard, fighting his way past the foliage to peck me on the cheek as I carried the arrangement carefully into the house.
He took Laura and Ray’s coats. I couldn’t wait to get mine off because it was so warm in there – a complete contrast to outside – but I still had my hands full.
‘We’ll be a select group of eight tonight when Deborah and Charles turn up because Harriet and Henry couldn’t make it after all, but I think you’ve met Clive and Vicky, haven’t you?’ he said to Laura and Ray.
Even though they assured him they had met before he proceeded with the formal introductions and then said, ‘Oh, this is Laura’s sister, Jenny. The florist. There’s a small table in the dining room ready for the flowers, if you wouldn’t mind doing the honours, Jenny.’
He gestured to an open door further along the hall and I was glad to get in there and relieve myself of the burden. I hadn’t expected a sit down meal, let alone the formality of the scene before me – the table had been set out as if for a state banquet with three different glasses per setting and an endless array of cutlery, presumably all thought out and placed in exactly the right order and very definitely with the precision of Hyacinth Bucket. I took a moment to take it all in, quite horrified by the prospect of ‘dinner party chat’. There were even name places so we couldn’t choose who we sat next to (I prayed it would be Laura or Ray. Even Richard would do).
A select group of eight, Richard had said and yes, there were eight place settings. I wandered round the large table looking at the names in fine calligraphy – Victoria…. Laura… Clive… Petra… Ray… Deborah… Richard… and Charles.
The florist, wasn’t invited for dinner after all! I thought I could cover up the confusion without too much trouble because, thankfully, I hadn’t tried to take my coat off, but how would I get home? Just then Laura came into the dining room with a look of horror on her face, ‘I’m so sorry about the misunderstanding,’ she whispered.
I laughed and assured her that I was much happier to be going home and added, ‘Your punishment is that you’ll be sitting between Vicky and Clive all night.’ At this she groaned.
While Laura tried to have a quiet word with Ray to get him to take me home (he hadn’t twigged) I went into the kitchen to say hello to Petra and ask for £45 for the arrangement.
‘Be a love and invoice me, would you?’
Even though she was elbow deep in scallops I though it was a cheek and wondered whether she’ll ever bother to pay. It’s funny how some wealthy people feel they don’t always need to.
I’d lost £45 (potentially) but gained a cosy evening, just Blue and me. I couldn’t wait to get home, put my pyjamas on and snuggle up with a blanket.
Forget expensive exotic arrangements, instead you can create a festive table centre with most of your materials salvaged from outside.
Firstly, gather your supplies together. The foliage has all been collected from the garden but it’s important not to just pick it and put it in your arrangement. It will last much longer if you ‘condition’ it, which means putting it in a vase or jar of water at least overnight so the stems have a chance to soak up some moisture. Conifer is perfect for Christmas arrangements but I also chose some other varieties such as hebe and holly to provide a range of shades and textures.
I used one third of a block of Oasis in a dish we call a ‘square round’. You can do a much longer arrangement with a dish this size but I kept it small because there isn’t generally much room on a Christmas table. The correct way to soak your Oasis is to drop it onto the top of a bowl of water and let the foam soak up the water. If you run it under the tap you can’t be sure that there is water all the way through.
I then chamfer the edges and tape it securely into place. It’s normal to offset your tape because if there was a flower in the middle of this arrangement you wouldn’t want the tape to be in the way. It won’t actually matter for our candle in this example. You can’t tell from this photograph but the foam extends above the side of the dish because the lower layers of foliage will be inserted into the sides of the foam.
The trick for incorporating the candle is to securely tape several cocktail sticks to it so they can act as an anchor in the foam.
I find it helpful to draw the outline of the arrangement on a piece of paper and follow that for the first layer of foliage. You can make it any size you like but convention says that the width (top to bottom on the picture below) should be two thirds the length measurement. As I’ve said, this arrangement could be longer but I kept it to about 45cm, which meant about 30cm for the width. Join the lines together into a diamond shape and make sure your dish is placed in the middle before you begin adding foliage.
Ideally you want your foliage to flop down over your bowl (especially if it’s a plastic one like this), so look at the way the stems bend before you insert them into the foam.
Aim each piece towards the centre of the candle base so it looks as though they are all radiating out from the middle, and use your paper pattern as a guide for the outside edge.
Once you are happy with the bottom layer, add some more foliage, including some other varieties, keeping the outside edge true to the bottom layer. These subsequent layers should be shorter and angled up slightly so that by the time you reach the candle the tape is virtually covered by foliage.
Now it’s time to add some decoration. I’ve used only four fir cones because this arrangement is quite small. I’ve grouped them in two twos which provides better impact and some repetition which is important in the design.
You’ll need to use some wire as a ‘stem’ for inserting them into the foam. This is stub wire and I used a gauge that I happened to have in my toolbox at home. The key is to use thicker wire for heavier items (but I guess you could have worked that out for yourself!). Tuck the wire between the scales fairly near the bottom, turning and tucking until you reach the start. Twist the two wire stems together to make your stem.
You can see where I’ve inserted them – one set of two at the base of the candle, offset from the centre and the other set of two diagonally opposite.
Next I added some colour with these small baubles. I grouped them into threes and inserted them at the opposite sides to the cones but slightly lower and, therefore, slightly further away from the candle.
I made a couple of small bows out of florists’ ribbon, added a wire and inserted them close to the candle.
Then I filled in any gaps with more foliage and added a few more baubles, single ones this time, lower down and further out so I got some colour running through the arrangement.
- Never leave a lit candle unattended.
- Florists’ ribbon is flammable so even though the flame is unlikely to touch it you do need to make sure it’s never left unattended when it’s lit.
- You can use a container from your cupboard as long as it’s waterproof and you are able to secure your foam in it. A candle in wobbly foam is not recommended!
- Cut your stems at an angle to create a point so they will go into the foam better. Generally you will want about 5cm of stem in the foam but it will need to be more if the stem is long and heavy, but can be less if it’s light and close in.
- Here’s a simple design rule that will assist you in any arrangement: Generally speaking place larger darker items close to the centre and smaller paler things towards the outside. The position of the fir cones is consistent with this rule and note that I switched from groups of baubles to single baubles, as I got further towards the outside edges of the design.
- Garden foliage
- Fir cones
Hope you enjoy making this. You can practise with garden foliage to perfect your technique before the big day, and then just reuse the candle, fir cones, baubles and bows.
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