~ Berkeley Castle ~

April 29, 2017

I am ashamed to admit that in 2016 I completely failed to keep my blog up to date. I will not make any excuses for this as they would all sound feeble. Instead I will try to rectify the situation by picking out some of the highlights of the year which I feel deserve a mention.

In February I had the great pleasure of attending a venue decoration masterclass for florists at Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire. It was run by the wonderfully creative and energetic Sabine Darrall, a florist whom I have been stalking (in the nicest possible way) for several years. I love the way she combines colours and creates organic and flowing designs in bouquets and installations.

If I show you just two of her designs, you will see what I mean.

Inspirational designs by Sabine Darrall

It is no secret that among my non-floral obsessions are English country houses and castles. I was therefore delighted to be able to attend this particular course. Aimed at florists wanting to learn how to create floral installations in period venues, it was held in a truly remarkable historic building.

Berkeley Castle has it all when it comes to age, grandeur and history. Built in the 11th century, it has been in the Berkeley family almost ever since.
When I wandered into the courtyard and knocked on a promising-looking door to ask directions, the door was opened by Mr. Berkeley Senior himself. I was directed to the Great Hall just in time to join a tour of the castle led by Pippa Crossman, the in-house wedding & event coordinator.

One of her tales made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. The castle has been a venue for weddings through the ages. For one young couple, a play was specially written and performed as a wedding present. The play was (drumroll, please…) ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and the playwright was none other than William Shakespeare. The reason why I found this so exciting was that I had been planning a photo shoot based on ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ to mark British Flowers Week in June. The idea was to do recreate the scene, where Titania, queen of the fairies, falls asleep on the ‘.. bank, where the wild thyme blows.. ‘. More about that in the next blog post!

After the tour, Sabine showed us how to construct free-standing flower columns that are grand and imposing but don’t cause any damage to the building. She showed us how to create the large-scale structure and decorate it with green branches and fresh flowers without the use of florists’ foam. I am a great believer in arranging flowers without the use of floral foam. I use it when an alternative is impractical, but I try to limit its use as much as possible because it really isn’t environmentally friendly.

Sabine demonstrating how to construct a foam-free, free-standing floral column

Work in progress and the finished result!

After a delicious lunch, the time came to decorate one of the staircases. Because we didn’t want to harm the old woodwork in any way, the decorations were placed on the floor rather than being attached directly to the handrails. This created an effect of the flowers and foliage growing up around the bannisters.

Not the Lady in White haunting the staircase but Sabine’s assistant Emma Hewlett, 
protecting the stair carpet with sheets before work started.

Blue delphinium, white roses, white tulips, hyacinths and paperwhite narcissi were arranged on each step of the stairs…

…. creating the effect of the flowers growing naturally against the railings.

The third and final creation of the day was a table centre with a difference: a large arrangement to be placed on a tall, purpose-made platform, allowing the guests to speak to each other across the table. At the same time it was tall enough to make a big impact in a large room with tall ceilings.

We used floral foam for this design which contained a lot of flowers (including roses, tulips, lilac, iris and delphiniums). Chickenwire and moss might have been used instead, but getting the flowers that pointed downwards to stay put would have been much harder.

My nearly finished table centre

While we were completing our arrangements, staff set up six dining tables complete with chairs, white linen, china and cutlery. Our completed table arrangements were placed onto their platforms on the tables and candles were added and lit, ready for the photographs.

The end result

The effect was spectacular and, although the centrepieces were quite modern on their minimalistic platforms, they still fitted in perfectly with the old tapesties and portraits on the walls.

It was a fitting end to a really great day of learning. I think we all felt a great sense of achievement. We learnt so much from this masterclass and took so much inspiration away with us. I am very grateful to Sabine and her helpers and to the Berkeley family and staff for letting us use the castle.

In our part of Yorkshire, we have a great number of beautiful country houses that are used as wedding venues (Broughton Hall, Newby Hall, Goldsborough Hall, Swinton Park, to name a few), and the course has boosted my skills and confidence to create large scale floral installations in these places.

I am hoping to attend more courses with Sabina Darrall and can definitely recommend them to others wanting to expand as event florists. For further details see http://www.sabinedarrall.co.uk/coursesclasses/.

Tired but happy florists at the end of the day