Drying Elderflower

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Rachel’s sketchbook

Bouquets of materials look quite  beautiful when hung upside down to dry. It’s a very simple, cheap interior design trick so experiment with your favourite foliage and discover what works and what doesn’t.

Strip the lower leaves off stems of fragrant eucalyptus and bay and tie with natural raffia at differing heights on a wall, or hang several silver birch branches from a hook on the ceiling over a dining table for a dramatic focal point.

Buddleia, the butterfly bush

budlea & baby pumkin resizeBuddleia – friend or foe?

Discovering that buddleia is sometimes considered an invasive pest or weed got me thinking about what the exact definition of a weed is. The dictionary suggests a weed is a plant or flower that grows where it’s not meant to.  Our view though,  is that these so called ‘weeds’ are just as valuable in floral terms as the more traditionally valued flowers.

Certainly buddleia happily self seeds and can inhabit hostile wasteland conditions as well as flourishing in countryside hedgerows,  but personally I would never consider these delicately-scented mauve-grey flowers unwelcome in any sense.  Neither would the butterflies and bees who enjoy their nectar.

Pondering the ‘what’s a weed’ question, reminds me of Constance Spry,  the mid 20 century British florist who boldly pioneered loose, unstructured floral designs displaying so-called weeds and under-valued wild flowers, branches and vegetables, and ignored classical floristry rules in preference to letting her imagination run wild.   Single handedly she  changed the way British Society viewed floral decoration  and encouraged a resourceful attitude to floristry, celebrating originality and creative spirit.  I guess what she was saying was that there is beauty to be appreciated in all nature’s plants.  Weed or otherwise.

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Rediscovering the Camellia

Camellia sketchbookCamelia StylingYesterday I was inspired by a flower that quite frankly, I’d disregarded for many, many years.  Wandering around a friend’s garden, my attention was drawn to the most beautiful rose-pink blooms brightening up an otherwise rather dreary winter backdrop . The  Camellia.  I guess part of the reason for this former disregard could be blamed on those soggy, brown-tinged blooms, some still hanging (barely!) on the bush and others laying like a mushy carpet underfoot that one often sees.  The particular delicate rose-pink Camellia variety  I discovered, is nothing short of spectacular though.  Enormous rose-pink waxy flowers with prominent golden stamens and glossy dark green foliage.

It reminded me how important it is to keep looking at materials with a fresh eye and observe them during different stages of their life-cycle. I am now totally inspired to experiment with camellia in all kinds of ways.  I know the fragile flowers won’t last long out of water, but a simple wreath using stems of foliage and only the sculptural buds would make a striking table decoration for a special dinner.  The glossy dark green foliage alone is worth keeping an eye open for, as it lasts a long time and gives arrangements  a rather opulent sense.

I have been researching Camellia websites and discover that there are a vast (think almost 250) species of this wonderfully versatile shrub.  So a Camellia to suit everyone.  Guillio Nuccio Camellia with its deep rose flowers is my current favourite.  Simply gorgeous.

Bracken growing wild

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Gathering bracken at Diamond Harbour – photographer Rebecca Bijl

Bracken Sketches MayThe Peninsula is a great source of seasonal materials for styling and arranging.

Bracken grows wild over the hill tracks, coastal paths and amongst hedgerows.  Whether dark green and fresh or rusty orangy-brown, this delicately-fronged fern provides a kind of ‘rest’ amongst denser materials within an arrangement or wreath.  It is really important to have light and space within a composition,  so as you gather consider what role each ingredient will play.

Good materials that do the same job as bracken include maidenhair fern, pepper tree foliage, kowhai branches, trailing jasmine, wild fennel, old man’s beard and asparagus fern.

Festival of Flowers

Fresh Hydrangea WreathSally & Our Baby colour trialArriving at the Botanic Gardens at the crack of dawn, Rachel and I start unloading the trailer.  We’ve got a couple of hours to hang our ‘baby’;  an enormous blue gum wreath, 1.5 metres in diameter, the wire base of which we sculptured from a salvaged old farm fence.  The decorative eucalyptus looks absolutely divine and its scent triggers fond memories of our shop in Lyttelton where we held floral workshops pre-earthquake.  Eucalyptus along with pine trees baking in the hot sun are probably my most favourite smells.  I adore them.

Our giant wreath hung on branches of the magnificent purple beech tree near the Peacock fountain in the Gardens.  Using the giant wreath as a backdrop, Rachel and I started designing our little ‘set’ ready for the demonstration we were giving, ‘How to make a seasonal wreath from your garden’.

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Magnolia sketchClose Up FOF arrangement resizeI am a huge fan of  grandiflora foliage in arrangements requiring scale,  and actually prefer to focus on the brown suede-like underside of the leaves which are really quite beautiful.  The rich brown  looks amazing contrasted with deep pink flowers and other red / pink foliage.  Smoke Tree Bush perhaps.

Quince and Brown Butter Tart

Finished quince sketchHaving loved not only the sweet fragrance that a handful of golden yellow quinces provided, but also the visual feast of these plump, down-covered fruits, I finally succumbed to peeling them ready for cooking, before it was too late!

Quinces can be stored at room temperature for a couple of weeks prior to cooking.  They cannot be eaten raw and are a real challenge to core but such a treat once cooked.

A real foodie friend of mine passed this recipe on.  Sure you’ll love it and you can swap in other seasonal fruit in the place of quince during the year.

Shortcrust Pasty (these amounts will line a 24cm loose-bottomed flan tin)

180g unsalted butter 240g plain flour
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup cold water

30 slices of cooked quince (or pears, black doris plums)


2 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
125g melted unsalted butter
1tblsp flour

Remove the butter from the fridge about 30 minutes before use.  Sift flour and salt onto the bench and grate the butter into this.  When lightly combined, make a well in the flour and add the water.  Combine and using the heel of your hand, gather together to form a shape.  Wrap in clingfilm and chill for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees.  Peel and core the quince. Put into a bowl of cold water with juice of 1/2 lemon to prevent browning.  Put into a pan with just enough water to cover them.  Bring to the boil, then turn down the heat leaving to simmer for about 20 minutes until soft.  Drain fruit very well indeed.

Line the flan tin with a little butter, then place the rolled out pastry into the sides.  Put some baking paper in and then add baking beans.  Bake blind for 30 minutes, remove from the oven and allow pastry to cool. Arrange the fruit beautifully in the dish in a circle around the edges.  Then fill in the centre with remaining fruit.

Make the filling.  Beat the eggs with sugar until light and creamy.  Melt butter til its a deep golden colour.  Add flour to the eggs and then the butter.  Spoon over fruit and cook for 25 minutes or until golden brown and puffed up.  This will subside as it cools.  Don’t put in the fridge, but it will keep well for 3-4 days.  If you can resist it  that long!