JOURNAL

Wicklow wonders...

I appreciate that this selection of images looks ridiculously idyllic, and to be honest, I can't even debunk this for you - it was one of my most perfect days of 2016! AND it was my birthday, how great was that?!

It's fair to say I'm pretty obsessed with flowers, so when I got an email from an old online friend from my jewellery days (now also a kick ass florist - the gorgeous Meg Moir!) to ask if I wanted to freelance for the amazing San Francisco florist, Aubriana Kasper-MacNiven of  The Bloomery Co, on a beautiful wedding at The Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin, that they were being flown in to flower, I really didn't have to think twice about it!

I was delighted to be able to hook Aubriana and Meg up with some Irish flower suppliers - both at the wholesale market, and the wonderful local grower and garden writer, Fionnuala Fallon aka "The Irish Flower Farmer". And as a wonderful bonus, it was amazing for me to get to spend some time down South, exploring the flower scene there...

There's so many other little moments, and stories to tell from our week in Ireland flowering - which I plan to do soon - but it really was a fantastic week spent with wonderfully talented, creative and likeminded people (who were so kind and welcoming to us!) - but this post is focussing on some of the absolute beauty we discovered at Fionnuala's Victorian Walled Garden flower farm. The produce is absolutely incredible, and I know we all felt it brought something incredibly special to the work we made for the wedding that week (see some more sneak peeks here!)... such a treat to be able to cut, pick and hand select every stem and forage on the land, too. The van was seriously full with the most beautiful copper beech!

There's not much more to say, other than that this was THE DREAM. Huge thank you to Fionnuala for having us, and showing us around the grounds and letting us cut so freely for the event, and to Aubriana & Meg for having me along. It'll be hard to beat this birthday any time soon, that's for sure.

Hope you'll enjoy browsing the beauty even half as much as we did living it!

XO 

The reason why we're Floral foam-free...

When I was writing my mission statement a few weeks ago (which, let's be honest, was as much for myself as for anyone else!) one of the things I felt most emboldened by, was my commitment to do what was right in terms of the environment, and my health, and to be noisy about it where I felt necessary...

At the end of the Summer, I had the pleasure of freelancing for the supremely talented Aubriana Kasper Macniven, of The Bloomery Co. on a wedding at the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin (she had been flown over with her team from San Francisco). During our week together, I had my eyes opened to how BEHIND we are in the UK at understanding the hazards of our job, working with flowers. They were working gloved, to protect themselves from the chemicals and pesticides that are on imported flowers (the ingredients the vast majority of UK Florists use!). That's the standard practice for them, because they're aware that flowers are coming in from countries that use chemicals banned in the EU, or the States, to spray the flowers with. Scary, right? We absorb so much through our skin, so it made me even more determined to seek out locally grown flowers, respond to the challenge of the seasons, educate my clients and protect my long term health in the process.

Next up is a big one! Floral Foam.

Commonly referred to in the industry as Oasis (but I am not talking about any one brand), Floristry Foam is BAD news. I've been working on researching more and more about it as I knew it was a petro-chemical, and didn't break down in landfill, which meant bad things for the environment. I was committed, even on that point alone, to be as close to oasis free as possible... loving the challenge of arranging in different (traditional!) ways. This informs and defines my work stylistically, so it's no hardship.

But come Christmas, floral foam is EVERYWHERE. From wreaths, to centre-pieces, it's the quick and easy way to create floral designs and keep them temporarily hydrated and easily transportable. That's what it's designed to do after all.

What I didn't know - and think everyone should, especially florists - is that floral foam is full of seriously bad stuff. From my research, that list includes Formaldehyde, Carbon Black, and Barium Sulphate to name but a few...

When dry, floral foam breaks down in to dust that is labelled harmful to the skin, and if inhaled, harmful to your respiratory system. Florists work with this material daily, and it's essentially a carcinogen. Completely toxic, and we have no idea about the long term health implications of working with it. One of the reasons why I don't want to!

When in use, floral form leaches these chemicals in to the water, so it's not great for plants and flowers, and our water system when disposed of - they last much longer in normal water, where possible, anyway. Not only that, but in land-fill, where it doesn't break down, and can't be composted, it leaks toxic gasses in to the environment... how horrendous, right? An online safety sheet advises to 'avoid prolonged or repeated skin contact' - this is something that's handled *daily* by florists.

Now, it's an exceptionally useful tool and the vast majority of the flower industry use this stuff, BUT, should we? Not only for our own health, but for our customers and the environment, maybe it's time to cut down, or eliminate it entirely from our practice and educate customers to ask for FOAM FREE designs!

That's what I'm doing today, and hope this post reaches as many people as possible.

Stay safe, eco-friendly and environmentally responsible this Christmas! Check out our Wreaths & Wreath Classes (to learn how!)...

XO

 

NOTES|

Here are some other links/articles: Gorgeous & Green / Jacklyn Nesbitt / Safety Sheet (outdated) 

This book, Flower Confidential, is also a must on the reading list of anyone who wants to know the dark side of the industry, and how to shed some light on it!

'The Scent of Summer' Workshop 2016...

'The Scent of Summer' workshop was held at PETAL studio on the 20th of August, hosted by myself and my husband Ryan, and the lovely Mike from the Bearded Candle Makers. It was a day billed as a 'Celebration of heady Summer Florals, and an exploration of the entwined relationship between Flowers & Scent'... and I think we certainly achieved that!

Kicking off the day at 10am with mimosas and pastries, we opened with designing a scented floral centre-piece, using oasis free techniques... We discussed all the most scented blooms of summer, and how best to incorporate them in to a design, and I demonstrated an arrangement before letting the ladies loose on the incredible blooms we had sourced for them. Heavenly Scent(ed) David Austin Roses, flowering mint, mint from our garden, Tuberose, Sweet Pea, Wild foraged Honeysuckle, Lavender, Plox, Stock, Wax Flower, (and although not scented, I couldn't resist) incredible local Dahlia's, and so many more! We spent the day before the workshop foraging in the rain in the Northern Irish countryside, and our spoils added so much to the end results, which were just gorgeous! Ever single one of the arrangements the ladies created was stunning - and each was incredibly unique. I will never stop being fascinated by that process, we all start with the same materials, and all impart our own take on the end result. Just gorgeous, I think you'll agree!

We broke for lunch - a lovely antipasti spread - and forged on to the afternoon's activity, Scent Blending and Wax Pouring with Mike! All the essential oils Mike works with added to the already incredible scent that filled the studio - and the hallway - and it was just the most dreamy, intoxicating experience. The ladies all worked to blend a scent for their candles, based on some of the flowers we had worked with during the first part of the day, and memories that smelling the oils evoked in them. I loved how different all the scents were at the end - infinite possibilites!

We finished our busy day off with more deliciousness... fresh mint tea, coffee and rose & elderflower cordial to wash down some delicious cupcakes from our wonderful cupcake partner, The Lily Pink Bakery. Claire kindly baked me delicious red velvet cupcakes, left bare so I could decorate them with edible flowers, which has been used throughout the day in what we served. We had the best time!

Huge thank you to all the ladies who attended the class and kicked off our Seasonal series of workshops in spectacular fashion. It was a wonderful group, and the day was filled with laughter, fun and lots of talent.

We are VERY much looking forward to our Autumn workshop event already. Please get in touch if you would like to be added to the mailing list for it's launch!

XO abigail

The Meadow (aka 'the garden')...

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We've had a pretty busy year so far in the garden, and beyond... lots of planting, growing, tending and fighting plenty of rain damage! One thing we haven't tended much is the grass! We decided to let the back garden go to wild meadow this year, and I have to say, we love it. The neighbours, less-so, but then, it is suburbia! Our chickens and dogs also have a field day, and it's turned up the most fantastic perks such as heaps of wild flowers which function incredibly well as cut flowers, amazing grasses & foliages, less hay-fever attacks while I cut it, and it's rather gorgeous to stare out at, too...

The bees and other pollinators seem to love it as well. We have a huge patch of Spotted Palmate Orchis at the back of the garden, under the trees, and I'm just in love with it... honey bees are equally obsessed, and quite a few stems of it make it in to my garden style posies most weeks! It's so beautiful. I have a sketch of it coming soon!

We also have an enormous spread of this gorgeous pink flowering Spirea Douglasii, which has pretty much taken over our left hand side of the garden boundary. But again, when it looks this good and lasts as well in the vase as this does, I'm not complaining!

This all really goes to show that there is beauty everywhere you look - that weeds are only weeds if you don't want them, and that sometimes nature is the very best design. I love these wild additions just as much as my prized David Austin roses, dahlias or poppies, and it's these little touches and additions to an arrangement that really get my imagination fired up! Have a little look in an untended corner of you garden, or in a wild suburban space. What can you find to take home and pop in a vase?!

XO

Ballyrobert Gardens...

At the May-Day weekend, there, we headed to the beautiful Ballyrobert Gardens for the first time! I had followed them on facebook for a good while, but just hadn't gotten around to nipping up - but nothing like a flurry of incredible weather to make you feel like heading out and appreciating some floral beauty (not that I ever need much encouragement!)...

We spent a lovely few hours walking around the incredible gardens the family at Ballyrobert have designed and cultivated over the years. They also have a nursery selling a fantastic selection of plants, bred especially for the Northern Irish climate and soils... very much looking forward to diving in to that next Spring when we are planning our plant buy! 

We started off in the Poly-tunnels, and there was so much growing and ready to go wild with all the amazing warm weather we've been having... I was really taken with the pink Campanula (above) with their beautiful pink-paint-splattered patterning. 

There were lots of beautiful Lupins (a bloom I love!) and the flowering chives were so pretty and wild, it was great to see the honey bees out in full force, too ... I really fell for the gorgeous Candelabra Primula (below),  and there were so many beautiful colours and shades to look at. I love their cheery, hopeful little forms!

The variety of plants they have at Ballyrobert is incredible... and the planting design is both beautifully coherent - pulling the same plants and varieties through the gardens as you wind through them, punctuating your walk and making everything feel a part of the whole - and surprising, in parts, too! I loved stumbling across an amazing patch of wild cow parsley after some manicured areas, then finding a wonderful 'selfie' hedge (you would think it was made just for this purpose!) or an incredible Rhododendron bush or Azalea adding a splash of colour and perfectly framing a view for you. Just gorgeous.

I really did take an obscene number of photos, and have certainly gotten a lot of lovely material for my daily petal illustrations... I'll leave you with a few more, and thoroughly encourage anyone who is nearby to make a trip to this beautiful Garden & Nursery. There is a tea-room, too (though we didn't have any this time) so you can make a day of it!

XO

Plant Passion...

When I was over in Hampshire, not only was I lucky enough to go down to London to visit Covent Garden Flower Market, but Jay also arranged for us to visit the wonderful Plant Passion! Claire Brown is the horticultural genius behind this lovely Flower Farm, and their tag-line is 'Seasonal, Scented & Sustainable'...

It was really incredible to see so many beautiful varieties growing... to smell the wonderful scent of damp earth in the poly-tunnels, and see so many seedlings stretching out towards the first of the Spring sunshine! I loved seeing how it was possible to grow and harvest so many different flowers on a reasonably manageable plot. It gave me serious hankerings for a little Flower Farm of my own... but for now, a few pots in the back garden will have to suffice!

Perhaps most exciting of all was being able to choose a few blooms ourselves, to design with when we got back to the Flower School... I was head over heels in love with Claire's Parrot Tulips (picked with the beautiful bulbs still attached, it was like something out of a Dutch Masters painting!) and also the Japonica Plentiflora, which I had been hankering after for a while... and was incredibly inspired to get cracking with all the gorgeous blooms we went away with! I incorporated the tulips in to my Dutch Masters inspired pedestal design (well, we couldn't not!), which you can see below. Aren't they just a little bit dreamy?!

A huge thank you to Claire for having us on the farm and allowing me to take some snaps behind the scenes... I could have wandered around all day long!

XO

Covent Garden Flower Market...

Back in April, I was lucky enough to travel over to Hampshire to spend a week with the wonderfully lovely, and talented, Jay Archer, at her Jay Archer Flower School. Jay had spent a week with me back in February focussing on botanical illustration, so I was already looking forward to catching up and filling a week full of laughing until your belly ached and your face couldn't take any more... oh, and four days of one to one tuition, picking her creatively genius brain and working with the most gorgeous blooms, of course!

One of the things I was most excited about exploring when I was over was the access to amazing, and world renowned, Covent Garden Flower Market.

Although Jay had warned me it was 'totes amaze' and overwhelming, nothing had really prepared me for how incredible it was to see whole birch trees, enormous branches laden with cherry blossom, magnolia, the FRESHEST flowers I had ever seen and the biggest variety... things you just struggle to get here. Everywhere. It was, beyond incredible.

I have to admit, I was really emotional, and had welled up at stand one - which was just greenery and branches!! I struggle not to cry every time I think about it, it was just a beautiful experience for me, and one that I'll treasure... much like my trip to the NY flower market last year.

All the traders were just amazing, too - chatting to us, giving us a cuppa upon arrival, and couldn't have been more helpful. There's no cold shoulder, everyone is really helpful and want to know who you are, and how they can help you. Really great banter, which makes the 4am start completely worth it... there's something so magical about being up when no-one else is, chasing the sunrise and driving back with a car-full of the MOST AMAZING loot that feels like you've won the lottery. 

Huge thanks to Miss Archer for sharing this with me. XO

Your Daily Petal...

Back to Dahlia again, I guess I can't stay away for long... ;)

This beauty looked like it had had paint thrown at it - it was so special. I found the photo I had snapped in Ballycastle garden centre way back last year, and I was so glad to revisit it!

Day 26: #yourdailypetal

XO

Your Daily Petal...

This was a flashback for the daily petal series... to the centre-piece I painted for our Wedding! I do these to commission for Brides & Grooms and will include your Wedding Flowers... so lovely to have forever after the big day has gone and the flowers have faded.

Day 23: #yourdailypetal

XO

Your Daily Petal...

Nasturtium are just the best, aren't they? So fast growing (I have some seeds going MAD right now), such joyful little flowers, beautiful leaves like umbrellas that catch rain-drops like it's their job... AND you can eat them. Maybe they really are the best flower ever, if much over-looked? I love using them in arrangements, such an unexpected element...

Day 22: #yourdailypetal

XO

Your Daily Petal...

I really enjoyed the change of pace with this Forsythia branch after three days of blousey blooms, and really love the end image after I styled it on the gorgeous yellow Irish linen... it was actually very simply painted, hardly any additional colour other than the yellow in two intensities, sometimes simple is best!

Day 20 (feels momentous!): #yourdailypetal

XO

Your Daily Petal...

I seriously never tire of Dahlia's. There are so many varieties, shapes, petal formations and colours to delve in to... I could probably do a 'Dahlia a Day' series without too much trouble!

Anway, this was day 17: #yourdailypetal

Nice to work on something with lots of red, as it's not my usual palette... love it here though with hot pink and apricot.

XO

Your Daily Petal...

This one - a Japanese ranunculus (originally shared by the wonderfully talented Amy Merrick) - is my favourite so far. I SO, so enjoyed playing with the rhubarb and custard tones of the petals, the crinkles, the beautiful centre - all the detail. This is the kind of flower that makes you all misty eyed, and pushes you down the path of marvelling at the mysteries of the universe, asking yourself 'is there a God?' (how can there not be when something is this amazing?!), etc... it's THAT special.

Hope you think so, too.

#day 15: #yourdailypetal

XO