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THE flower school’s prinIcipal, Sharon Melehi, announces: ‘We’ve got some gorgeous things today - lovely English flowers -  even if they have come all the way from Holland.’ And she is right; the bright demonstration room is an ol-factory overdose, heavy with scents of hyacinths, narcissi, almond blossom, jasmine and rosemary - the ingredients of many an English garden in spring. The big difference, of course, is that these pristine stems, cosseted in the glasshouses of Aalsmeer, have not been sampled by aphids, slugs or weevils along the way.
Up to 5O% of people who attend these courses are florists or interior decorators by trade; today’s gathering includes Koichi Hirano, from Kenneth Turner’s flower shop in Tokyo, here for three weeks to supplement his training. Also Jean Hassell and Louise Brister, having a day out from their office jobs, Julie Ballard from Kentucky, who does a lot of entertaining, and Greg Pryslak, a garden designer making a fleeting visit from New Jersey. Having no experience of floristry myself beyond stuffing assorted blooms and branches into appropriately sized vases, I am curious to discover how floral decorators such as Mr Turner achieve their lavish confections.
Our day begins with an overview of the Kenneth Turner ‘look’. ‘We want you to make things that go “wow!”,’ says Miss Melehi, passing round photographs of typical Turner work: table decorations and floral chandeliers for a sumptuous wedding at the Dorchester; a gala dinner at Mosimanns; a masked ball at a château near Paris; George Harrison’s birthday party with an avenue of tbpiary trees running down the centre of a dining table the length of a bowling alley. It brings to mind Elton John’s recent reply to the incredulous tax authorities when it was revealed he had spent £293,000 on floral displays in a mere two years: ‘I like flowers,’ he declared, not unreasonably.
Miss Melehi, in a frock-coated trouser suit, is an energetic and entertaining instructor who bears a passing resemblance to Cherie Blair, but laces her lectures, pantomime style, with slightly camp turns of phrase. She has been a florist for 25 years, seven of them spent with Lady Pulbrook at Pulbrook & Gould, and about 15 with Kenneth Turner. She demonstrates our first project: the near-miraculous conversion of a shallow, green, plastic bowl into an artless woodland scene—a low-slung confection of tulips, hyacinths and anemones rising out of a nest of birch twigs and moss. It looks so easy until it is your turn. Half an hour later, Julie Ballard has nearly finished her arrangement, while I am still struggling with the wire netting and twiggery. ‘It is very competitive,’ remarks our photographer.

‘There seems to be a great race on to see who finishes first.’ Stoically, I contemplate Aesop’s tortoise-and-hare fable, until Miss Melehi returns to rescue my witch’s broom of a base and transform it into the required stork’s nest.
After another demonstration and a splendid buffet lunch, we try something quite different a Victorian posy of tightly bunched flowers a neat way of presenting your own garden flowers as a gift. The trick is to wrap the stems with raffia or string as you go, tuning the bunch in one hand while adding more blooms with the other. For the grand finale, Miss Melehi creates, in a classical urn, the floral equivalent of a volcanic eruption spurting branches of eucalyptus, almond blossom and camellia, with rockets of amaryllis and bright tulips. At home, I find a perch for my stork’s nest and loosen the stays on my Victorian posy, deciding that ranunculus and muscari look uncomfortable being so rigorously corseted; I had not managed to achieve the relaxed splendour I admired in Mrs Ballard’s posy. What a course like this gives you is the essential vocabulary and technique for designing with flowers, and the confidence to use them in more adventurous ways. What you do after that is up to you.

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