How to arrange for instant drama
Lucia van der Post aims her glue gun and takes lessons on
becoming a 'floral decorator'
There is no snobbery like floral arrangement snobbery. The raised eyebrows
that attend the presence of anthuriums, dyed flowers or - worse - those
triangular no-back arrangements that Kenneth Turner dubs "the dart board
brigade, Womens Institute stuff" would be enough to wither the most
To those whose floral ambitions run no further than pretty bunches of tulips
or some garden roses in a jug, the nuances of taste are a mystery.
The trouble is that flowers are so indiscreet. They talk. They send out
signals about one's tastes, one's social status, one's sensitivity to all that
is stylish. This makes the mere act of filling a container (vases, you see, are
really much too banal) infinitely more stressful than most of us would like.
Anxious to catch up on current floral fashion, I decided to go to the master
himself, Kenneth Turner. He is to flowers what Nicky Clarke is to hair, the
"floral decorator", as he likes to be known, for the "been
everywhere, seen everything" set.
He can always be relied on to come up with something different
"surprise" he says, "is the key. These people have been to
Hollywood, New York, Saudi Arabia. You must make them think - My God, who did
And, my goodness, does he surprise them. There was the time he turned the
Great Room in Grosvenor House into an Arabian palace with fountains, trees and
stephanotis that seemed to be growing there. "It looked," says his
perky assistant, Sharon, "just like Baghdad and as if it had been there for
One Christmas, for Richard Burton's widow, Sally, he lined a whole room with
chicken wire covered in box, while for a wedding in Greece he had olive trees
growing out of the roof.
I had something rather more modest in mind. Without a chateau, schloss or
even a Georgian manor house to embellish, I thought it would be nice learn how to
do something a little bit more enterprising than just dumping the flowers in a
My first class is with Sharon. "Planted and Growing" its called and
I'm lined up with other eager learners who clearly have much grander
establishments to decorate florally than I.
Hermes bags, Gucci shoes, expensive tailoring - not to mention leisured days
in which to hone one's domestic skills - are much in evidence. Great aluminum
cans of lillies, roses, foliage of every hue, as well as pots of herbs, bowls of
tomatoes, green beans and artichokes, are everywhere.
I am surprised to discover that danger lurks. Apart from the aprons, pens and
pads, we are issued with glue guns ("they are very, very hot and everybody
always ends up burning themselves"), very sharp scissors ("take care,
somebody always cuts themselves") and a rather splintery empty wooden box.
Vases as you've already gathered, are out. You start from scratch here - you
make your own container. We are, it seems, going to fill it with herbs and
vegetables to make a decoration for a bank holiday lunch. "Its going to be
great talking point," she assures us. And I guess somebody else has to be
Sharon shows us how to cover the box entirely in dark green gaultheria leaves
using scissors to trim the leaf and the glue gun to stick it to the box (she's
right - I do burn myself). The room soon looks like the set of Blue Peter.
It may look easy but it sure isn't.
Meanwhile, Sharon chatters on, imparting golden tips the while.
"What you want to do," she tells us, "is to start looking at
things completely differently - give everything a magic twist. Look at your
garden, your utensils, simple wooden spoons or buckets - give it that KT touch.
Add pebbles, strawberries, stones. We don't do just cut flower arrangements, we
mix plants with cut stems so that they look as if they are growing. You don't
want one itsy bitsy thing here and another there - group things in biggish
groups. Cut things diagonally so they take in the water better. Anything woody
should be split a little at the end. If delphinums or roses seem to die on
you re-cut the stems and put them in hot water"
After about an hour, the boxes are done and Sharon shows us how to line them
with heavy polythene ("so you can water them without spoiling the
Chippendale"). Then we fill them up with soil covering any
"mechanics" with moss.
Finally we go our own idiosyncratic way using combinations of terracotta
pots, tomatoes on the vine ("lay them down so that they're exploding from
the pot"), baby artichokes, bundles of beans (tied with stubbed wire) and
several different sorts of herbs.
I survey my handiwork. It is quite unlike anything I've ever done before and
I feel the sort of mild triumph that I used to feel when I helped my children
turn a loo roll into a pencil holder. I can't quite see it enhancing my
particular bank holiday lunch table for if I'm really truthful I have to say I
fancy flowers more. I decided to go back the following week and do a master
class under the maestro himself, Kenneth Turner.
Turner is a class act. You would go just to listen to the patter. "When
I trained at Lady Pulbrook's, Mrs. Gould trained us properly. We spent a month in
each department and a year just learning to wire flowers." He has a clutch
of very firm dictats. "You don't fiddle about sticking one rose here and
one there - you take a bunch and you put them in and you get instant
drama. We don't use oasis very often - our secret here is chicken wire -
you don't crunch it, you sculpt it. Nothing should ever stand up stiff and
straight - flowing lines are the thing." The other mantra of the florist is
"uneven numbers" - you use three, five, seven or nine - never two,
four six or eight.
But we get more than patter. He is going to make a "table
decoration with a twist" Its 10.20am. He takes a great basket and,
exceptionally, he uses 16ins diameter oasis.
In a trice, he puts in neo fern leaves in great clumps, then "using
flowers as my paints" he puts in white sprays of Wendy rose ("to give
it a country look") followed by clumps of white lilies ("to get
another texture going"), then white peonies, and white roses (he touches
the petals downwards gently to open them out). In the middle, goes a plastic
bowl which he covers with moss and then fills completely with strawberries. But
it could be cherries, green apples or even just white roses. By 10.37am, there
is a humdinger, of a fresh country basket, filled with white flowers, green
foliage and sweet red strawberries. This I want to learn how to do.
Taken from the "Financial Times" (Weekend May 30/31