Forget TikTok dances and baking banana bread – flower arranging has become the biggest pastime of the year. And we’re not just talking about these crazy creations from hit TV series The Big Flower Fight, as Frankie Graddon discovers.
No scroll through a social-media feed is now complete without viewing several dozen pictures of bloom-filled vases decorating shelves, mantelpieces and stylishly curated tablescapes. Fashion editors and influencers have even switched #outfitoftheday selfies for posts of their latest floral creations. Are begonias the new Balenciaga? Quite possibly.
Full disclosure: I’m not the flower-arranging type. For years, my idea of at-home floral design was buying a bouquet from the supermarket and chucking it into the nearest vase with a splash of water. Trimming stalks and sorting stems? No thanks – I don’t have the time. Yet since the days of lockdown, I have come over all green-fingered. The act of artfully placing flowers in a pot has become a cherished weekly ritual for me – and I’m not the only one.
Instagram hashtags #floraldesign and #ihavethisthingwithflowers currently have over a quarter of a million followers each, while Pinterest has seen a huge increase in floristry-related searches over the past few months, including ‘flower boxes’ (up 408 per cent) and ‘flowers to plant in spring’ (up 433 per cent). During last month’s Chelsea Flower Show, which took place virtually due to lockdown, the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) reported its busiest day in history, with enquiries from its members up a whopping 333 per cent year on year.
Even Netflix is backing the boom, with its new gardening competition The Big Flower Fight, in which contestants battle it out to create flora and fauna delights every episode. Judged by Kristen Griffith-VanderYacht (aka the Mary Berry of floristry), and with co-hosts Vic Reeves and Natasia Demetriou, it’s The Great British Bake Off with foliage and has been an overnight hit.
Granted, flower arranging is hardly the sexiest of hobbies, so why the spike in popularity? Taking it up during the lockdown period of a global pandemic makes sense, says RHS director of science Alistair Griffiths, given that it has a proven positive impact on our wellbeing. ‘Being surrounded by nature is physically beneficial; it lowers blood pressure and heart rate, among other things,’ says Griffiths, explaining that greenery also affects our cortisol levels, resulting in a reduction of stress.
There’s a valuable mindful element, too. ‘It’s called the theory of flow,’ Griffiths says. ‘You become so engaged in an activity – such as harvesting and arranging cut flowers – that you enter into an almost meditative state. It distracts from everyday life and allows you to reboot and restore yourself.’ A recent survey by the RHS found that 71 per cent of people say nature has helped their mental health during lockdown.
Perhaps the biggest mood-boost of flower arranging is the introduction of colour. With many of us having spent a lot more time at home than usual, we’re looking for ways of giving our living spaces an impactful (and preferably inexpensive) update. A spray of tinted petals does just this. For me, a jug of purple sweet peas brought a serene country-meadow atmosphere to my London bedroom, while a glass vase filled with hot pink ranunculus really spiced up my lounge.
There’s also a therapeutic element, explains Griffiths. ‘We have colour preferences as individuals, and these have a strong emotional impact. Bringing colours you like into your home will offer more happiness.’ He advises creating a moodboard of shades that promote a positive reaction and working with this when picking your next bunch.
Though it might have started in lockdown, my passion for flower arranging is something that will be sticking around. Thanks to inspiration from the likes of top floral stylist Willow Crossley and myriad other florists wowing us with their creations on Instagram, my posies are getting more accomplished by the week. But even if your skills are on the basic side, it doesn’t matter. The beauty of flowers is they will always look blooming lovely.
How to get the best from your blooms
Which flowers will look their best right now? And can you stop them wilting in the vase? Florist Olivia Wetherly Wilson gives her key tips.
1. Always pick seasonally
Not only do flowers look their best in season, they also tend to be cheaper to buy and, if grown locally, are far more sustainable. During the summer months, look for cornflowers, delphiniums, garden roses, larkspur, peonies, sweet peas, scabious, snapdragons and stocks. Use foliage like flowers and arrange sparingly for wild and whimsical arrangements.
2. Let nature inspire you
When it comes to grouping flowers into bunches, the trick is to take nature’s lead and be guided by hedgerows, verges and country gardens. Consider scale, too: larger blooms such as roses and peonies make a statement by themselves. Match up smaller flowers such as cornflowers, scabious, poppies and grasses for a meadow-like arrangement.
3. Choose the right vase
Your vase should be about a third of the height of the flowers in total; for example, if your flowers are 60cm tall, the vase should be 20cm or thereabouts. Stems should always touch the bottom of the vase rather than float in the water. This has a huge effect on visual balance and also means stems are more likely to remain in water if they are really thirsty, or if you forget to top the water up.
4. Add a chicken-wire base
Forget a flower oasis (the traditional green foam brick) – it is toxic for the environment and doesn’t biodegrade. Instead use chicken wire and crunch it into a ball before placing it in the bottom of your vase to create a frame. Then simply slot your flower stems into the gaps. You can also try a kenzan (upright pins on a weighted base, sometimes called a flower frog) for keeping flowers in place.
5. Give them plenty to drink
When buying flowers from a supermarket or florist, the most important first step is to trim the stems as soon as you get them home – re-cut them at a 45-degree angle, 1cm-2cm from the bottom of the stem. While some suggest adding a crushed aspirin or a penny to the water to make flowers last, the best method is to keep them out of direct sunlight and in deep water, which should be refreshed every two days.
5 minutes with…The Big Flower Fight’s Kristen Griffith-Vanderyacht and Natasia Demetriou
Being an expert florist, were you fully prepared for the epic proportions of this show?
In my mind I knew that the designs were going to be larger than life. however I was really blown away by the level of detail that all of the teams brought to their work. I am still amazed every time I rewatch the show! And yes! I do rewatch the show. I think I’m on my fourth Go round.
The show offers a fresh and unique take on floral design, do you think that this level of creativity is the shape of things to come?
Yes, Floral design is one of the unique professions that continues to evolve as an art form, while at the same time shaping the larger conversation of design. This show highlights all of the mind blowing work that the teams on our show have done but also the incredible work that florists all of the world have been doing for decades.
Why do you think people have turned to floristry during lockdown?
In the same way that a person’s body can tell them that they need water, I think that our bodies also tell us when it is time to connect with nature. Whether it is going outside and getting some fresh air or going for a walk or sticking your head out the window to yell, “Bonjour!” To a future Disney Princess, humans belong in nature! This lockdown has told all of us to stay inside. So if We are forced to quarantine you better believe that we are going to do it watching beautiful flowers and lovely people having a great time.
What do you want viewers to take away from the show?
I want viewers to find joy in this extremely difficult time. Our show talks about the importance of taking creative risks. I know from personal experience that expressing myself through my flowers has been healing and transformative. So if our viewers can feel warmth and happiness watching our show while also gaining the inspiration they need to begin their own creative journey, then my job is done.
Do you think that the success of the show will ignite untapped enthusiasm for floristry?
Yes! It already has. I have gotten hundreds of messages from people telling me that they want to be a florist or a gardener. It’s astounding.
What floristry trends and colours do you see emerging for 2021?
I think that we are going to see a strong contribution from young designers starting in 2021. People are looking for a way to bring passion into their lives during this time and the result is going to be an entirely new class of exciting and innovative designers who reimagine what floral design and sculpting can be.
What first drew you both towards the show?
The flowers, Vic Reeves but mainly the chicken wire.
Were you a keen gardener before the show? Are you now?
I’m an enthusiastic gardener without a garden. I’m all seeds no soil. (Which is weirdly the exact same status as my bowel movements).
How do you think lockdown has changed the way we view floristry?
Were there floristry deniers before lockdown? If so I hope they now know floristry exists and is a very lovely reason to engage more with nature and jazz up your home.
What do you think the main takeaways are for gardening novices?
‘Wow I cant believe how attractive a woman can look while presenting a show about giant floral sculptures.’
The show highlights the need for further sustainability in the floristry industry, is this something that you hope will have an impact on the way we design and purchase our blooms in the near future?
Yes yes yes. The emphasis on sustainability and encouraging mindfulness about our natural environment were the biggest reasons why I wanted to work on the show in the first place. But not as big as the chicken wire.
What was your favourite floral creation from the show? Why?
Hmmmm there were so many. Also we didn’t see lots of little details about the sculptures. In the first episode Ryan and Andrew put honey inside their bee!! Yan and Hencks Orangutan really blew my mind, It was huge and so beautiful and life like but still full of small details. All the sculptures were ultimately a miracle as none of the contestants had ever worked on that scale under those time constraints before so the fact they produced anything is my favourite floral creation.