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Flowering Extraordinary Houses

It's difficult to believe that it's been a month since I wrote the last missive from Black Shed. Feels like a couple of weeks. So much is happening in the garden, it's really difficult to keep up as the garden changes gear and roars into Autumn. There's barely time to think. perhaps that's a good thing. We have some very interesting new clients this year. One in particular is keeping us very busy all on his own. Quite how he found us is unclear but we've been asked to fill a rather glorious house with flowers every week and not always the same one. A dream job in many ways, equally challenging, exhausting and rewarding. He's a true lover of seasonal British flowers and we've been given pretty much free reign to experiment with the fantastic bounty that the farm effortlessly provides at this time of year. From a single stem of one of those Amazing Grey poppies in a slim glass vase, to a 2 metre high explosion of burgundy Amaranthus and fiery, glowing Dahlias, it's been a weekly opportunity to play with the best of the field. It's meant that I've been away from the farm a lot though, which puts pressure on Helen and our trusty team of dedicated volunteers but it's great to get out and away from the endless distractions here.

Our last adventure involved flowering a very interesting holiday home in Buckinghamshire and another in Wiltshire. To call them holiday homes was a bit of a misnomer, to put it mildly! Helen was very busy on the farm, so I took our daughter Tabitha with me. Luckily she's inherited my extreme nosiness gene, so she loves helping out and exploring our clients houses just as much as I do. So we packed the van with a couple of thousand stems and set off on the hottest day of the year, not knowing what to expect at our destination…

As we scrunched up the long gravel drive it soon became clear that this 'holiday home' was something really special, a 17th Century brick mansion, all dutch gables, castellations and towers, built around an exquisite courtyard with it's own chapel. Nervously opening the van after four and half hours driving in 30 degree heat, I was dreading the state of the flowers. We'd conditioned them carefully in the cool of the Hunt's huge barn at Blackmarsh Farm and that care paid off, as they emerged fresh and ready for us to swing into action. As the housekeeper showed us round, both our eyes were out on stalks at the gorgeous rooms, hallways and meandering corridors. We were delighted to be able to use the wonderfully cool boot rooms to prepare the flowers. Tabitha is a bit of an old hand at installs now and soon set to work, filling dozens of fine glass bottles with single stem Dahlias, whilst I created a dozen very large arrangements. She did a fantastic job and listening to her singing as she carried her work through the labyrinth of corridors was unforgettable.

Time was pressing on and we had another house to fill a good two hours away. This was a different job entirely. Our very generous client asked us to deliver and arrange 500 Dahlias to a very well known actress and her family whilst they stayed in yet another 'holiday home'. This time a deliciously faded four square early Georgian gem. I'm not very good at recognising people and have little interest in films and film stars but there was little doubt about the identity of the beneficiary. Bemused and surprised by the arrival of such a riot of colour in the gathering dusk, she soon guessed the benefactor and was utterly charming and friendly. Tabitha and I set to work and whilst I created some large arrangements, Tabs filled some beautiful vases. Dahlias are not the easiest of things to arrange on their own but she did a fantastic job. So when the curious children of the house asked if they could show her around the house and gardens, she jumped at the chance.

It was a beautiful evening and whilst I finished off in the gathering dark, I could hear them all giggling and running up and down the stairs and in and out of the extraordinary rooms of the house and gardens in the still warmth of the night. It was utterly magical, reminiscent of the dreamlike party sequence in the book Le Grand Meaulnes, an experience which I and I hope Tabitha will never forget. Not such a bad job this really!

All text and images ©Paul Stickland. First published in The Sherborne Times September 2020


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