Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Gold at RHS Chelsea Flower Show

As the florist to Endsleigh I get the most wonderful job of filling the hotel with foliage and flowers from the gardens each week.  This year however, I decided that I would enter the heats for RHS Chelsea Flower Show.  There were nine heats around the country where 1st and 2nd place contestants were offered a highly prized place at Chelsea.

The British Florist Association the flora culture industries trade association organises these competitions together with the RHS to promote British florists and this is one of those events that every florist hopes to win some day.

The South West Heat took place in January and I was thrilled when my name was announced.  It didn't take long to realise just how hard the actual competition would be and I waited anxiously for the schedule and brief to come through.  It finally came 6 weeks before the show, it was:  Design and create a fantasy floral dress for a crystal themed ball.

For two weeks I drew design after design, researching the word fantasy, the definition being:

Fantasy the faculty or activity of imagining impossible or improbable things.
"his researches had moved into the realms of fantasy"

I finally decided the fantasy element of my dress would be to create a giant flower.  We were given the dimensions of the design.  The size had to be within 1.5m in length and no wider than 1m.  I also ordered a mannequin identical to the show's to work on.  Having the dimensions meant that the flower could not be too long or wide and so I decided that the Fuschia would be ideal.  Here is my first drawing for the design.

Once I decided upon the design the next decisions were on how to construct the frame on which the flowers would be attached.  This process took three weeks of  planning and research and experimenting with different mediums.  I finally created the bodice and sepals of the flower from a cotton dishcloth! I clingfilmed the bodice and soaked the tubular dishcloth in a fabric stiffener used by sculptors called 'Paverpol', I then pulled this over the bodice using fencing wire to highlight the edges, cutting away the excess.  I let this dry for three days.  I then spray painted the base with a floral spray paint in 'Deep Wine' and neatened the edges with lace to give a lovely finish.

The skirt took longer but I had a Eureka moment in the bathroom when a loofah I had split.  The skirt is made up of finely sliced loofah (a plant that is part of the cucumber family),  and secured together with clear electrical cable ties.  Three weeks later I had a finished base on which to place the flowers and I was ready for Chelsea.

As I was to be in London for the whole week I arranged to work at New Covent Garden Flower Market in Vauxhall and for three days I worked from 6am until 11pm attaching the flowers I had chosen for the design. I covered the bodice and sepals in a button Chrysanthemum called 'Masai' and created an overlay of crystal fabric leaves with Orchids, Aechnea, Craspedia, Stachys and Sempervivums, following the judging criteria I also researched as to how many floristry techniques I could use within the design i.e. rolling, banding, winding, glueing, wrapping, knotting, lacing, terracing, basing, shadowing and sheltering etc.

On the Wednesday night of the 20th May, we were given three hours to install the dresses in the Great Pavillion, from 10pm until 1am.  It was the most exciting and frightening thing I have ever done.  The other designs were gorgeous and I was conscious that my style was very different from the others.  It goes without saying that I could not sleep that night.  Between 6am and 8am before the visitors to the show arrived the dresses were judged, at 1.30pm the same day we were given the judges awards and feedback.

It was the most thrilling event of my life to discover as I approached the stand that I had achieved a gold medal.  I scored 90%, the second highest score in the competition.  It is safe to say that I am still smiling like the Cheshire Cat and enormously proud that I had the chance to take part in this extraordinary experience.  I am back at work and the gardens at Endsleigh are brimming with scented roses, foxgloves and ferns, my favourite.

Amanda Randell is a British Master Florist and runs workshops at Hotel Endsleigh periodically.  The next event takes place on Sunday 15th June 2014.  Please keep an eye on our web site for more floral events or call the Reception team for more information.

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