Flower Festivals By Gayle Shell

The modern flower arranging movement began just after the end of the Second World War. Gardens which had been used to produce fruit and vegetables were beginning to be turned back into places of beauty and leisure. Women starved of luxuries during the war were looking for pleasurable pursuits and Julia Clements and Constance Spry encouraged them to use the flowers from their gardens and the countryside to produce Flower Arrangements for their own homes. Before the War these had largely been the responsibility of Head Gardeners and Butlers in large houses and florists who produced rather stiff formal designs for the Commercial market. Constance Spry had done much before the War to change the English style into something more natural, and inspired the shape and growth pattern of the garden material she loved to use, but in the fifties it became a leisure activity led by very gifted amateurs. Flower Clubs began to be formed (one of the first was started in Leicester by Dorothy Cooke MBE) and NAFAS(National Association of Flower Arranging Societies) was established.

Competitions were soon in place and members of the Clubs were encouraged to display their talents at Flower Festivals.
These innovative events were usually held in country churches and drew huge crowds who sometimes queued for hours to view the colourful display that gave so much pleasure in drab post war Britain.

Todays’ world is full of colour and excitement but Flower Festivals go on inspiring the flower arranger and giving pleasure to those who view them.

I have been involved in so many Festivals over the years in Stately Homes, including Chatsworth House and Belvoir Castle and Churches of all denominations such as Southall Minster and Lincoln Cathedral and of course, Leicester Cathedral, which will host a Festival in September with the theme of Richard Ill’s Motto ‘Loyalty Binds Me’. This May I was involved in two local Festivals.

Photo number one, shown above,on a pedestal which was inspired simply by the colours, forms and textures in the blue hanging behind (one of the stations of the cross) at St.Theresa’s RC church in Birstall.

I made circles of coloured sisal decorated with beads and gold wire and also used white Medalino sticks for movement. The flowers included White Arum (curved to follow the lines in the hanging), large white Roses and Carnations. Aspidistra leaves and Steel Grass were manipulated to produce curves and loops. I wanted to include blue flowers but these proved to be scarce. Just one Agapanthus repeats the colour in the hanging which is associated with the Virgin Mary.

Flower arranging 2The second picture shows how large scale designs can work in the impressive surroundings of large venues. he colours were inspired by the Priests Vestments which were draped on the chair and height was created by the use of a tall, sturdy stand made of metal which has been used successfully for large scale flower arrangements on many occasions including the Queens visit to Leicester last year. This design took two people four hours to complete. We stood on ladders to reach the top. The flowers include various shades of peach and orange Roses, Carnations and Alstromeria and the lime green of Anastasia Chrysanthemums and Anthuriums with their distinctive

Over the Mayday Bank Holiday Syston Methodist Church hosted a Festival bringing various Communities together to produce a feast for the senses entitled ‘Stories from the Bible.’ Visitors were asked to decide what story the exhibits depicted. Photo three, shown below,  shows my design which was ‘In the Beginning’. The Heavens were created from coloured sisal, Anthuriums and the dark shades of Chrysanthemums. The fruitful Earth with Grapes, Apples and Spring Flowers which were arranged quite simply and included Iris, Lilies and Stocks. For-Get-Me-Nots , Hyacinth and Arum Italicum leaves came from my garden.Flower arranging 3

Do visit a Flower Festival during the Summer (there are Christmas ones too!) they are a lovely old tradition that should be kept.