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A bad case of arranger's block

March 2021

Okay, so I’m not what you’d call classically courageous. But I’ve worked up ladders, I’ve reversed trailers, I’ve wielded a pruning saw in anger. So why does the phrase, ‘Max, do you fancy doing the flower arranging today’, give me the collywobbles?

In my previous job as kitchen gardener in a four-acre walled garden, I was up to my neck in cut flowers. I grew them, I nurtured them, I cut them. I even trialled them alongside my head gardener, Tom. Together we cultivated hundreds of varieties of sweet peas, gladioli, dahlias, alliums and sunflowers. Sarah Raven even came to look at them and said nice things about them.

What I didn’t do, was arrange them. Once I had delivered them to the Big House – up to 30 buckets a week, manoeuvred deftly with a backed-up trailer – that was the end of it. The army of ever-so-slightly-scary flower arrangers awaited their arrival with open arms and bared teeth, and my part of this particular transaction was concluded. Over to you, I’ve got ladders to climb.

But now, in my new place of work, it’s down to us gardeners. Which, as with all flourishing democracies, means sometimes it’s my turn. It doesn’t help that my head gardener is so good at it. He’s a natural. He is also very encouraging and I’d hate to let him down.

Selecting is fine. I love that. We’ve got 20 plus beds brimming with cuttable blooms. It’s like a sweet shop. Conditioning, no problem either: denuding stems of lower leaves, blanching woody material, arranging buckets in equanimous colour tones.

But then comes that moment, when the prep is done and I’m faced with the gaping void of an empty vase. It squats there, gazing up at me, willing me to make my first move, which I do and it’s, ‘Really? You’re gonna start with that? Of course it is up to you, I’m just saying…’ Vases can be pretty gobby like that.

But then of course it starts to come together; it kind of has to, because being defeated by a vase of flowers simply doesn’t bear scrutiny. There’s just too much at stake. So in goes the foliage (I’m sure he said foliage first) and then the focal flowers. Or was it the other way round? And then I’m cutting and fitting and dancing around the vase and thinking in threes and fives and what was that rule about vase to stem ratio? And all around me is carnage, discarded stems, rejected blooms, all manner of herbaceous jetsam. 

But if I narrow my eyes and stand back and assume the stance of someone who actually knows what they’re doing, it doesn’t look half bad. In fact, it kind of looks presentable, a little squat perhaps, a little pink, but definitely presentable. I’m rather pleased with myself, and so I should be: I felt the fear and I did it anyway. And it is in this self-congratulatory spirit, the glorious afterglow of my accomplishment, that I say to myself, ‘Hey, you know what, you should share this moment, this sweet victory, so that others might be inspired to leap into the lion’s den.’

And that’s when I decide to put it on Instagram! And that’s when someone comments that it looks like a drunken geisha. And they're right! And now I’m back to square one – anticipating the next naked vase and contriving a contingency plan: next time there’s a call to arms – floristry wise –, I’m thinking of claiming diplomatic immunity, or at the very least a bad case of arranger's block.

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