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Christmas Countdown, Floral Arranging with Amanda Brame

How to create a spirited floral arrangement, in true Petersham style
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The magic of foraging

We are renowned for our spirited floral arrangements at Petersham Nurseries, and these have become a feature of our restaurants, shops and tables. Director of Horticulture, Amanda Brame, trained with the RHS and is an expert in both indoor and outdoor plants. Amanda is a great believer in foraging for arrangements. She uses her garden as a source of foliage, and finds hedgerows are an excellent place to obtain pieces that are in season and beautifully reflect the British countryside. The UK is a wonderful and unique place to forage, blessed with rich ecosystems that often span centuries of growth. As a result, species are diverse and can be found within cities, towns and even parking lots.

As long as you don’t pick to sell, foraging is legal in the UK – though this musn’t take place on Crown Land. The Theft Act 1968, for England and Wales, states that: “A person who picks mushrooms growing wild on any land, or who picks flowers, fruit or foliage from a plant growing wild on any land, does not (although not in possession of the land) steal what he picks, unless he does it for reward or for sale or other commercial purpose.” 

Picking flowers and foliage (or even fruit!) for your arrangements is therefore perfectly fine, as long as you are not trespassing and also not entirely uprooting a plant.

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Foliage and flowers

At Petersham Nurseries, we forage in the grounds and gardens for foliage and grasses to act as the base for our arrangements. We then use flowers either from our cutting garden, or from florists, but it is worth noting that you can find foliage and grasses from florists, also. If you don’t have access to a garden, try nearby hedgerows or local parks and be pleasantly surprised at how much can be found, even in urban areas. There is so much hiding in plain sight that can be used in your arrangements.

Amanda's favourite plants and flowers to use at this time of transition between Autumn to Winter include:
Foliage

Birch tree stems  (Yellow)

Cotinus coggyria ‘Royal Purple’

Rosemary

Clematis Vitalba ‘old mans beard’

Panicum capillare

Hedgerow and garden tree

Garden Shrub

Garden herb

Hedgerow and garden climbing perennial plant

Grass similar available in the hedgerows.

Flowers

Crocosmia seed heads

Climbing cluster rose hips

Shrubs rose hips

Dahlias Cornel and Vulcan

Garden perennial plant

Hedgerow and garden plant

Hedgerow and garden plant

Garden plants and available at florists

We also love crab apple branches at this time of year, and rose hips are a must.  Hydrangea heads lurking around from previous flowerings can also look striking. If your Perennials have been floored by the frosts and the grasses are past their best it’s time to focus on more wintery pieces. Harvest winter evergreen foliage such as sarcoccoa confusa viburnum tinus, or even pine branches add a few tall twiggy stems and some winter berries. Instead of dahlias, slip giant blooms of forced amaryllis to top it off.

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Arranging your display

Before you start, think about the overall height of the arrangement and choose a vase or container that will pair with this. The only other thing you will need, alongside your foliage and flowers, is a very sharp pair of scissors or secateurs.

Step by Step

First, add the foliage by crossing the stems in a basket fashion. This will help hold the other stems in place.

When you are happy with this shape, and feel that there is enough structure in the design to support the rest of the arrangement, start adding the flowers.

Turn the arrangement around to check that the front is the most alluring, as it should have a clear direction, and then finish by adding grasses and seed heads, to fill any gaps there might be.