The ‘Slow Movement’ began during the late eighties, when Carlo Petrini protested against the opening of a McDonalds restaurant in the Piazza di Spagna, Rome. It spawned a cultural movement and a revolution opposed to the view that faster is always better, and Carl Honore’s 2004 book, In Praise of Slowness, first explored how the Slow philosophy might be applied in every field of human endeavour and coined the phrase “slow movement” and it describes the Slow Movement thus:
“It is a cultural revolution against the notion that faster is always better. The Slow philosophy is not about doing everything at a snail’s pace. It’s about seeking to do everything at the right speed. Savouring the hours and minutes rather than just counting them. Doing everything as well as possible, instead of as fast as possible. It’s about quality over quantity in everything from work to food to parenting.”
It’s natural then, that this thinking can be applied to gardening or floristry – For as much as we prefer to choose Fair Trade coffee and tea, or local vegetables, surely we should be choosing local and in season flowers and plants too?
A common phrase I hear when giving workshops, or working on event or wedding flowers is “Wow, that’s so different!’ when in reality, the plants and flowers I’m using are not so special or unusual, they just tend to be flowers or plants that are natural, in season or perhaps rarely seen in the usual bunch of flowers. And the style as such isn’t so original – I tend to be inspired by the florist Constance Spry, whose work in 1930’s used kale plants and native grasses as ornamental foliage, and seed heads to achieve a reflection of the natural landscape and seasons around her. Also a maverick plant styler, she was famously banned from being a florist for Westminster Abbey as she had used some flowers she painted white, and they flaked off over the red carpet at one royal wedding…
In as much as the Supermarkets have groomed us into buying vegetables out of season, the same has happened with our flowers – Florists, too have been tempted into the commercial construct in order to try and compete with the less than a tenner bunch you will find in the soulless entrance of any major supermarket. Stiff, lifeless flowers with little scent or bred for the convenience of the system, Gerbera for instance, with no leaves to strip, a tendency to arrange themselves by facing flat to a light source and a shelf life of 48 hours without water are the backbone of the supermarket bunch but a source of despair to florists as they need no skill to handle and lack a subtlety and grace achieved by the more fragile flowers in the world.
Slow Flowers then, has been a major step change or concept taking place in the floristry world over the last ten years or so, and flowers in the natural style were really brought into focus with the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton, where fully grown real trees lined the aisle, and the bride carried a bouquet composed of Lily of the Valley, a scheme devised by the amazing Shane Connolly who gives workshops on ‘Floral Alchemy’ and uses sustainably sourced and grown flowers.
It’s not surprising then the interest in home grown flowers and natural seasonal displays is peaking in Ireland now – Flower Farms are springing up across the country, and more and more brides are choosing the natural bohemian style of flowers for their celebrations.
We run a facebook support group for those looking for advice, ideas and inspiration for growing your own flowers – you can find it at facebook.com/SlowFlowersIreland and later this September we will launch a Twitter Hour, #SlowFlowersIreland, where you can engage online and share your passion and interest for home grown bouquets.
So next time you are buying your Fair Trade Coffee at €63 per gallon or choose Irish and local brands – apply that method of thinking to your garden plants and flowers too – become conscious of how and where you are spending your money on plants and flowers, and where they have come from as well as food and clothes.
THINGS TO DO…
September is a natural time to wind down in the garden and the chilly air brings some kind of halt to proceedings in the garden – Through late summer we enjoy spending time outside with the proverbial fruits of our labour, entertaining family and sitting back admiring the view of your plot or your pots. With the return to school, work and routine it’s natural that the garden falls somewhat low on the list of priorities, and reflecting this mood change, the nights draw in and the temperatures drop. This change in light levels and temperatures that affects the sugar production in leaves and is what heralds the glory of Autumn, signified by the ever changing ochres and russets of trees and leaves in colour, the ripening of brightly hued fruits such as crab apples and tomatoes, and the flowers turning to production of seeds – morphing from bright and glorious blooms to brown and husky pods, on brittle stems broken by autumn gales and either popping on contact with the ground or wafting along in the breeze to set down and burst into life again next spring. And so on it goes. But far from calling a direct halt, there are a few things you can focus on now that will pay a dividend during the next gardening season –
- Collect seeds for growing next year. Any annual plants you are growing will produce seed heads – and all non-hybridized flowers will come through exactly the same. Hybridized, or any flowers with ‘F1’ in the name will revert back to their parent species. If you’re not sure, just collect the faded dried flower heads and experiment! The general rule of thumb is to dry them out indoors on brown paper, and then fold up into envelopes, with the name written on if you know it. Collect interesting looking branches or faded flowers for use in Christmas arrangements, these can be preserved or sprayed with florist paint sprays – this year’s trends include a lot of metallic or rosy gold tones applied to birch stems and woven with moss.
- Larger shrubs or trees can be moved now – I tend to wait until the deciduous trees have just finished dropping leaf, which tells me that the sap is no longer rising in the stems and it is entering the period of winter dormancy, which means there is much less stress on the plant as it begins to re-establish. If you are moving large shrubs, dig a trench around it 50 cm away from the central trunk or branches, 50 cm deep also. Then with a sharp spade, under-cut the roots and pull gently from the ground. Re-locate into a hole twice as deep and as wide as the root ball you have, filled with enough fresh compost or rotted leaf humus so that it is the same height in the ground as before. Fill around with the same rich potting mixture and water in really well. The ground around it should be kept moist until late winter. During spring, watch for any signs of lack of moisture and water generously from March onwards to help the plant re-establish itself.
- Summer’s baskets and pots are now at the end of their lifespan – hardy and semi tough plants can be pulled out and potted up for next year, plants like green conifers, geraniums, fuchsias and ivies, bedding plants such as Petunias, are only annual and even if they struggle through winter, will never have the vigour to flower properly again. Pot up an colourful basket or pot with pink and white heathers, silver leaf, or the spiny and white stemmed Calocephalus and some ivy – a bright and cheery pop of colour to continue right through until Spring can be achieved by planting up pots and baskets with Pansy and Viola plants – these are traditionally cool weather flowers, and are cheap and plentiful at markets and garden centres during September. I find violas have the edge on their larger flowered cousins, and if grown from seeds yourself are edible too. Plants bought from large stores or garden centres will not have been grown organically, and may have had growth retardants applied during cultivation so avoid serving those!
This month’s seasonal bunch is still colourful, despite the slow down in flower production. Dahlias have been so productive this year and this bunch contains Café au Lait and the devilishly dark maroon Black Jack. I’ve added a few stems of Rodgersia flowers, though they have almost completely run to seed, the deep pink stems give this arrangement a bit of structure and hint at the season to come. Parsley seed heads and stems with Verbena bonariensis fill out the back of this bunch, and a few Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ for texture at the front. At this time of year, Alchemilla mollis has long finished flowering, but the large felty toothed leaves have a beauty all their own.
I will be holding a workshop on the Garden Gathered style on Sunday 24th September at 12pm at The Gift Store, Limerick Milk Market, where we will cover the concept of Slow Flowers and growing your own bouquets. Tickets are €49 and include refreshments and flowers to make your own seasonal hand tied arrangement to take away. Places are limited so to book email firstname.lastname@example.org.