Recently, I was invited to teach the house florists at Chatsworth. The honour immense, the venue world famous. My task: see the gardens and house, get inspired, and make one arrangement from the flowers grown in Chatsworth's cutting garden. I was to give a little talk and demonstrate my technique to the staff.
I chose to build a narrative at Chatsworth, based partially on the flowers growing onsite and the historical influences which shaped the landscape around the house. While the house was built in the 16th century, I opted for mid to late 18th century naturalism as expressed during the Rococo/Georgian period. During this period the Cavendish family spent lavishly on art and garden design. Also, this is a period I adore—in gardens, in music, in decor. The Rococo is generally associated with levity and frivolity in the decorative arts (not to mention a surfeit of scrolls and waves) so I chose colours that reflected the opalescent nature of shells.
Of course, some creative license is always at play (and play was de rigeur after the formality of the Baroque) but I think it’s useful and fun to provide artistic work with a context, a sensibility, not only to guide one’s practice but to give us all as designers a language with which to interpret our work and give our craft the artistic heft it deserves.
So: the colours here intentionally pearlescent, led by the lilies and roses which were popular in the age. In the late eighteenth century—the Georgian 'age of elegance' in England—pale greens and blues came into favour, so the Plectranthus and Eryngium ‘Miss Wilmott’s Ghost’ reflect that.
The form I chose is based on Hogarth’s line of beauty, an S-curve, which is asymmetrical as was common for loose floriferous arrangements of the time, but also mimics the energy and flow of a cresting wave. Hogarth wrote his Analysis of Beauty in 1753. Interestingly he also poked fun at the whimsical gardens of William Kent—gardens with grottos, temples, and follies, natural nooks and corners for intimate conversations in the 'wilds' of nature. Through such Arcadian ideas, Kent opened the way for the ‘idylls’ of Capability Brown (who designed the vast park at Chatsworth).
Layers on layers of inspiration for me: We moved the finished arrangement to the public side of property into Flora’s Temple...which was moved alongside the house in 1750. How perfect was that?!
Truly an inspiring day—and opportunity of a lifetime. Apparently Chatsworth takes artists-in-residence; wonder how the Duke would feel about allowing access to his 17th century, 4ft. tuliperes for a few photos ;)
Special thanks to head florist Zara Reid for inviting me and Becky Crowley for her magic cutting garden. xo