The Seven Best Garden Centres in London

London has plenty of lovely, unusual and interesting garden centres tucked away amidst the urban sprawl. Here’s our guide to some of the best…

London has plenty of lovely, unusual and interesting garden centres tucked away amidst the urban sprawl. Here’s our guide to some of the best…

What better way to idle away a weekend than mooching around looking at flowers and greenery and, when that gets too exhausting, dropping into a really top notch café? Yes, you can’t beat a good garden centre – and London has loads of them.

We’ve selected seven of our favourites around the capital and listed them here in no particular order. But these aren’t your usual garden centres, mind. They’re all totally unique, quirky and, of course, naturally lovely…

 

1. Petersham Nurseries, Richmond

Credit to photographer Ming Tang Evans (110)
Image credit: Ming Tang Evans

Let’s face it, the term ‘garden centre’ doesn’t really do justice to Petersham Nurseries, that remarkable, rather bohemian collection of greenhouses and gardens in Richmond.  It was carved out of the grounds of the grand Petersham House in the 1970s and later transformed into a world-class plant nursery by Gael & Francesco Boglione, who also added the café. We say ‘café’, but how many garden centres can boast an eatery that twice won a Michelin star, as Petersham’s did in 2011 and 2012?

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Image credit: Ming Tang Evans

Now under the management of the Bogliones’ daughter Lara, Petersham Nurseries is not just one of the best garden centres in London, but one of the loveliest places full stop. There are events all year round, from fungi-collecting walks to wine-tasting, and the garden shop stocks very swish stuff. Meanwhile, the new head chef at the café Damian Clisby (previously of HIX Soho and Cotswold House) has put an emphasis on slow food, and last year won the Best Slow Food Restaurant in the SF London Awards.

Visit the Petersham Nurseries website here.

 

2. The Chelsea Gardener, SW3

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Image credit.

 

A gorgeous oasis of calm and green, just off the King’s Road (on Sydney Street to be precise, in what was once The Brompton Hospital), The Chelsea Gardener is a firm favourite of garden-loving locals. It’s the place to go for plants, products and expert advice on making the most of outdoor spaces in an urban setting – and they also offer a complete landscaping service.

But as well as all that, it’s just a lovely, relaxing place to go when you’re in Chelsea and need a fix of flowers. There’s even an Orangery, and who doesn’t love one of those?

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Image credit.

 

Visit The Chelsea Gardener website here.

 

 

3. Clifton Nurseries, W9

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This Maida Vale institution can trace its roots all the way back to 1851, and under the stewardship of a series of legendary London horticultural entrepreneurs including Johannes Krupp and Sydney Cohen, (plus the backing of Lord Jacob Rothschild) it became established as one of the most important suppliers of garden goods in the capital.

And it still is to this day, as well as offering world-class garden design services. The Design Director is Matthew Wilson of TV fame and Clifton Nurseries has won no fewer than five gold medals at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, so it really is the gardener’s garden centre (and The Quince tree café is lovely too).

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Image credit.

 

Visit the Clifton Nurseries website here.

 

4. Camden Garden Centre, NW1

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This lovely garden centre in Camden is inspiring in every sense of the word: it offers superb supplies, inspiration and helpful advice for North London gardeners, and it is also a charitable organisation designed to offer employment, training and educational opportunities to local young people.

Since it was established in its current venue in the early 1990s the Camden Garden Centre has won tons of awards, including UK Garden Centre of the Year; Urban Garden Centre of the Year and Outstanding Contribution to Education and Training in UK Horticulture. It remains a key part of Camden community life, and the Pritchard and Ure Café offers fresh local produce (and free wifi).

Visit the Camden Garden Centre website here.

 

5. N1 Garden Centre, N1

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Image: Heloise Bergman, North One Garden Centre

Founded by urban gardening visionary Beryl Henderson in 1998, on the site of a derelict button factory, N1 is a special garden centre with a mission to help city dwellers bring plants into their life, whatever amount of outdoor or even indoor space they have.

If you’re into any kind of urban gardening, N1’s knowledgeable staff are just the people to go and prod for advice, tips and top quality plants.

Visit the N1 Garden Centre website here.

 

6. Alleyn Park, SE21

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Image credit.

This is a small but perfectly formed and quite charming ‘boutique’ garden centre in West Dulwich. As well as offering really interesting plants, mostly sourced from small UK growers, Alleyn Park is a really fun place to shop for all sorts of things.

It has a specialism in reclaimed and vintage objects from around the UK and across Europe, including statuary, ceramics, furniture and antiques.

Visit the Alleyn Park website here.

 

7. RHS Wisley Plant Centre, Woking

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Image credit.
This, arguably, is the big one. At the opposite end of the scale to boutique garden centres like Alleyn Park or N1 is the Royal Horticultural Society’s Wisley Plant Centre . It stocks more than 12,000 different plants, including 3,000 species and cultivars of herbaceous perennials, 50 cultivars of apples and 50 cultivars of potatoes, plus lots of roses, shrubs, trees and much more.

You can get pretty much anything in the shop, including a staggering array of gardening books.

Visit the Wisley Plant Centre website here.

 

Did we miss your favourite garden centre in London and surrounds? How about fabulous, unusual garden centres further afield? Let us know!

 

Love flowers? So do we! Make your home naturally lovely all year round by signing up for a delivery box for just £24 a pop. 

Six ways to use flowers to make your home lovelier

What are flowers for? They’re for making your home naturally lovely, of course! Top interiors blogger Rebecca Sterling gives us her tips for displaying flowers in the home…

What are fresh flowers for? They’re for making your home naturally lovely, of course! We’ve invited top interiors blogger Rebecca Sterling of Roses & Rolltops to give us her tips for displaying flowers in the home…

Hello! I’m Rebecca and quite frankly I’m obsessed with having flowers in the house at all times. Whether they’re a home grown bunch I’ve snipped from the garden to display in little jam jars or if I’m treating myself to something a larger bouquet (or a Freddie’s box!) I’d love to share with you some of the ways that flowers brighten up the home:

 

1. Use flowers for colour-splashes

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I’m boring with décor and my style, choosing neutral, timeless colours and plain patterns to play it safe. But this means that I can then accessorise with a constant stream of fresh flowers for colour that I can change easily, depending on my mood and the season, and won’t get sick of. Flowers are the easiest and quickest way to update your interiors and will instantly give a fresh new look to a space.

You can either choose colours to tone and coordinate with your existing décor, choosing a shade that matches in with a painting on the wall or cushions. Or to contrast and compliment, a yellow pop of sunflowers against grey for example.

 

2. Be seasonal

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I choose flowers based on the seasons. In the spring I want bright scented daffodils and pastel tulips to brighten the grey cold days but then as summer comes it’s allll about pink peonies, stocks and roses. The end of summer will always mean sunflowers to me and as we move into autumn I want more dusky warmer tones with hydrangeas and autumn pickings like blackberries, autumn leaves and pumpkins.

 

3. Respect the receptacles!

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I love how different types of blooms encourage me to think of new, fun ways to display them each week. From old fashioned marmalade pots to washed up Bonne Maman jam jars, upcycled candle jars or the more traditional glass vases or vintage jugs, you can create some pretty displays of fresh flowers around the home by mixing it up and being creative with what you display them in as well as how you arrange them.

 

4. Split your fresh flowers

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While big displays can look instantly impressive, so can splitting bouquets into smaller displays of fresh flowers. Cut flowers down to different sizes and group either individually or make lots of mini bouquets to scatter around the home.

 

5. Put fresh flowers in unexpected places

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Think outside the box on where you display flowers. Of course the kitchen island, a lounge mantle piece or coffee table tend to be the places that you associate with creating displays. But smaller bunches on a bedside table or even on a shelf in the hallway, as part of a bookcase display or in a bathroom by the sink will make you smile when you wake up or walk past them.

 

6. Follow your nose

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Think about scented varieties to bring another element into your décor instead of relying on candles or diffusers to make your rooms smell nice. You can’t beat the heady scent of narcissi in the spring or summery sweet peas.

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But remember, whatever your choice of flower and however you choose to display them, you really can’t go wrong. It’s not like a paint colour that you may land up regretting, it’s not vastly expensive, and when you think about flowers in the wild – any colour goes. Nature never gets it wrong. All flowers are so pretty so enjoy enjoy enjoy! And when they’re finished, go get the next bunch…

 

 

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Rebecca Sterling runs the Roses & Rolltops blog, chock-full of fabulous interiors, flowers, travel and more. She is also one of our favourite Instagrammers – see @rvk_loves 

 

Love flowers? So do we! Make your home naturally lovely all year round by signing up for a delivery box for just £24 a pop. 

‘I Have Gone Plant Crazy’

In which Misti goes to Spain for the sun and returns to England for the sunflowers…

So what’s it really like having lovely flowers delivered by Freddie every week? Writer, mother, former LA actress and now London-dweller Misti Traya tells all in her exclusive monthly Flower Diary…

I don’t know when I stopped riding on roller coasters, but I do know when I stopped jumping into pools: 2004 . I was 23 when I decided that as a woman with Irish, curly, frizzy hair, it was a pity and a nuisance to ruin a good blow dry. As much as I loved a good splash, I hated looking like a woolly sheep’s behind even more. Well on a recent trip to Spain, I put an end to that nonsense and took a much overdue plunge.

My husband and daughter were on a postprandial stroll when I decided to go skinny-dipping in a red-white-yellow-and-pink-hibiscus lined pool. It was a wonderful jolt to the system and I had to laugh when a frog jumped in to join me.

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Our Andalucian holiday was paradise. Each morning, we awoke to the scent of jasmine. After breakfast, we’d head to the beach where Helena and Henry would have a paddle while I basked in the sun. We built sandcastles and sea turtles and ate our weight in helado. We explored the Old Town in our espadrilles and never said no to ice cold beer.

Helena and hibiscus flowers

***

Back in England, summer was still showing off, rather like the glamini and freesias Freddie’s delivered that week:

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We took walks through the woods near my in-laws’ house where the bees buzz about the borage and the birds are never short of song. We collected berries from the hedgerows and wildflowers from the fields.

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This time of year, the harvest, is one of my favourites. So many delicious things are in season, from squeaky green beans to damson. I love it all. The best thing I’ve baked this September has got to be Claire Ptak’s wild bramble crumble tart. The flavour can only be described as high summer.

wild blackberry crumble tart

***

Alright, I have a confession. I have gone plant crazy. It started after Freddie’s sent some white roses a few weeks back. I was going to discard them when the next arrangement arrived, but I couldn’t. I noticed that the leaves I pulled off the stems before placing them in a vase had regrown.

propagating roses

The roses seemed to be telling me they wanted to live. So I read up on rose propagation and now I have lots of pots full of leafy stems on my balcony. There are several theories about how to best keep the stems’ environment humid.

  1. Cover the stems with a jar to create a greenhouse effect.
  2. Place the pot in a clear plastic bag.
  3. Plant the stems in a potato before planting them in a pot.

I have tried all three. You would think that’s where this experiment would end but it hasn’t. Not only am I trying to propagate roses, but also African violets, a clog plant, and a funny little succulent I picked up at the farmer’s market a few month’s back.

***

Like a Victorian gone mad, I’m saving all my spare money for wardian cases and tropical ferns. Luckily for my husband, Freddie’s last delivery of sunflowers can’t be propagated. I guess I will just have to bask in their glow while I can.

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at Coworth Park

Misti Traya fell in love with an Englishman and moved from Los Angeles to London in 2009.  After her daughter was born, she began a blog called Chagrinnamon Toast that won the writing category at the 2014 Young British Foodies. She was also named runner-up for the Shiva Naipaul Prize. She has written for Gawker, Jezebel, Look, Mslexia, The Pool, The Spectator, and Stella Magazine.

Freddie’s Flower People: Samantha Bond

Star of screen and stage Samantha Bond tells us about why she loves weekly flower surprises and reveals her favourite bloom…

Freddie’s Flowers customers are all wonderful people… and here’s another one! Star of screen and stage Samantha Bond tells us about why she loves weekly flower surprises and reveals her favourite bloom…

You’d expect Samantha Bond to be garlanded with bouquets — many of her most famous characters would expect nothing less. Lady Rosamund from Downton Abbey is used to living in the grand style, whether at home in Belgrave Square or visiting the family in the country. And if James Bond didn’t bring Moneypenny a bunch of flowers on his return from each latest mission, well, then he certainly should have done.

Samantha’s had a fascinating and varied career that has taken her from playing Juliet to Kenneth Branagh’s Romeo, to the erratic Auntie Angela in Outnumbered — recently, she’s even appeared in her first stage musical, an adaptation of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

But when not on stage or on screen, Samantha Bond loves her Freddie’s Flowers deliveries. She says, As an actor, I am often spoiled with flowers, particularly when in the theatre, but the new varieties that appear every Thursday are a constant delight.’

 Home for Samantha is in south-west London. As a child, she grew up in a showbusiness family — her father an actor, her mother a producer. Her own family have continued the tradition; her husband and both her children are all in the business. Another family tradition that they’ve kept up is that of gathering for a regular Sunday lunch. And the ever-changing bouquets that arrive at the door every week help to make her new home even more naturally lovely.

‘We had just moved into our lovely new house when a flyer from Freddie’s Flowers popped through the letter box. The notion of surprise fresh flowers weekly and the ingenious concept behind the business intrigued me. I signed up immediately.’

So, which bunch would bring a smile to her face when she opens the box? My favourite flowers are probably hydrangeas, but not so practical in the house!’

Hydrangeas: classy, elegant, and constantly surprising us with their ability to change. We can’t think of a more suitable flower.

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Are you one of Freddie’s Flower People? You don’t have to be famous – we just want to see your arrangements! Share your own Freddie’s Flower pics with on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, or drop us an email at freddie@freddiesflowers.com

Or if you haven’t already done so, sign up for lovely flower deliveries at £24 a pop here!

The Gallery – Roses, Irises and a Gladi-Overload!

We love seeing our arrangements in situ in your homes. Here’s a selection of some of our favourite recent photos sent in by Freddie’s Flower People (i.e. our splendid gang of customers)…

We love seeing our arrangements in situ in your homes. After all, what are flowers for, except to make your home naturally lovely? Here’s a selection of some of our favourite recent photos sent in by Freddie’s Flower People (i.e. our splendid gang of customers)…

We think your arrangements really are works of art, so they deserve a gallery. Please do share your pics with us by email or social media – see the bottom of the post for where.

 

Iris, Lisianthus and Solidago by ‘Happy Wise Owl’

Iris, Lisianthus and Solidago by Happy Wise Owl via twietter and blog

A perfectly balanced arrangement by Emma from Wiltshire, aka ‘Happy Wise Owl’, who contacted us via Twitter and even wrote a really lovely blog about her first Freddie’s Flowers delivery!

 

Peony nostalgia from Sarah

peonies by Sarah Collicott via FB

This gorgeous pic, shared with us by Sarah Collicott on Facebook, made us nostalgic for the all-too-brief peony season!

 

 

Cafe roses by Farm Girl

Rose Avalanche arrangement Farm Girl Cafe via Instagram

This Instagram pic of the Rose ‘Avalanche’ arrangement from the wonderful Farm Girl cafe in Notting Hill proves that our flowers work just as well outside as in!

 

Summer blooms by Rebecca

summer blooms by rvkloves instagram

How’s this for a naturally lovely room? Interiors blogger and top Instagrammer Rebecca – aka rvk_loves – shared this pic of her stunning lounge. Nice to see some of Freddie’s flowers providing a finishing touch…

 

Anna’s oriental lilies, framed

lilies by anna simpson via FB

Anna Simpson from Bristol shared us this rather beautiful artwork on Facebook: the Oriental Forever Lily/Alstroemeria/soft ruscus arrangement from a few months back – framed in the window.

 

Gladi-Overload!

We had a veritable avalanche of gorgeous gladioli pics shared with us by Freddie’s Flower People on Facebook. Here’s just a few of them…

From Pip O’Byrne:

Pip OByrne glads via FB

 

Some ‘frothy’ ones from Mel Erwin:

glads Mel Erwin via FB

 

What a stunning side-table display here from Pam Fairless…

Pam Fairless Gladioli via FB

 

And what a sitting room centrepiece from Karol Vargas-Ballesteros here!

Karol Vargas-Ballesteros glads via FB

 

Are you one of Freddie’s Flower People too? We want to see your arrangements! Share your own Freddie’s Flower pics with on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, or drop us an email at freddie@freddiesflowers.com

(Or if you’d like to join us, just sign up for lovely flower deliveries at £24 a pop here!)

Marianne North – the most remarkable artist you’ve never heard of

This extraordinary, independent Victorian woman travelled the globe and painted flowers like nobody else. Introducing the inimitable Marianne North…

This extraordinary, independent Victorian woman travelled the globe and painted flowers like nobody else. Writer Nigel Andrew introduces the inimitable Marianne North…

Even by the standards of intrepid, globetrotting Victorian spinsters, the flower painter and tireless traveller Marianne North was an extraordinary woman.

In an age before air travel and motor transport, she crisscrossed the globe, living and painting in Jamaica, Canada, the United States, Brazil, Tenerife, Japan, Ceylon, India, Borneo, Java, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the Seychelles and Chile – all in the space of a decade and a half.

Wherever she went, and whatever the obstacles in her way (cliffs, swamps, jungle), she carried on painting her astonishing, botanically accurate, vividly coloured oil paintings of the exotic plant life she found. And virtually all of her flower paintings – some 833 – can be seen together in the Marianne North Gallery at Kew Gardens.

 

Restored Marianne North Gallery Interior
Restored Marianne North Gallery Interior. Image: RBG Kew

‘I am a very wild bird’

Born in 1830 into a wealthy and well connected family, Marianne shared her father’s passion for travel and botany and, when she found herself alone, free and rich following his death (in 1869), she decided to indulge them both, along with her new-found love of oil painting – which she described as ‘a vice like dram-drinking, almost impossible to leave off once it gets possession of one’.

She abhorred marriage – ‘a terrible experiment’, in her view, that turned women into ‘a sort of upper servant’ – and disliked company, so most of the time she lived, travelled and painted alone. ‘I am a very wild bird,’ she declared, ‘and like liberty.’

Her paintings survive her in such quantity and in one place because, having held a public exhibition of her work in 1879 and disliking the sudden celebrity it brought her, Miss North decided to donate all the works to the Royal Botanical Society at Kew. She also offered to build a gallery at her own expense to display them to the public.

Marianne North Gallery, Press launch
The Marianne North Gallery after restoration. Image: RBG Kew

 

The gift was reluctantly accepted by the director Sir Joseph Hooker, and the gallery – a solid, rather chapel-like building in a corner of the Gardens – was duly built. It was recently restored, and is quite unlike anything of its kind – indeed Kew claims it is the only gallery devoted to a single female artist, with full public access, anywhere in the UK.

 

A very tropical palette

The effect of Miss North’s paintings en masse is somewhat concussing – those colours are so strong and bright! Her palette was certainly well adapted to the tropics. She typically painted her plants not as specimens in isolation but as organisms in an ecosystem, creating pictures that are beautifully composed and highly pictorial as well as precisely descriptive.

Burning Bush and the Emu of Chile
Burning Bush and the Emu of Chile. Image: RBG Kew

 

Ipomoea and Vavangue with Mahe
Ipomoea and Vavangue with Mahe. Image: RBG Kew

 

Native Vanilla Hanging from the Wild Orange
Native Vanilla Hanging from the Wild Orange. Image: RBG Kew

 

Often her paintings include fauna as well as flora (as in Burning Bush and the Emu of Chile) and her plants often frame a view of their habitat (as in Ipomoea and Vavangue with Mahe [an island of the Seychelles] or the beautiful Native Vanilla Hanging from the Wild Orange).

Northia seychellana
Northia Hornei. Image: RBG Kew

 

Sometimes she zooms in and fills the canvas with a single plant (as in Northia Hornei, though note the bird), at other times she is essentially painting a view with a little botanical garnish (as in The Permanent Snows, from Santiago) and occasionally she’s content to paint what amount to cut flowers (as in Cultivated Flowers, painted in Jamaica).

Cultivated Flowers painted in Jamaica
Cultivated Flowers, painted in Jamaica. Image: RBG Kew

‘Tea or coffee and biscuits’

It’s sobering to reflect that, if Marianne North hadn’t painted in oils, but in the more usual (and ladylike) delicate watercolours, little or nothing of her work would have survived her tropical travels and the ravages of time. Even her oils needed some repair work when the gallery was restored in 2008. They are as fresh now as when they were painted, and still hanging exactly as Miss North arranged them (hung very, very close). She also painted the frieze and the decorations around the doors.

The Permanent Snows
The Permanent Snows. Image: RBG Kew

Her plans for the gallery were blocked only in one particular – she wished visitors to be served ‘tea or coffee and biscuits’, but Sir Joseph Hooker said no. In response, the indomitable Miss North painted tea over one door of the gallery and coffee over the other.

In the course of her travels, Marianne North discovered a number of new species, and several are named in her honour, including Areca northiana (a feather palm), Crinum northianum (an Amaryllis relative), Northea seychellana (a tree of a previously unreported genus) and Nepenthes northiana (a pitcher plant that she was the first to paint).

When her travels ended in 1885, she retired to Gloucestershire and lived quietly there until her death in 1890. She was only 59, but she had lived, travelled – and painted – more in her productive years than most would achieve in several lifetimes.

Marianne North Gallery, Press launch
A visitor to the Marianne North Gallery. Image: RBG Kew

 

You can buy prints of Marianne North’s work and plan your visit to her gallery at the Kew website.

Nigel Andrew is a writer and host of the Nigeness culture blog. Thanks to Kew Gardens for supplying the images. 

 

Love flowers? So do we! Make your home naturally lovely all year round by signing up for a delivery box for just £24 a pop. 

Milestones, Murderous Moggies and Masses of Gladioli

Country life, a killer cat and an emotional reunion with some dedicated bon vivants, in Misti’s latest diary…

So what’s it really like having lovely flowers delivered by Freddie every week? Writer, mother, former LA actress and now London-dweller Misti Traya tells all in her exclusive monthly Flower Diary…

This month has been one of milestones and merriment. Each celebration punctuated with cake and cocktails, and remembered with lilies and larkspur. Which is a way of saying it’s been perfect.

Helena ‘graduated’ from nursery. We marked the occasion with ice cream sundaes and a barbecue in our neighbours’ garden. Until twilight, Helena and her friends ran through the sprinklers and played What’s the time, Mr. Wolf?

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Nursery graduation ceremony

 

Then they picked fruit from the raspberry canes for pudding. Icing sugar-coated kisses were exchanged as well as a few tears upon going home.  Even though they see each other most days, parting is always such sweet sorrow.

***

Whilst cat-sitting for my in-laws we tried out country life. We’re not ready for it. Turns out an acre sized garden is a lot of work. I spent hours watering and deadheading and killing snails and resetting copper strips and recovering vegetables with wire. All to no avail. Slugs the size of dogs came anyway. So did the muntjac. Bastards, the lot of them.

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Giant slug

***

One evening we fled back to London for a friend’s book launch. As our go-to babysitters were on holiday, we brought Helena with us. And yes, she wore her Snow White dress. And no, there was nothing we could do about it if we wanted to enjoy the evening. Cf. King Pyrrhus: some battles are not worth winning.

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Snow White bags a signed copy of Lauren Elkin’s new book

 

At the party, Helena bought a copy of the book with her own money. Then after working the room a bit, she shared her Haribo Starmix with a former Booker Prize longlistee. To cap off the evening or perhaps just to keep me on my toes, she kept trying to touch a £13,000 antique globe with her sticky candy-flavoured fingers.

***

Back in the shire, we made a fire and cuddled up on the sofa with Charlie Cat. After supper, I slipped a bit of uneaten salmon into her bowl. She thanked me the next day with a dead bird. I hadn’t noticed she’d placed it at my feet until I stood up and trod on the poor creature. Ugh.

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Charlie, the killer cat. Check out those murderous eyes…

 

The only nice thing I can say about Charlie’s bird is that it made me think Charlie bird…. Charlie Yardbird…. Charlie Parker! It’d been awhile since I listened to the dulcet sounds of his saxophone. I forgot how much I loved his music, especially Bird of Paradise.

I used to love it so much that I once listened to it as a lullaby on repeat on a flight from New York to Palermo. Which brings me to my next milestone….

***

Seven years ago, and quite by accident, I found myself on a vintage car rally in Sicily with a group of chiefly Anglo-American bon vivants. By day, we drove around the island soaking up the sunshine. By night, we fêted ourselves like deities of the ancient world.

Down the route of the Targa Florio race to the sands of San Vito Lo Capo to Juno’s Temple in Agrigento and into the shadow of Mount Etna we went. The last few days were a jasmine-scented haze of sybaritic perfection at a villa called Don Arcangelo all’Olmo.

The Targo Florio race in 1960s Sicily - you get the idea of the general coolness. Image.
The Targa Florio race in 1960s Sicily – you get the idea of the general Italian coolness. Image.

 

There at the edge of the Ionian Sea, under a Blood Moon, we had a final celebration. I hadn’t even gone to bed when the taxi arrived to take me to Catania Airport the next day. When I arrived in Los Angeles I still had a Nino Rota melody in my head. The customs officer asked if I had anything to declare.  Vice and Poverty, I said, but definitely not Boredom.

Last Tuesday, I had the pleasure of seeing several of those lovely faces again. What a reunion! You see, dear reader, what I haven’t told you is that I met my husband on that trip. I met him in April, visited him in July, and married him in December. Since then life has whooshed by, rather like a vintage E Type.

On a houseboat in West London by the glow of the Hammersmith Bridge, I got reacquainted with this wonderful lot. Seven years on and they were just as I remembered: beautiful and full of magic. Artists and international playboys, Greek goddesses and British peers, race car drivers and financiers. All living with one thing in mind: la dolce vita. The evening was hosted by a gracious son of the Empire who was born in India and whose chicken curry is not to be beat.

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An invitation from the secret society

 

Perhaps it’s because I met them in Sicily, but these dramatis personae can only be described as Fellini-esque. Their eternal effervescence reminds me of his famous quote, “Never lose your childish enthusiasm and things will come your way.” And God, I hope to have more of them in my life…. Hold on a minute. That’s the doorbell.

It was Freddie’s delivering more gladioli than I have vases to hold them! File this under problems I like to have.

Until next month, Arrivederci!

 


 

at Coworth Park

Misti Traya fell in love with an Englishman and moved from Los Angeles to London in 2009.  After her daughter was born, she began a blog called Chagrinnamon Toast that won the writing category at the 2014 Young British Foodies. She was also named runner-up for the Shiva Naipaul Prize. She has written for Gawker, Jezebel, Look, Mslexia, The Pool, The Spectator, and Stella Magazine.

Wildflowers and waggle-dancing: The Hive at Kew Gardens

The wonderful new interactive Hive exhibit at Kew Gardens is a must-see for all flower-lovers…

The buzzing new interactive Hive exhibit at Kew Gardens is a must-see for all flower-lovers…

Among the lawns and beautifully-tended herbaceous borders of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, a strange aluminium form emerges. It draws you in, a winding path circling the mound on which it stands. There’s a hum of noise.

After you climb through a meadow of wild flowers, you waggle-dance yourself inside the seventeen-metre tall structure, built from 170,000 parts. You can look up to the sky beyond or down through the glass floor to watch other visitors milling about below. Coloured LED lights blink above you. Small children lie flat on the glass to watch each other scurry about.

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Photo: Jeff Eden, RBG Kew

 

This is the Hive, an artwork created by the artist Wolfgang Buttress and first exhibited as Britain’s pavilion at the Milan Expo in 2015. If you think it’s designed to make you feel like a bee, that’s exactly the idea. The Hive even hums and buzzes in response to the activity of real bees in a more traditional hive nearby. The busier the bees, the brighter the lights. The artwork’s not only aiming to make us marvel at it — which it certainly does — but also to make us think more about the natural world around us.

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Photo: Jeff Eden, RBG Kew
The wildflower meadow that’s been planted by Kew Gardens contains thirty-four species of native wildflower and three different grasses, many with magical names. There are not only the more familiar daisies and poppies, forget-me-nots (below) and wallflowers, but also Meadow Buttercups and Cats Ear, Lady’s Bedstraw and Birdsfoot trefoil. In the hedgerow, you’ll find hawthorn and blackthorn, wayfaring tree and dog rose.

Forget-me-nots and a bee

 

It’s not only the bees who love wild flowers; we all need them. According to Abby Moss of the Grow Wild project, which aims to get more people growing flowers in wild places, the UK has lost 97% of its wild flower meadows since the 1930s. Those meadows provide homes for bees and other pollinators, which in turn provide food for birds, hedgehogs and bats. And they all thrive on a variety of plants to live on. The more diverse the flowers and plants we let grow, the more birds and bees will flourish.

Richard Deverell, the director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, says ‘Not only is it heartbreaking to lose the beauty and colour these native flowers give the UK landscape, but the plight of pollinators has a very real impact on the food we eat ourselves.’

So we all feel better for the beauty and colour of flowers in our lives, whether we’re bees or not. We can bring them into our homes, but we can also find unloved spaces, no matter how small, and make them grow.

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Photo: Jeff Eden, RBG Kew
The Hive is open at Kew Gardens until November 2017. Find more information on the Kew website here.

Photo top: Jeff Eden, RBG Kew

 

Love flowers? So do we! Make your home naturally lovely all year round by signing up for a delivery box for just £20 a pop. 

Freddie’s Complete Guide to Gladioli

Gladdies! They’re tall, splendid, slightly rude and perfect for waving around your head in a state of uncontrolled joy. Here’s everything you ever wanted to know about gladioli but were afraid to ask…

Gladdies! They’re tall, splendid, slightly rude and perfect for waving around your head in a state of uncontrolled joy. Here’s everything you ever wanted to know about gladioli but were afraid to ask…

Consider the sword-lilies.

Yes that’s their nickname – ‘gladius’ is the Latin word for a sword, a ‘gladiator’ is a swordsman and ‘gladiolus’ is the Ancient Roman for a ‘little sword’., which they sort of look a bit like.

There are over 250 species within the genus Gladiolus, the majority of which are native to South Africa, and wild species can be very small with flowers no more than a few centimetres across. But they’ve been incredibly popular as cut flowers since they were brought to Europe in the 18th Century, and several hundred years of selection and breeding by floriculturists like Victor Lemoine have given us the glorious gladioli we enjoy today.

Vase with Red Gladioli (1886) by Vincent van Gogh
Vase with Red Gladioli (1886) by Vincent van Gogh
They are even quite easy to grow yourself. Plant the bulbs in the spring, give them plenty of water and they should flower through the summer and autumn (there’s a good guide to growing gladioli for keen gardeners here).

And we love glads in vases – they bring height, colour and character to an arrangement, or you can just display them on their own: great tall spikes bursting with loveliness.

 

The Great Gladioli Debate

But despite all that, the gladiolus is something of a controversial flower. Debate rages amongst flower folk up and down the land. So, as a public service, we thought we’d try to provide definitive answers to the most challenging questions people ask us about the sword-lily. Here’s everything you ever wanted to know about gladioli but were afraid to ask…

 

Wasn’t there somebody very famous associated with gladioli in some way?

frank neuhauser

 

Yes indeed! The one and only Frank Neuhauser (above, signing autographs in his old age). As an 11 year-old boy he won the first ever US National Spelling Bee in 1925 and became an American hero. He made it to the finals after over two million children were whittled down to just nine, and in the last round he triumphed by successfully spelling the word gladiolus.

Neuhauser was awarded 500 dollars in gold pieces, met President Calvin Coolidge, and his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky gave a parade in his honor and presented him with bouquets of gladioli. Quite a story.

 

 

No not him – somebody who was very big in the 1980s and used to wave them around on stage. Who was that again?

Ah right. Yes, you’re thinking of Morrissey, the famously eccentric lead singer of cult Manchester band The Smiths. He loved nothing more than to twirl a bunch around when performing…

 

Not him either! I mean Dame Edna Everage of course! Why did Dame Edna wave gladioli at her audiences?

Very well. This is the big one. Just why did Dame Edna Everage – the monstrous suburban Melbourne housewife/global superstar created by Barry Humphries – choose the gladiolus as her signature flower?

There’s no denying that Dame Edna was seriously big on gladdies. She closed her stage shows with a song and dance number called ‘Wave that Glad’ and there’s even a statue of her in Melbourne holding a massive bunch of them.

Well, there are three possible explanations. One is that she treated her audiences as the enemy, so the ‘sword-lily’ was a perfectly appropriate combative plant. Another is that, as well as meaning ‘little sword’, gladiolus was the Ancient Roman slang for the…ahem… male appendage. So a bit of classical smutty humour was right up Dame Edna’s alley.

But the most likely explanation is that since Barry Humphries was satirising Australian suburbia, gladioli must have been considered a bit, well, naff, back then. It happened to a lot of the big, showy flowers that were fashionable in the Edwardian era – they went out of style for a while with people who wanted something more ‘exotic’ or wildflower-like.

However, nobody worries about that any more – gladdies are back, and in big way!

 

So gladioli are cool again? Great!

Of course they are. And who cares anyway – if great, glorious, towering, lovely things like gladioli are uncool then we never want to be cool!

In fact, we were thinking of forming a Gladioli Appreciation Society, but it turns out that one already exists. It’s 90 years old and still going strong. More power to them –  may their sword-lilies never wilt!

Renoir - Gladioli in a Vase (1875). National Gallery.
Renoir – Gladioli in a Vase (1875). National Gallery

 

Love flowers? So do we! Make your home naturally lovely all year round by signing up for a delivery box for just £24 a

The Great Floriculturists – the Victorian geniuses behind your flowers

If you’re as flower-mad as we are, you can thank the visionary Victorian-era floriculturists who gave us so many of the stunning varieties we know and love today…

If you’re as flower-mad as we are, you can thank the visionary Victorian-era floriculturists who gave us so many of the stunning varieties we know and love today…

Have you ever wondered about the origins of your flowers? How did they get so ridiculously lovely? Well, ‘modern’ cut flowers – the dramatic, room-filling explosions of colour and scent that we love to display on our homes – might not exist were it not for a handful of brilliant men and women who dedicated their lives to floriculture: the art of cultivating flowers and ornamental plants.

Geniuses of the 19th and early 20th centuries such as Victor Lemoine and Marie Henrieta Chotek played crucial roles in developing everything from roses to orchids to daffodils. Here’s a brief history of floriculture…

 

Early floriculture

The concept of cultivating ornamental flowers and plants dates back to ancient times, perhaps to 600BC and the legendary Hanging Gardens of Babylon. But really, what every floriculturist needs is a good greenhouse to keep the climatic conditions just right.

The earliest known forerunner to the greenhouse system was built in AD30 for the Roman emperor Tiberius, who apparently enjoyed a daily fix of Armenian cucumbers. According to the author Pliny the Elder, the cucumbers were put outside during the day, and tucked in at night in specially designed frames or houses glazed with sheets of silicate.

 

Glasshouses and Tulipomania

By the thirteenth century, gardeners had worked out that glass was the perfect material for greenhouses. The Vatican boasted glasshouses known as ‘giardini botanici’, or ‘botanical gardens’, which were designed to house plants brought back from the tropics.

As time went on, the greenhouse became increasingly sophisticated, with the introduction of ‘ondol’, or temperature control, being recorded in Korea in the 1400s, using a form of underfloor heating powered by a fire or stove.

 Orangery in Holland – engraving by Jan Commelin (1676)

Orangery in Holland – engraving by Jan Commelin (1676)

 

The 17th century saw the further development of the greenhouse across Europe, including the birth of the orangerie in France, designed specifically with the aim of protecting orange trees.

Holland, meanwhile, was finding itself in the grip of so-called ‘tulipomania’, when the price of tulips reached an all-time high, with some flower-mad members of the middle and upper classes literally paying a fortune for a single tulip bulb. Nowadays Holland is still famous as the home of the tulip, and houses some of the most expansive greenhouses on the planet.

 

 

The Victorian Floriculture Boom

victorian flower show

But it was back in England, during the Victorian era, that the practice of floriculture really took off, with experts creating an extensive new range of varieties which still influence the cut flowers we enjoy today.

During this period, the British began to build bigger and increasingly elaborate structures, using glass and iron to create such marvels as the impressive Palm House at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, now a world heritage site and still a global pioneer in botanical research to this day.

Floriculture began as a pastime of the aristocracy – a kind of haughty-culture, if you like –  but over time, with the growth of the science of botany, it became increasingly popular and accessible to ordinary people, and to dedicated professionals.

 

 

The Great Floriculturists

The Victorian era introduced some key players to the world of floriculture, who created and propagated many beautiful new cultivars, in a perfect marriage of art and science.

 

Victor Lemoine

Lemoine 2

One of the most important flower breeders of the age was Victor Lemoine (1823-1911), who was particularly celebrated for his success with lilacs. The greatest of a long family line of horticulturalists, he was responsible for the introduction of over 200 different types of lilac, and thanks to him the term French lilac has come to mean all cultivars of the common lilac that have double flowers.

Common lilac Syringa vulgaris - 'Madame Lemoine'
Common lilac Syringa vulgaris – ‘Madame Lemoine’

 

The Frenchman was internationally famous, and became the first foreigner to receive the coveted Victorian Medal of Horticulture from the Royal Horticultural Society. He also developed many other varieties of flower, including geraniums and fuschias, as well as cannas, delphinium, deutzia, gladiolus, heuchera, hydrangea and peonies.

 

Marie, Countess of Roses

Marie_Henriette_Chotek

Meanwhile, the magnificently-named Henrieta Hermína Rudolfína Ferdinanda Marie Antonie Anna Chotková of Chotkov and Vojnín (also known as Marie Henrieta Chotek – presumably to save time) was endowed with the rather lovely title of the Countess of Roses.

Born in 1863, Marie was an aristocrat who was passionate about growing roses and created a world-famous rosarium, or rose garden, in the grounds of her Dolná Krupá estate in the Danubian Hills (in what is now Slovakia), where she was responsible for creating a huge number of new rose cultivars.

Marie was another internationally-renowned figure during this golden age of floriculture, even achieving a diploma of appreciation from the Pope. However, during World War I the Countess gave up gardening and went to work as a hospital nurse, taking care of wounded soldiers. When she returned to her estate, at the end of the war, her rosarium was completely destroyed and, despite her best efforts, it never quite returned to its former glory

The rose cultivar 'Marie Henriette Gräfin Chotek' created by Peter Lambert
The rose cultivar ‘Marie Henriette Gräfin Chotek’ created by Peter Lambert

Agnes Joaquim the flower of Singapore

Agnes2

The Singaporean floriculturist Ashkhen Hovakimian (1854-1899), also known as Agnes Joaquim, was of Armenian descent and showed a particular penchant for breeding orchids. Agnes famously bred the world’s first cultivated orchid hybrid, known as Vanda Miss Joaquim.

Her creation won the prize for the rarest orchid in 1899, and went on to become the national flower of Singapore.

The 'Vanda Miss Joaquim' orchid
The ‘Vanda Miss Joaquim’ orchid

 

 

Sir Harry Veitch

Riviere, Hugh Goldwin; Sir Harry Veitch (1840-1924); Royal Albert Memorial Museum; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/sir-harry-veitch-18401924-95694
Sir Harry Veitch (1840-1924) by Hugh Goldwin Riviere – Photo: Royal Albert Memorial Museum

 

Originally of Scottish descent, Sir Harry James Veitch (1840–1924) was an English horticulturist who played a key role in the creation of the Chelsea Flower Show.

Indeed, so great was his contribution that he was the first horticulturist to receive a knighthood, in 1912 (as well as winning the Order of the Crown from King of Belgium, the French Legion of Honour, the Isidore Saint-Hilaire Medal, the US George R. White Gold Medal … and last, but certainly not least, the Victoria Medal of Honour from the Royal Horticultural Society.)

The Queen and Princess Mary at the 1920 Chelsea Flower Show
The Queen and Princess Mary at the 1920 Chelsea Flower Show

 

Modern floriculture

In the 20th century US floriculture really took off, and went big bucks in typically American style. Alice Vonk found fame for creating the ‘whitest marigold’, as part of a 21-year-long quest by the company Burpee Seeds.The challenge was launched in 1954 in a bid to find the purest white flower, and Alice successfully beat off the 8,200-strong competition in 1975, winning $10,000 and in the process creating the ‘costliest flower ever’.

Snowbird Marigold- Alice Vonk and David Burpee - Photo credit
Alice Vonk and David Burpee with the snowbird marigold – Photo credit

 

Another notable name was William Pannill (1927-2014) who successfully registered over 200 new varieties of daffodil, and also set up the American Daffodil Society’s Pannill Award, which he then went on to win for himself no fewer than three times!

 

These days, growers all over the world continue to create ever more fascinating and stunning flower varieties.

But they’re all directly influenced by the relatively small number of great floriculturists, the Victorian visionaries who helped create so many of the cut flowers we love to display in our homes today.

 

Love flowers? So do we! Make your home naturally lovely all year round by signing up for a delivery box for just £24 a pop here.

The Gallery – Freddie’s Flower People at home!

Here’s a selection of some of our favourite photos sent in by Freddie’s Flower People (i.e. our splendid gang of customers) over recent months. They really are works of art, so they deserve a gallery…

What are flowers for? They’re for making your home naturally lovely, of course! So we love nothing more than seeing pics of your own unique, gorgeous arrangements of our deliveries. 

Here’s a selection of some of our favourite photos sent in by Freddie’s Flower People (i.e. our splendid gang of customers) over recent months. They really are works of art, so they deserve a gallery.

We’d love to show off yours too, so please do share by email or social media – see below for where.

(Those of a certain age who remember Tony Hart’s ‘And now it’s time for the Gallery’ may wish to play this music while scrolling through….)

 

Gladioli and lilies by Emily

e c willis

Emily Willis shows us how it’s done with this enviably effortless gladioli and oriental lilies arrangement (shared via Instagram).

 

 

Debbie does Wimbledon!

Debbie Towie via Twitter

 

Debbie Douglas (of TOWIE fame!) serves up our Wimbledon arrangement of dianthus, alstroemeria and stocks (via Twitter).

And they even made an appearance on the show!…

debbie on towie

 

Christina’s carafe

christina anna via fb

Snapdragons, phlox and pittesporum looking very cool in a carafe – shared via Facebook by Christina Anna.

 

Freesias by Helen

freesia helen bruness via twitter may 20

Fabulous freesia arrangement, beautifully framed by Helen Burness from Bristol (shared via Twitter).

 

Juliet’s fair sunflowers

juliet borges on fb

Sunflowers looking dazzling in a simple clear glass vase, expertly arranged by Juliet Borges (and shared with us on Facebook – along with lots of other lovely customer pics!).

 

Janne’s Sunday peonies

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How’s this for a beautiful arrangement? Our peonies elegantly strewn in a basket by the Instagram style guru Janne Ford.

 

A jug of loveliness by Celia

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Celia from London here, making her home naturally lovely with Oriental lilies, alstroemeria and soft ruscus.

 

Stunning colours – by Emma…

looloo72

This is just a wonderful pic of the snapdragons, solidago, trachelium and phlox arrangement, by Emma (aka looloo72 of Instagram).

 

…And by funzenpun!

funzenpun

And this is the same box equally beautifully arranged in a rather terrific jug vase by Instagram’s ‘funzenpun’.

 

Are you one of Freddie’s Flower People too? We want to see your arrangements! Share your own Freddie’s Flower pics with on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, or drop us an email at freddie@freddiesflowers.com

(Or if you’d like to join us, just sign up for lovely flower deliveries at £24 a pop here!)

Freddie’s Flower People: Polly Devlin

Here’s another wonderful person we’re lucky enough to have on our weekly rounds: the writer, editor and broadcaster Polly Devlin OBE…

We’re constantly amazed by the extraordinariness of our customers. Here’s another wonderful person we’re lucky enough to have on our weekly rounds: the writer, editor and broadcaster Polly Devlin OBE…

Polly Devlin says she was persuaded to give Freddie’s flower boxes a go by a ‘handsome man’ who came one evening, unannounced, to her door. Of, course, she says, she ushered him in sharpish because she ‘couldn’t resist his spiel which was the opposite of a spiel.’

Polly’s always been a woman who has moved between the country and the city; growing up in a remote corner of County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, she set off for Swinging London when she won Vogue magazine’s famous talent competition – working as the Features Editor. In 1967, she moved to Manhattan where she interviewed all the megastars of the era: Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Andy Warhol and Barbara Streisand to mention just a few.

 

‘The minute I could, I filled my houses with flowers’

Her homes have made the pages of magazines themselves — and flowers have always been a part of them. Polly says ‘my mother wouldn’t let flowers into the house when we were small because they made a mess — it’s always down to the old rag and bone shop of the heart, isn’t it? — and the minute I could, I filled my houses with flowers.’

Her favourite flowers? Roses. Polly grows lyrical about her love of them:

I’m Irish and when I look at these fabulous flowers I think… Only the English could have taken this sultry, furled, ancient tenacious decadent flower, one which survived thirty-five million years and immeasurable changes of climates, and christened her Mrs Honey Dyson and hung her in bouncing white frothy cascades from apple trees.

Only the English could have looked deep into the enormous flat furled complicatedness of a rose carried thousands of miles from an island in the Indian Ocean and called it a cabbage rose.

Only the English, in admiring the elegant aristocratic newcomer who had been imported by the East India Company from behind the closed gates of China, could call it a Tea Rose.

She doesn’t think that all the time, she admits. Only sometimes.

 

‘I don’t arrange. Anything. Ever’

Polly even named her eldest daughter Rose — her other two daughters also have the sylvan names Daisy and Bay. (They’re all amazing, successful people too, by the way – Rose Garnett is Head of Creative at Film4, Daisy is a journalist and Bay is a well-known fashion stylist.)

Polly is a writer of novels, short stories, a book on fashion photography and another on conservation: A Year in the Life of an English Meadowwritten with her husband Andy Garnett, tells how she and her family restored fields, made lakes and planted thousands of trees on their land in Somerset.

She’s currently writing a book about New York houses, a short story for an anthology, and preparing for one of her regular semesters teaching at Barnard College in New York.

It’s no wonder, then, that with so much going on in her life, she allows her Freddie’s Flowers to look their natural best. ‘I don’t arrange,’ Polly says. ‘Anything. Ever.’

 

Are you one of Freddie’s Flower People? You don’t have to be famous – we just want to see your arrangements! Share your own Freddie’s Flower pics with on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, or drop us an email at freddie@freddiesflowers.com

Or if you haven’t already done so, sign up for lovely flower deliveries at £24 a pop here!

 

 

Image top via BBC – Polly is a regular on the fiendish Round Britain quiz.