Gloucester florist Katherine Kear will be celebrating the Victorians’ influence on gardening at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show.
The British Master Florist has been asked to stage a display for the National Association of Flower Arrangement Societies (NAFAS) in the Great Pavilion.
Each year, NAFAS asks a different membership area to be responsible for the entry and Katherine will lead a team of eight flower arrangers from across The Three Counties and South Wales.
“It’s a bit of an honour,” says Katherine, who is a NAFAS national demonstrator, speaker and teacher.
With a completely free hand in deciding the theme, she has chosen to spotlight how the Victorian era of plant-hunting and conservatory growing changed the role of women in horticulture and influenced today’s style of flower arranging.
Gardening was not considered suitable for Victorian ladies but growing plants in a conservatory was acceptable and eventually led to more women arranging flowers for the house rather than leaving it all to the head gardener.
The exhibit, entitled ‘Victorian Revival, The Past Returns, will highlight this influence.
“It tells of a change in a lifestyle,” explains Katherine, who also runs a designer floristry business. “It kick-started women being accepted as gardeners and as flower arrangers.”
The exhibit, which is 20sq feet and 17ft high, has three main elements, although the team are keeping exact details under wraps to maximise its impact; they are currently building a mock-up at a secret location in Gloucester.
Part of it will give an impression of the large scale arrangements that were common in grand Victorian houses.
“They were very full, very blousy with lots of strong colours together.”
This ‘drawing room’ will include roses, carnations, palms, and the inevitable aspidistra. Attempts to use another Victorian favourite, the monkey puzzle tree, proved too difficult and instead they have made a ‘fantasy tree’ from Muehlenbeckia complexa, a natural material often used to make hanging baskets, which will be hung with flower-filled glass tubes.
Another area will showcase individual plants, such as fuchsia and begonia, representing those brought back by the great plant-hunters, and there will be old-fashioned perennials in a box-edged garden, including delphinium, larkspur and sweet peas.
Katherine is determined that Chelsea visitors will get “the whole experience” and the exhibit is designed so that they can touch and smell some of the plants; a collection of herbs will be clustered along one edge, a small fernery will line another.
“We want to be able to engage with people,” explains Katherine, who is a member of Churchdown and District Flower Club.
Throughout there will be hints of Victorian life from a collection of old tools and a gardener’s waistcoat hung on a fork to a dainty cup and saucer.
The other members of Katherine’s hand-picked team are: Jenny Bennett from Charlton Kings Flower Club; Elizabeth Graham, Newport; Pat Crane, Hereford; Kath Lee, Carmarthen and Pershore; Judy Aldridge, Ledbury; Adrian Cook, South Pembroke; Donald Morgan, Carmarthen.
Members of the 75 flower clubs in the region have been fundraising for the project and their contribution will be recognised with leaves they have pressed being added to the display.
Meanwhile, the team have been busy sourcing props and plants, while the cut flowers will be purchased just before the show.
Katherine is no stranger to exhibitions having been a regular at the Malvern shows and as a past member of the Hereford Cathedral Flower Festival team. However, the prospect of being judged according to RHS rather than NAFAS rules is, she admits, “quite scary”.
But she adds: “You cannot do this and worry. You just have to get on with it.”
• The Chelsea Flower Show runs from May 24-28 2016. Details: https://www.rhs.org.uk/shows-events/rhs-chelsea-flower-show
• More about the show: http://thechattygardener.com/?p=517