There is a quiet revolution going on in the UK’s farmed flowers and foliage business and what is happening with the Christmas wreath is making for an exciting time in this festive statement piece as far as floral design expert and national wedding florist of the year Lucy MacNicoll is concerned.
Lucy runs her own business in Harrogate, having started out from her family home in Knaresborough eight years ago and having previously worked in Dulwich Village in London.
She now runs a flower school, the shop and designs the flowers for large-scale weddings and special events.
At this time of year the Christmas wreath takes pride of place and in the past two weeks Lucy has run classes on how to make your own wreath from her studio and workshop in Tower Street that opened in September last year.
“It’s lovely just before Christmas isn’t it? And we have a fabulous time with the ladies who come to learn not just how to make their own wreath but also pick up tips about design, colour, texture and the various elements that make up a beautiful and in our case very natural wreath.
“People love to learn about flowers, foliage and what works best. Ladies love flowers and many pick them up while shopping, come home, plonk them in a vase but don’t really know much more about them. We teach them more about how to condition them and in the case of a wreath just how it is important to get the balance of textures and elements right. It’s also fun as we make it a very social time with mince pies, Prosecco and Christmas music while we all work.”
The use of locally grown flowers and foliage is as important to Lucy as the current trend for locally grown food.
“There’s a real uprising in British grown flowers and there are a lot more UK flower farmers. It’s much nicer for us to have a flower that has only travelled from a few miles away and has just been cut that morning, making it really fresh.
“We still have to import a good deal from Holland but things are changing. One of our local suppliers is Sally Pickering from Moor Monkton. Sally has supplied a substantial amount of what we’re using in our Christmas wreaths.”
The typical wreath of holly, berries, cinnamon sticks, dried fruit and baubles may still be around but Lucy explains how today’s floral design trends have led to a move away from the traditional.
“There has been a trend away from the traditional and our floral design pushes the boundaries more with creative ideas. The trends right now are to use an abundance of foliage, for a Nordic evergreen style, for pheasant feathers in some cases and creating a unique, highly original, wild and very natural wreath that also has an amazing scent using herbs like rosemary and including eucalyptus.
“It’s great to have something that looks and smells amazing every time you walk through the door and that will also provide a very welcoming introduction for visitors.
“Making a wreath is like painting a picture: you want to get just the right balance of colour, texture and elements. We don’t use what ‘oasis rings’ that are normally a foam ring on which to start the wreath, ours is a moss-based ring.
“We use an abundance of foliage from Sally and where years ago perhaps one type of spruce or fir would be used we now use up to five different types. We also use lots of natural berries such as viburnum steel berries and incorporate rosehips. Contorted willow and hazel adds depth and character and we use a lot of birch twigs.
“The pheasant feathers we source from a local farmer have really come in this year and add fantastic drama to the wreath. We don’t use baubles, glitter, sparkly shiny ribbon. We prefer hessian and velvety subtle coloured ribbon as an adornment alongside natural elements such as lotus seed heads, dried limes, juniper, lavender, heather and pine cones.
“It’s all about evergreen and going back to nature creating natural organic designs that look spectacular. There’s no glitz in terms of the bright shiny things, but there’s bags of beauty and nothing is too formed in the sense of looking like a machine has put the wreath together.”
Sally Pickering’s Pickers Flower Farm is not only a source of wreath materials, Lucy purchases an increasing amount of her flowers.
“We source a lot of produce from Sally and her gorgeous British grown flowers are ideal for the wedding season. She has an amazing business that is growing year on year in line with the British revolution. British flower farming is becoming much more accommodating but if I need 500 hydrangea for a wedding I still have to look abroad.
“Our wreaths are all hand made, bespoke creations. We also use succulents that look fabulous wired in to the design. At the end of the day it’s all about producing something that looks special and makes you feel good when it’s on your door.”
This weekend is noted as the biggest selling weekend for Christmas wreaths in the UK. Lucy’s are available from her shop in Tower Street and from Fodder at the Great Yorkshire Showground.
“We have a cart at Fodder’s entrance which is great for us because we’re all about promoting locally grown produce.”