If I were to instigate a thriving cut-flower garden at my home, Doddington Place Gardens, near Sittingbourne, I would look to Parham House, West Sussex (www.parhamhouse.co.uk) for inspiration – although I very much doubt I would need the prodigious quantities of flowers that Parham grows.
An astonishing 20-25 buckets of cut flowers from the garden arrive at the house transported by tractor and trailer every Tuesday with an additional 10 buckets on Fridays to bolster the existing arrangements (the house is open to the public on Wednesdays-Sundays and Bank Holiday Mondays).
The thinking and planning behind this mammoth operation are masterminded by Tom Brown, the Head Gardener. “At Christmas we pore over the seed catalogues, deciding what to order. Then we plan a propagation schedule with the aid of a spreadsheet. We treat each flower as a crop. This sounds rather callous but I have to choose what to grow and the quantities very carefully – it is not a question of going round the garden with a wicker basket cutting the odd bloom here and there. Obviously ‘cut and come again’ flowers with a long flowering period such as cosmos are ideal whereas something like peonies despite their ‘wow’ factor are more fleeting.” The flowers are planted in rows (just like at Blooming Green) in the walled garden which is open to the public and the sweet peas in blocks of colour. The flowers are not typical commercial flowers and include alstroemerias, calendulas, achillea, campanulas and alchemilla mollis.
For anyone interested in the history of flower arranging in English country houses, ‘Flora Domestica: A History of Flower Arranging 1500-1930’ by Mary Rose Blacker makes for fascinating reading. For example – a certain Lady Ashbrook’s Edwardian aunts told her that it was ‘very vulgar to mix flowers’ – people might think you could not afford to grow enough of one kind to fill a vase. Only with the publication of Constance Spy’s first book, Flower Decoration in 1934 did the idea of ‘mixed flowers’ become acceptable again. Or Gertrude Jekyll who writes: “There comes a point when the room becomes overloaded with flowers and greenery. During the last few years I have seen many a drawing room where it appeared to be less a room than a thicket”.
“Flower arranging ‘Parham Style’ is a venerable and old tradition,’ says the current chatelaine, Lady Emma Barnard, adding “the flowers unite the house and the garden so that they don’t each exist in a vacuum.”
The tradition of exquisite floral displays each sitting on its own needlework mat stitched by Alicia Pearson, Lady Emma’s great grandmother, dates back to the 1920s. The arrangements are wonderfully loose and appear simple to execute but the reality is that they are very subtle and require deft artistry. They are created each week by a team of six, working in pairs.
If you want ideas for arranging cut flowers Period-Style Flowers, Flower Arranging Projects inspired by the Past by Sarah Pepper has easy to follow instructions and good illustrations. Armed with this and a bucket or two of flowers from Blooming Green your home will be transformed into a floral paradise.
Amicia de Moubray lives and gardens at www.doddingtonplacegardens.co.uk. Author of Twentieth Century Castles in Britain published by Frances Lincoln, and Saving Thanet: The Architecture of the Kent Coast published by SAVE Britain’s Heritage, she started www.favershamlife.org in 2016 and has written for many newpapers and magazines including The Times, House and Garden, World of Interiors, Apollo and the Evening Standard.