Linda Newham’s and her gravity defying tulips take floristry to a new level
PUBLISHED: 11:46 29 August 2014 | UPDATED: 11:46 29 August 2014
From tulips that defy gravity to hand-plaited leaves, Linda Newham’s arrangments defy convention and take floristry to a new artistic level, says Sandra Smith
That creativity manifests itself in forms of beauty from which everyone benefits is a gratifying phenomenon. Artistic influence, after all, inhabits most objects. From fashion to architecture, and ceramics to furniture, the talents of those who pursue a creative career embrace every aspect of our lives.
Take floristry, for instance. Colours alone add vibrancy and atmosphere, the variety of shapes, sizes and aromas similarly complementing, if not enhancing, décor and even generating ambience. Yet, like other artistic skills, a floral arrangement can be deceptive. For while many of us can readily transfer a bunch of flowers to a well used vase, far more skill is needed to craft an eye catching and memorable composition.
Linda Newham oozes such talent. In her stylish Chalfont St Giles home no sooner am I admiring her bold colour scheme than I’m drawn to a most unusual flower arrangement. In the middle of a vast coffee table stands a goldfish bowl lined with tulips, seemingly defying gravity as they coil around the interior of the glass, a swirling, horizontal mix of deep plum petals and soft green stalks.
“Containers can be used in many different ways,” Linda explains. “I left these tulips out of water for six hours until they were thirsty then wound them around the inside of the bowl and added water.” It is this ability to disregard the intended use of containers combined with sculpting flowers that enable her to stage manage such distinctive arrangements.
Her enthusiasm spills over while describing her craft: “There are standard, traditional shapes but all you need do is look at a design or shape and imagine it might look better in a taller container, or a horizontal one rather than round. I’m always on the lookout for new colour combinations, and a better quality flower, rather than an everyday one, provides a bit of wow!”
While sipping tea in her spacious lounge Linda shares the lengthy process that culminated in her present career. “When I was 24 I had my first proper garden and became interested in gardening to a degree that it took over my life. Then I studied flower arranging at night school. I loved it and couldn’t get enough.” A fulfilling spell in a florist shop followed but her vocation was put on hold when her husband’s promotion moved them to London. “We lived in Covent Garden for a year and a half before moving to Chalfont St Giles where we started a family. I wanted to be a hands-on mum.” Floristry remained a hobby, however, and as her children grew up she took on more private work, gained a City & Guilds teaching qualification, and eventually became self employed.
I’m keen to take a look at the hub of Linda’s creativity - a purpose built studio – so we stroll outside through a well tended garden. “I grow lots of ivies and eryngiums which I use. They give me a good choice of shade and colour. Foliage is as important as flowers.”
The daylight flooded building reflects Linda’s passion for teaching (“seeing people progress is so satisfying”) and the pleasure she gains from her career. Here she holds private workshops although she also runs classes for Bucks County Council.
Most flowers are sourced from Jane Adams Ltd in Sarratt, just over the border in Herts, where Linda selects her own blooms. She emphasises the significance of preparation. “I order flowers a week or so ahead for a party or wedding order. Some need to be in water and some open quicker than others so I collect them two days before. All fresh materials have to have been in water for 24 hours before you can use them. This is called conditioning and it’s vital. For carnations and lilies I cut an inch from the stems and place in cool water but roses get the boiling water treatment: cutting the end of the stems and putting them in one inch of boiling water for a minute then into cool water. This pushes any air bubbles out of the stems. Prepping your flowers is time consuming but crucial.”
Floral arrangements aren’t just about flowers, however. “You can shape a leaf, plait it, weave or staple. It’s a way of adding to your design without financial cost.” Such leaf manipulation, I’m advised, is a common technique, adding texture, space and movement to a design.
I wonder if transporting arrangements presents a challenge? “I have non slip matting in my car and strong cardboard boxes. And I always take a few spare stems, flowers and foliage, as well as scissors and foam, when I’m delivering.
“I was once asked to decorate a three tier wedding cake with a cascade of fresh flowers,” she smiles, “which was delivered to Raymond Blanc’s restaurant in Great Milton.” In fact, she even sends arrangements up to friends and family in Yorkshire and Lancashire, assuring me, “Flowers travel well!”
Back in the house we touch on Linda’s favourite season (winter), her love of funeral assignments (“because it’s the last thing you do for someone”) and the importance of teaching in the absence of apprenticeships.
It’s been a stimulating afternoon. This freelance florist is a delightful blend of creativity and encouragement: approachable, uncannily easy to talk to and willing to share advice in such a personal and constructive manner, you feel she has invented a style specifically for you.
Before I leave I take one final glance at the intriguing tulip creation and decide to no longer opt for predictable blossom or conventional containers. Linda has inspired me, and I’m now on a mission to fashion my own floral displays.
Linda teaches floristry at Evreham Centre and Gerrards Cross Memorial Hall as well as in a purpose built workshop in the garden of her home. As well as courses she offers day time and evening one-to-one sessions. www.lindanewham.co.uk.
Some species of flower are temperamental. Linda avoids ranunculus, for instance, because of its tendency to droop.
Investing in a quality container enhances your design and, remember, they can be used over and over again.