Sussex florist Georgia Miles puts frothy grasses, striking foliage and rich-hued blooms centre stage in her garden bouquets
An array of bright-coloured dahlias lie on a long table, their straight stems surrounded by rich foliage. Behind stand buckets filled with a myriad of flowers, including the delicate papery heads of Physalis alkekengi, the Chinese lantern, frothy Alchemilla mollis and white hydrangeas.
These are the tools of the trade for florist Georgia Miles, at the Sussex Flower School. Here, she teaches a range of students, from gardeners who want to improve their home-grown flower arrangements to professional florists wanting to enhance their skills.
Setting the stage
Her flower arranging has changed considerably from the days when she used to teach at East Sussex’s Plumpton College. Now her style is much freer than in the past with the main blooms being dahlias, sweet peas and English-grown flowers. “My arrangements used to feature very structured flowers, such as roses, carnations, spray chrysanthemums and lilies; typically the sort you’d easily find in supermarkets,” says Georgia. “Now, all my flowers are British grown, many grown myself. I choose types that are not quite so uniform and, because of this, my arrangements have naturally evolved into
a relaxed form.
“There’s much more awareness now of growing your own flowers, and people are increasingly wanting to know how to make more relaxed, floral, foam-free hand-tied bouquets,” she explains.
Foliage is important for these informal, country garden-style arrangements. “It’s key, so grow, cut, forage or buy it,” she advises. “Use it to create the structure of the design. The arrangement’s height and width should be created from the foliage.” Georgia uses a mixture of foliage at this time of the year, much of it from her own garden. “I like to use plenty of leaves, as they are no longer new and so are stronger and last longer once picked. Beech, silver birch and cotinus are favourites. The slow growing pittosporum is also a useful addition.” She is also fond of Clematis vitalba, often called old man’s beard and found rambling over hedges in the countryside, and laurel. Both grow in her garden. She enjoys foraging for berries, which are also used in her arrangements to add colour and different textures.
It is only once this is done that the flowers are chosen. Georgia recommends ensuring there is a mixture of different forms, so they are not all linear or round shapes. “I use a three-tier system in my arrangements,” she explains. “The focal flowers are round and include roses, dahlias and peonies. These draw the eye and are mixed with linear flowers, which are pointy, but not rigid, and provide height. Foliage is added, and grasses are a particularly good choice, as they often have an interesting curve in the stem.
“I look for plants that aren’t symmetrical, or ones that have wiggly
or twisted stems. Then I add what I call the bridesmaid, or supporting flowers, creating the third tier. These are lush and offer a transition between the focal and linear flowers.”
She particularly likes to use eustoma or lisianthus along with spray roses as these bridesmaid flowers. She suggests including anything in spray form with smaller heads.
The last step is to use what Georgia calls a filler flower. These fill any gaps, making the bouquet or arrangement look full and luxurious. “These are the flowers you might forget to buy in a shop because they seem boring and would not look pretty in a vase on their own, but they are really relevant, as they add shading to the arrangement,” she says.
Growing in abundance in her beds, in autumn, these include armfuls of pink and russet sedum, fluffy grasses, large hydrangea flowers and asters. All supply a froth of colourful flowers and foliage to perfect an autumnal bouquet.
A love of dahlias
Many of the flowers she uses in the school are grown in her own garden. Hidden behind brick walls, raised beds flourish. In the autumn, vibrant jewel-coloured dahlias, bright zinnias and large clumps of thriving perennials vie for attention.
Dahlias are Georgia’s passion and her favourite flower for cutting. “I love these flowers because there are hundreds of varieties, forms and colours,” she explains. “They are super fashionable and are cut and come again. Feed and water them well and each time one is cut, another will grow, right through to the first frost.” She grows hers in raised beds in the 50ft wide by 100ft long (15x30m) cutting garden.
“I think raised beds are easier for a cutting garden,” she says. “You can control the soil much more, and they are easier to access.” At the bottom of the South Downs, Eastbourne’s soil is chalky, with a tendency to be thin and alkaline. By growing in raised beds, she can provide better soil for plants that have to supply plenty of stems for cutting.
The walls provide both shelter and warmth for the plants, keeping the temperature inside slightly higher than it would be if the garden was open to the elements. This, added to Eastbourne’s mild southerly seaside location, means the garden rarely experiences frost.
“It’s not frost free, but we don’t tend to have severe frosts,” Georgia explains. As a result, tender plants, such as her beloved dahlias, can be left in the ground to overwinter. In fact, she found she lost more tubers through rotting when she did try to lift them, than when they were left in the beds during the colder weather. “I cut them down, make sure they are labelled, then I put a big pile, about half a foot, of well-rotted horse manure on top. After that, I just leave them be, and they are absolutely fine. It never gets so cold I have to worry, but if it did become very wet, I might be inclined to cover the beds with plastic sheeting.”
Range of colours
Because they are left in place, the dahlias increase in size annually, producing more and more blooms for cutting. Georgia also adds approximately 20 new varieties each year. “I love all their colours, but I like experimenting,” she says. “I normally go for the really dark red-black ones, but I have added lots of oranges, which I love.” Tangerine-flowered, dark-leaved ‘David Howard’ and vermilion-orange ‘Happy Halloween’ joined deep, velvety red cutting classics such as ‘Arabian Night’.
Added to these are pale, pink, white and peach varieties, such as ‘Café au Lait’. “I needed to have some pale colours for our wedding flower courses,” she says. “Now, I’ve got a whole new spectrum, and they are so abundant I can pick buckets of them every week.”
Annuals for variety
As well as the dahlias, her beds provide many other autumnal plants to arrange with them. Long-lasting annuals, such as zinnias, cosmos and multi-stemmed sunflowers, billow from her raised beds along with perennials, such as sedums, rudbeckias, grasses and penstemons.
The cosmos in flower in autumn were sown in pots in spring and planted out. They tend to self-sow, so Georgia lifts seedlings that are not where they are wanted. She pots them up to grow on in the greenhouse until they are bigger. This keeps her beds free for earlier, quick- growing annuals.
Her vibrant zinnias were sown direct in late spring. She has started growing pastel-coloured zinnias as well as the bright ones. “I found that although they are very beautiful, the bright colours are less useful for flowers at the school. Brides don’t want bright colours,” she explains.
As well as mitigating the effects of frost, the walls keep out strong winds. She still supports all her flowers, using green pea netting stretched horizontally over the beds, to ensure unbroken, long stems.
Passion for teaching
Georgia’s enthusiasm for her school is infectious, and she is keen to spread the joy of working with flowers.
“I enjoy teaching and passing on knowledge and experience, and now my main focus is on supporting other people while they are carving out their own careers,” she says. “I’ve had an interest in gardening since being a child. However, it took having my own garden for me to recognise how passionate I was about the subject and that working with flowers was what I wanted to do. I never wanted to work in other people’s gardens, just my own. I particularly enjoy the commercial side of what I do, running the business, which surprised me. I like bringing people together and I always bake a cake for the occasion. Growing flowers to cut has always been my main interest, mostly because I’m producing something that I can sell, which I’m very proud of.”
Over the past two years, she has noticed that more people than ever are training to be florists, as they can trade online and no longer need a bricks and mortar shop. “I run career-changing courses for those who want to move into floristry from other jobs, and they are very popular, especially with the young and trendy,” she says. “I started out only running two courses a year, but have now increased this to three, due to demand. There are lots of ways to market a business now, and this surge in people training to be florists is the result.
“I am lucky, as I get to do what I love every day and I thoroughly enjoy helping others to achieve the same goal. I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
Contact: The Sussex Flower School, East Hoathly, BN8 6QA 01825 841370
Words: Clare Foggett and Julie Brown Photography: Abigail Rex
A Devon artist captures the sharp outlines of leafless trees in his striking linocut prints
An ancient oak wood sits in a valley on the edge of Dartmoor. Mist drifts down from the moors and hangs in the top of the trees. Their leafless, stark winter silhouettes are the inspiration behind artist Richard Shimell’s evocative prints.
“I like their many curving, complex branches,” he says.“I am attracted to trees for both their simplicity and their complexity. The shapes in winter are hugely complex and interesting. You could lose yourself staring at one, but a silhouette doesn’t have to involve tone. That means I can cut something which is simple, in that sense.’
Richard spends time walking on the moor and in the surrounding woods. While he walks, he photographs views and trees that catch his eye. Returning home, he checks the images. “I need to have lots of images in order to find one that I like and which will work as a silhouette,” he says.
Content and configuration
The pictures he eventually selects are the ones that stand out for their composition and shape. One photograph that attracted him depicts two hawthorn trees. One has fallen over and is supported by the second. This in turn is being pushed into the lower tree by the prevailing wind. “There are two things going on here, as the wind direction is going one way and the fallen tree the other,” he says. “This creates a sense of balance or tension between the two. It’s difficult not to anthropomorphise them, as the two trees are an obvious metaphor for someone supporting someone else, co-existing with them, but still being separate.”
When planning a print, he also takes the negative space into account. “You want to have nice blank areas of empty space to balance the areas of detail,” he explains.
A former journalist, Richard only took up printmaking when he moved to Devon in 2010. A chance visit to a local printmaker’s studio inspired him to find out more about linocut printing. He joined the Dartington workshop. “I found printmaking very difficult to begin with. But it was a way of expressing myself that I had been waiting for, so I just kept going,” he says. He did find that a long-held interest in photography helped him with the composition of his prints.
Once a photograph has been chosen, he makes a sketch of it on paper. “I always do a sketch to make the image mine,” he says. He sometimes sketches in pencil, but prefers working in charcoal. “I have a tendency to be too precise, but charcoal makes me freer as it moves so easily and you can smudge it.” The sketching process lets him see how effectively the photograph will work as a print. He edits out details such as houses, simplifies forms, and experiments with tones.
Once the sketch is right, he copies it exactly in pencil onto a panel of vinyl. The vinyl is 2mm thick and has a smooth surface. It is the same size as the intended print, as it will eventually become the printing plate or block. Most of the prints are in the region of 15-18in wide by 12in high (40-50cm x 30cm).
From flooring to print
When Richard first began printing he worked with lino, but now prefers to use offcuts of vinyl flooring. “Working with vinyl is the same principle as working with lino, but it’s much easier to define detail in vinyl, as it’s a harder material,” he says. This is important, as precise detail and crisp lines are a key part of his work. The vinyl comes from offcuts of material normally used for flooring in institutions such as schools and hospitals. “I like the fact that it’s such a mundane material and that I am able to recycle something that people don’t want any more,” he says.
Cutting the pattern can take up to a month, but it is the part of the process he enjoys the most. “I love the cutting. I get into a rhythm or flow and then I can do it for hours and hours. At the end I feel relaxed and fulfilled,” he says. Cuts are made along the drawn pencil lines. They remove all the vinyl except those areas which will form the finished image. These untouched, raised sections will be inked to form the pattern on the print. This method of printmaking is called relief or block printing.
To cut away the surface, Richard uses wood-cutting tools. These are steel blades, roughly 5-6in (12-15cm) in length, with rounded wooden handles designed for holding in the palm of the hand. The blades vary in shape and size, with some having a V-shaped profile and others more being U-shaped. Because of the detail, he uses the smallest tools he can find, some as narrow as 1mm across. The wooden handle held in his palm, he pushes the blade gently into the vinyl. His other hand acts as a brake, or to guide the movement. The work is so intricate that a magnifying lamp is needed to help him achieve the neat, precise outlines he requires.
Recently, Richard started working with wood-engraving tools as well. These enable more texture to be created than the wood-cutting tools. “I can achieve more variety with the engraving tools,” he says. “They allow me to make thin or patterned marks on the vinyl, which will show up in white.” His plates are now cut using a combination of both types of tool. “What I do is a kind of hybrid between a linocut and a wood engraving. I use the linocut technique for the tree and the wood-engraving tool for the landscape. This opens up a lot more opportunities to depict a tree in the landscape.”
When the plate is finished, Richard is finally ready to start printing. He uses a modern Hawthorn press, printing on to Somerset 250gsm paper, made from cotton rag. This is an etching press, with a bed approximately 47in long by 21in wide (120 x 54cm).
Most of the tree silhouettes use two plates. The first is a plain vinyl plate used to create the background colour. Richard pours oil-based, washable Caligo ink onto a glass slab, using it to coat a hand-held spindle roller. When it is evenly covered with ink, he rolls it over the plate three or four times. The ink-covered plate is then put on the printer with a sheet of paper carefully positioned on top. The plate and paper are wound through the printer rollers, the process transferring the colour to the paper.
The background colours may be graduated to give the effect of a winter’s sky at twilight. Colours fade from a deep blue to a subtle primrose yellow. Richard achieves this by colouring the first plain plate with a blend of inks. He places three different colours, dark blue, pale blue and yellow, in bands along the glass plate. The roller is pushed through the colours, Richard moving it slightly across the bands to mix the colours. When the roller is evenly covered, he coats the plate with the ink and then uses the inked plate to print a coloured background.
When the background is finished, the image of the actual tree can be printed. The inking process is repeated, but this time black ink is used to coat the plate cut with the tree image. The ink sticks to the raised surface, while the cut-away areas are left uncoloured. Richard places the paper printed with the background colour on top of the black inked plate before rolling the two through the printer. The result is a dramatic black silhouette against a gently coloured sky.
“I love doing this,’” says Richard. “It is fantastic and hugely exciting when you are printing something new and you first lift up the paper and see what you’ve printed.”
Linocut is relief printing, a method of transferring an image onto paper using a plate, or block, with a pattern cut into it. The background is cut away leaving a raised image on the surface which is then inked. The recessed background remains untouched. The plate is then pressed onto paper, in the process transferring the inked pattern onto the surface of the paper.
The earliest form of relief printing was woodblock printing. This was carried out for centuries. Then, in the early 1900s, artists realised they could replace the traditional woodblock with a new, softer material called linoleum – lino. This had been invented in 1855. Made out of solidified linseed oil, it was intended as a flooring material. Artists discovered that it was much easier to work than wood, as it was softer to cut and had no awkward grain.
The new technique was taken up by artists such as Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse. Picasso produced his first linocut in 1939, going on to use the technique more in the 1950s and ‘60s. It was popularised in Britain after the Grosvenor School of Modern Art opened in London in 1925. Here, students were taught linocut classes by the artist Claude Flight. Today, linocut is often taught in schools as an accessible introduction to printmaking.
Linocut printing can be used in several ways. The simplest method is to print in one colour using one plate. However, more colours can be introduced by using more plates. Each different plate is cut with a different pattern which can then be covered with a different colour ink. For example, a bowl of fruit could be printed with three plates. The first could depict the bowl itself in blue, the second, apples in green and the third, a bunch of yellow bananas.
A more complex method of making a multi-coloured print is by using the linocut reduction method. This is when one single plate is used to create a print with a series of progressive cuttings, inkings and printings. The disadvantage of this method is that, as the plate is gradually cut away, more and more of it is destroyed. This means it cannot be re-used. However, using the same plate for each printing means that the problems involved in exactly matching the paper to the plate, or registration, are avoided.
Contact: www.richardshimell.co.uk Print prices from £50
Words: Diana Woolf Photography: Jeremy Walker