Suffragettes, shark skin, rubber ducks and River Island: stories from Leeds Castle 2018

0 florists at leeds castle festival of flowers

There are flower festivals, and then there’s Leeds Castle Festival of Flowers. Taking place every September, there’s something extra special about this floral extravaganza at Kent’s historic castle and it’s not just the fact that it grows even more impressive each year.

During festival week, thousands of visitors pass through the spectacular castle grounds - complete with magical misty moat - and enter room after room filled with large-scale floral installations. Most of those who design at the event are professional florists with businesses to run but they volunteer to do it because it’s a chance to work with complete creative freedom while doing what they love – designing with flowers. It’s an opportunity to promote their skills to the visiting general public, but it’s also painstaking work with long hours during set-up, difficult challenges posed by historic buildings and valuable furniture (think an irreplaceable shark-skin desk worth thousands) and most installations are large enough to need ladders and loads of buckets.


26 florists at leeds castle festival of flowersGood Florist Guide lead designer Morgan Nuth with Leeds Castle head florist Louise Roots


27 florists at leeds castle festival of flowersLeeds Castle, the only place you'll find Dutch buckets destined for King Henry VIII


Huge kudos go to Chris Wolfe and her team at Southeast Flowers, the festival's main wholesaler. Supplying flowers for an entire event of this size takes immense work and planning with huge amounts of logistics involved, and the service Chris offers goes far beyond simply delivering boxes of blooms; she's on-site for days and gets stuck in with everything from sinking blocks of foam to unwrapping bunches and getting buckets to wherever designers need them.


22 florists at leeds castle festival of flowersChris Wolfe with Mick Stubbe, partner of designer Dennnis Kneepkens


We spoke to several florists during set-up, read more about what they had to say below. Many congratulations go to Tina Parkes of the Academy of Floral Art and Trudie Easton, who both won prizes for their designs at the event’s gala evening.


 4 florists at leeds castle festival of flowersSet-up is a long process, here's the room being decorated by the Leeds Castle team of florists led by Louise Roots


Tina Parkes and the Academy of Floral Art, ‘Fan-tastic!’ in the Catherine of Aragon Bedroom
Tina and students from the British Academy of Floral Art won a prize awarded by TV personality Joe Swift for her design titled 'Fan-tastic'. 

Tina told us, “We wanted to use bright colours to contrast with the striking orange curtains in the room. We researched Catherine of Aragon and discovered she had a Spanish father, so we decided to create Spanish style fans to connect with the history of the room as well as the theme of ‘Ladies Day’, with fans being a popular accessory for women through history.”


16 florists at leeds castle festival of flowers


“Originally, we thought of creating a dress which would have been great fun, but the Spanish fans have been really good practise for the students who helped make them because they use strong repetition techniques and it’s allowed them more autonomy while giving them an opportunity to work on a large-scale project with a team. We were uncertain about whether to include the little faux feathered birds, but they’ve gone down really well with the little ones. It’s been a challenge as there’s lots of furniture in this room and it’s all incredibly valuable, including an irreplaceable shark-skin desk – they don’t make those anymore! You end up dancing around to avoid touching things.”


15 florists at leeds castle festival of flowers

19 florists at leeds castle festival of flowersHere's Tina and the team from the Academy of Floral Art with Tracy Rowbottom from Country Baskets 


Trudie Easton, ‘A Ladies Day to Remember’ in the Yellow Drawing Room
This year is a century on from when women first won the right to vote in the UK; a fact that inspired florist Trudie Easton to create her prize-winning design, crowned the display that best reflected this year's theme of 'Ladies Day', made particularly poignant as the castle has direct links to the Women's Suffrage Movement through Lady Baillie's mother, a notable social activist and feminist.

Last year Trudie took part in the festival and created a design themed on the Swan Princess which incorporated hand-made swans. This year she’s impressed again with her thought-provoking take on the ‘Ladies Day’ theme. Her design included suffragette rosettes made with ceramic mosaics which we discovered were hand-made by her friend Jo Fletcher, who in fact used to work in interior design at Leeds Castle.


13 florists at leeds castle festival of flowers14 florists at leeds castle festival of flowers


Di Marvell, Petals Florist Margate, ‘Step into the Flowers’ in Thorpe Hall
Di, whose Margate shop is Good Florist Guide accredited, created a floral moongate which transported visitors to world of ladies' accessories from high fashion to hats, handbags and shoes. When we caught up with with Di, she explained her creative way of covering up the ugly polystyrene mannequins used to display her creations.

“I covered the whole head of the mannequin in a layer of reindeer moss. First I hacked up all of the moss and then spent hours in the back of the shop attaching it using a McDonalds stirring stick and PVA glue! For the moongate, I ordered hydrangea with heads the size of a house, so I’ve broken them down into smaller florets before inserting into the foam. I also used Pink Mondial - they really are huge roses and have a gorgeous papery effect, they’re really long-lasting too.”


18 florists at leeds castle festival of flowers

11 florists at leeds castle festival of flowers


Philip Hammond, The Dorchester, ‘An Archway Fit for a Lady’ in the Gatehouse Archway
Another Good Florist Guide member, Phil Hammond head florist at The Dorchester, is a fabulous designer who never does things by halves. At this year’s festival he created a floral archway dripping in gorgeousness including hanging amaranthus, a unique new hydrangea variety and loads of his signature Meijer Roses.

Usually a busy hotel florist making luxury wedding and corporate designs every day, Phil told us he loves coming to Leeds Castle because it’s a chance to let himself loose with his favourite flowers and independently create something gorgeous. We loved that he was up a ladder pulling flowers and foliage from a Chanel bag; “It was only one I could find at the hotel”, he said!


1 florists at leeds castle festival of flowers

12 florists at leeds castle festival of flowers


Helen Chambers, Evolve Flowers, ‘The Spiral Spa’ in the Spiral Staircase
Helen interpreted the theme of ‘Ladies Day’ to represent a spa treatment day; of luxury, relaxation and self-indulgent pampering. At the top of the stairs was a luxurious bath overflowing with lavish foaming bubbles created with hydrangea heads. The overflowing water tumbles down the spiral staircase with lightweight floral links made from kokedama orchids, moss, air plants and incorporating inspirational poetry. Large headed roses and rose lilies join the orchids to add to the luxury.

Every element of the design took real care and Helen's was brimming with innovative ideas, from the placement of mirrored tiles on the floor to creating fluffy bubbles using cotton wool and wire netting. Helen’s design used some unique and challenging props and structures, from an entire bath tub to rubber ducks!

17 florists at leeds castle festival of flowers

2 florists at leeds castle festival of flowers 


Dr Solomon Leong, Solomon Bloemen, ‘Ladies Day in the East’ in the Inner Hall and Staircase
The illustrious Dr Solomon Leong was responsible for decorating one of the most prominent parts of the castle - its great sweeping inner staircase. He again travelled all the way from Hong Kong to take part in the festival and his design was influenced by both Eastern and Western ethos. His installation depicted the femininity and refinement of ancient China and with the use of traditional paper and careful composition of curves and straight lines he achieved a delicate balance.

We spotted that he’d incorporated dyed Phalaenopsis orchids; not a gaudy Tesco blue but in speckled peaches and pinks. They’re a big current trend but also very much a Marmite flower among florists, so we asked Solomon for his thoughts and he agreed they’re not to everyone’s taste but he really is a fan and believes it’s important to be on-trend.


28 florists at leeds castle festival of flowersSolomon's dyed Phalaenopsis 

In the video below he tells us all about his design.


Dennis Kneepkens, ‘Wildflower’, Henry VIII Banqueting Hall
Dutch designer Dennis and his partner Mick had the pleasure and challenges that came with decorating the largest room in the castle. To create the installation, titled 'Wildflower', they filled King Henry VIII's Banqueting Hall with scented country garden flowers and willow structures from which they hung delicate glass vases. The whole design had a touch of unruliness, as the pair told us they took the theme of 'Ladies Day' and wanted to give a modern take to the word 'lady' by showing a wild side.


25 florists at leeds castle festival of flowers


Dennis used a special range of flowers including David Austin roses and two amazing new Lisianthus varieties, named Wondrous Light Brown – with unique ruffles, and Botanic Pink which has pointed petals that open up so far they're almost turned back on themselves.

Dennis is a true floral jetsetter, constantly flying from one far-flung country to another, and he told us he wouldn’t be back in his hometown of Amsterdam until the following month. During festival week, he also wowed the crowds on-stage with bundles of charm and floral demonstrations.


6 florists at leeds castle festival of flowers7 florists at leeds castle festival of flowersLisianthus Wondrous Light Brown and Botanic Pink 


Dean Sharpe, Dean Sharpe's Floral Studio, 'Tea in the Meadow' at the Castle Doorway

Tasked with creating a grand entrance at the main doorway to the castle, Dean used large stands and urns filled with garden roses, hydrangea, grasses, twisted willow and ivy alongside carefully placed cups and saucers. He told us, "I took the theme of 'Ladies Day' and decided to base my design around ladies at lunch, so I've used tea cups and props to tie in with it. The lilies, supplied by Southeast Flowers, smell amazing. I didn't want to emulate a design that's already been done so I chose these bright yellow colours as they've not been used at the doorway before. The challenge for florists is designing something different each year."

20 florists at leeds castle festival of flowersHere's Dean with Ellouise Hasler-Stott, an award-winning florist who helped him create the display, and Di Marvell 

21 florists at leeds castle festival of flowersTV personality Joe Swift cutting the ribbon at Dean's design, at the entrance to the castle


Hadlow College, Louise Cowderoy & Maria Daniel, ‘Gold Cup’ in the Heraldry Room
Drawing on inspiration from the style of dresses and hats from the past and present eras of 'Ladies Day' at Ascot, floristry students Louise and Maria created elegant outfits and accessories using seasonal British flowers.

When we caught up with the pair they were in the process of dressing mannequins with their floral garms. It turns out getting hold of a clothes mannequin isn’t as easy as you might think; they asked all sorts of clothing stores including Primark and Next but the only one able to help was River Island, supplying the mannequins for nothing and apparently proving very helpful - so remember that next time you're in need!


29 florists at leeds castle festival of flowersLouise and Maria, Hadlow College 

24 florists at leeds castle festival of flowers

Emily Martin, Lucy Button, Lucy Woodfine & Tina Love, Hadlow College with their display 'The Red Carpet' in the Cellar


23 florists at leeds castle festival of flowersHadlow College floristry students