Today’s In The Garden is the result of an extremely busy week. In fact, we almost thought about not doing Dig Delve today but, having thrown myself at work this morning, I took a deep breath after lunch and it has been a pleasure to gather all of the colour in the garden and arrange it on the mantelpiece for us and you. However busy I am, as soon as I put my head in the right space for flowers, everything else falls away.
First thought is, ‘What is the story?’ Despite the glowering cloud and torrential rain, it is the colour that draws me into the garden. Then, ‘Which containers?’ ‘More colour.’ I think. So down from the shelf in the boot room comes my collection of Italian, coloured glass vases, covered in months of dust and cobwebs. The first job was to wash and dry them, before arranging them on the mantelpiece, looking at a good distribution of form and colour, while also considering a range of heights spread evenly to ensure a good rhythm. Without anything in them this can be a bit hit and miss and, once the vases are in position and filled with water, with the first stems arranged, it can be nerve-wracking or foolhardy to try and re-arrange them.
Then the selecting and cutting of flowers. This takes longer than you might think. Judging whether a plant can spare the bloom. Should I just take one, or several? Sometimes one perfect flower means sacrificing several buds still to mature. Will it stand upright in the vase? If not, how will I get it to face the way I want it to? Then, how to get them back to the house undamaged? Some flowers are far more fragile than others. The hemerocallis are a case in point with their fleshy, snappable petals. Three ‘Stafford’ were cut to get the one perfect one in the arrangement, while I had to give up on the Hemerocallis altissima every one of which was broken just getting it into the trug. There were meant to be poppies, but they shed all their petals long before I could get them into position.
I picked a few at a time, going round the garden methodically, starting down by the barns and working my way through to the end of the main garden. Each trugful contained perhaps just five flowers to prevent squashing. I placed each batch where I felt they would start to create the right composition of colour and form. By chance the softer colours came first – blues, mauves, pinks – then the yellows, followed by the strong pinks, reds, saffrons and oranges.
Stand back and evaluate. Are any flowers hidden? Is there enough space to see most or all of them clearly? Is the colour rhythm working? Does it need more yellow? More red? More height? Are the vases pleasingly spaced? These questions come as observations, not concrete thoughts, and once they have been answered it is time to take the first photographs.
Picture this. I slip off my Birkenstocks and climb onto the dining table, over which hang two pendant lamps. The one at the mantelpiece end is right where I need to be to get my framing right. So I carefully balance it on the nape of my neck and then try not to make any sudden movements, otherwise it comes swinging round to hit the front of my face and my camera, and it is made of metal and has sharp edges. Years of practice mean that this fortunately seldom happens.
Then the light needs to be right. Today has been particularly gloomy, so I had to use a low aperture setting and high ISO to get the exposure right, but this also means the images are far more prone to camera shake. I can’t use a tripod, due to the dining table and pendant lamp issues, so I brace myself, keeping my elbows close to my sides as I grip the camera and hold steady while kneeling on the hard table top. Then I just keep shooting, making tiny adjustments to the framing and hoping that one of the images will be good enough.
I check the composition in the playback screen, but it is not until I download the images that I can see whether there is a problem with the arrangement, the composition or the image. If there is, further adjustments are made and then back up on the table to take some shots.
So, that is how the image you see at the top of this page came together today. It is how all of these mantel arrangements come into being. It took the best part of the afternoon, and I enjoyed every minute, but now, it’s time for a glass of wine.
Flowers, words and photograph: Huw Morgan
Published 31 July 2021