Christmas wreaths, robins and candy cane ribbons

How a spider (nearly) stole Christmas.

Today I went to my local floristry suppliers and had to restrain myself from buying their entire Christmas department. I do tend to get a bit carried away. They have such an enchanting selection of sundries that I find it a real challenge to choose the decorations to use on the Gilliflower Christmas wreaths. Making it onto the shortlist this year (amongst other adornments) are dried chilli peppers, little robin red breasts, mini pumpkins, cinnamon sticks and pheasant feathers which will all be used to embellsih an abundant array of foliage and berries on wreaths, garlands and table arrangements.

When I got back to the Gilliflower workshop this afternoon, I started to move my festive floristry supplies out of storage in order to start Christmas preparations, surrounding myself with baubles, orange slices and jingle bells. I merrily put my hand into a box of fabric and pulled out not only an unfurling, elegant stream of candy cane ribbon but also the biggest, baddest spider with some of the fattest legs I have ever had the misfortune of meeting. For one hair raising minute I nearly called Christmastide off but I’m joyful and triumphant to say that my little friend has since found a new home down at the bottom of the garden.

If you would like a bespoke Gilliflower Christmas wreath and to be the envy of your neighbours this festive season, orders are now being taken. You can order yours via the Gilliflower contact formFacebook or by texting 07849 355419. Delivery in the Colchester area available. Spider free guaranteed.

Pine and scissorsMini pumpkins, chilli peppers and robinsWreath, moss and wireChristmas wreath on white door Gilliflower Christmas wreath on blue doorHelen Whitten from Gilliflower with Christmas wreath



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September’s seed harvest

Seed pods and dried flowers add harvest time chic to late summer arrangements.

Nigella, poppies, aquilegias and scabiosa are simple to grow. Wonderfully so. My garden is full of these self-seeding, bee beckoning beauties and summer upon summer their display gets more and more vivid. By September though, their bewitching exhibition has muted leaving behind their delicate, ethereal seed head skeletons. Tiny harvest spiders weave finespun webs between each frozen-in-time pod and there is a promise in the air of autumn awakening.

A few years ago, I would skim quickly over the dried flower sections of my floristy books with no more than a fleeting glance.  Since growing my own cut flowers however, I’ve come to appreciate the full life cycle of a bloom from seedling to seed head. Last weekend, I finally got round to harvesting my dried poppy and aquilegia seed heads which will adorn autumn and winter flower arrangements. Adding curios accents to bouquets and wreaths, here at Gilliflower we take inspiration from vintage dried flower designs and use immaculately preserved dried materials in all manner of compositions. Gathered into large bundles and bound in twine, seed pods can also be used to give harvest time chic to late summer weddings sowed in between the hay bales and bunting.

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Dreamy chocolate brownies from a bearded brownie baker

Opulently decadent chocolate brownie and bountiful bouquet gift packages are coming…

I love it when a plan comes together and yesterday, when Gilliflower met with Alex’s Brownies, there was no stemming the creative flow. Alex, the bearded baker, is a Colchester based local lad and artisan brownie maker who crafts luxuriously rich brownies for an increasing band of devout customers. Alex is a chocolate visionary. His unwavering passion for all things brownie has led him to create fantastical bespoke bakes with the most ingenious flavour combinations. But best of all, Alex takes requests. And no request, no matter how wildly decadent or ludicrously lavish, is too far. Peanut butter and white chocolate chunks? You betcha’. Mini Eggs and Toblerone? Of course! Twix and Double Stuffed Oreo? No problem. I’m too hungry now to continue listing the boundless possibilities but just think of them all…

As you all know, I’m a lifelong fan of partnering flowers with cake. I go on about it every month. That’s why I’m ecstatic to announce a cracking new collaboration between Gilliflower and Alex’s Brownies. Working together to produce deluxe brownie and bloom gift ideas, and gorgeous wedding flower and favour packages, our exciting collaboration will be officially launched in the next couple of months. Watch this space.

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I’d have baked a cake : sweet peas and white chocolate and raspberry blondies

The sweetest of little peas with the sweetest of little tray bakes.

Frilly, frivolous and flighty, sweet peas are all the fun of the summer fair in a vase. These charming, lacy blooms make a wonderful arrangement or bouquet all on their own; they have a stage presence which requires absolutely no accompaniment or dressing up. Sweet peas are a splendid selection for early to mid summer weddings and their perfumy and playful aroma will fill your venue with joyful tones. To top it off, sweet peas are dead easy to grow and many varieties can be trained to scramble up cane wigwams and trellis’ adding height and splashes of watercolour to even the smallest of gardens.

Sweet peas therefore deserve a sweet cake and you don’t get much sweeter then these white chocolate and raspberry blondies. Blondies are the fair headed cousins of brownies who, unlike brownies, do not contain cocoa powder. However, like brownies, blondies are best ever so slightly under baked enabling their centres to stay soft and gooey. The raspberries in this recipe are like little red rubies balancing the sweet white chocolate with summery, fruity flavours.

I found this recipe online at Good to Know and just made a couple of technical tweaks. Because this (mega easy) recipe uses fresh raspberries, I recommend baking the blondies on the same day that you intend to eat them otherwise, after a little while, the fruit makes them too moist.

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Ingredients

  • 150g white chocolate
  • 100g butter
  • 3 medium eggs
  • 175g caster sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 200g self raising flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 175g fresh raspberries
  • 75g white chocolate for decoration (optional)

Method

  1. Preheat your oven to 180c/350F/Gas 4. Line a 18 x 28cm (7 x 11”) tin with baking paper.
  2. Break the chocolate into a bowl and melt over a saucepan of gently simmering water. Whilst the chocolate is melting, add the butter to another saucepan and heat gently, being careful not to burn it, until melted.
  3. Whisk the eggs, vanilla extract and sugar together using an electric mix for 5 or so minutes until thick. The mixture should leave a brief trail when the whisk is lifted up.
  4. Gently mix the melted butter and white chocolate into the sugar and egg mix. Finally, sieve and fold in the flour and baking powder.
  5. Pour the mixture into the lined baking tin. Drop the raspberries onto the batter. The raspberries will sink into the mixture whilst it’s baking so no need to press them down.
  6. Bake in the oven for 25 – 30 minutes. Leave the blondies to cool in the baking tray and then lift them out using the baking paper.
  7. To decorate, melt the remaining white chocolate in a bowl over a saucepan of gently simmering water. Drizzle the melted chocolate onto the blondies and then slice into generous squares.
  8. Reserve some white chocolate for the very end so that you can literally eat it straight out of the bowl using a large spoon (optional).
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Fragrant herbs and bridal bouquets

This week I’ve taken floral inspiration from aromatic foliages and full on fragrant bridal bouquets.

London 2012 Olympic mint has got to be up there with the world’s coolest herbs and the Writtle College car park is full to the brim with it. Free styling bridal bouquets at college this week, I was thrilled to add some of this delectable perennial to my latest hand-tied design. Students at Writtle College in Chelmsford, Essex were the talented florists behind the victory bouquets at the London 2012 Olympics and the hardy, perfumed mint they used in each design still grows strong all around their floristry workshops.

In addition to mint, my latest design also boasts sweet scented rosemary and delicately spiced eucalyptus. Smell and memory are closely linked, so adding fragrant foliages to your bridal bouquet is guaranteed to have you reminiscing about your epic wedding with joyful nostalgia every time you get herbal in the kitchen or garden. Ranunculi, lisianthus, Queen Anne’s lace, spray roses and astrantia provide all the flower porn you need in this bouquet whilst clematis trails around the edge, blurring the lines between floristry and horticulture.

It almost goes without saying that using long ribbon and lace to bind stems is so de rigueur this season, and the hessian band finished with trailing plum bow completes this quintessentially summer 2015 hand-tied bouquet. If rosemary and mint are your bag this year, contact us using the Gilliflower contact formFacebook or Twitter to discuss your wedding aspirations. 

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Easter trees, bunnies and blossom

Bring the glory of spring into your home this Easter

This year, I decided to start a new tradition in my household: the Easter tree. I’m fairly late off the mark with this one. A number of my friends have been decorating blossom laden stems with delicate painted eggs since their childhood but for me it is a new, seasonal pleasure. Like the Christmas tree, decorating branches with eggs at Easter is a centuries old German tradition which seems to be growing in popularity elsewhere.

To make your Easter tree, select long, twisted branches of a shrub of your choice. Nothing beats stems of cherry blossom but if you can’t get hold of this or your nearest tree is not in bloom, twisted willow or forsythia works well too. Sit the branches in a tall, heavy vase or container filled with a little water. I used a demijohn because the narrow neck stops the branches loaded with decorations from tumbling out. If your stems are too long, topiary the tree to your desired size. Personally, I like the idea of bringing the outside in, so I left my boughs wild and sprawling. Finally, adorn with painted eggs and other Easter decorations.

Decorating an Easter tree is really reminiscent of Christmas, but filled with the promise of spring sunshine and summer warmth rather than the dark winter nights we’ve already left behind. Happy Easter!

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I’d have baked a cake : ranunculus and hot cross buns

One a penny, two a penny: spicy, sweet hot cross buns and luxuriously lavish ranunculi.

If I had to pick a single flower that inspired me to get myself down to a local floristry college and get learning the art of flowersmithing, it would be ranunculus. Hands down. These blooms never cease to appeal to my creative urges and I cannot pass a flower seller empty handed who has these beauties in their window. Brimful of generously packed petals, I struggle to let a spring wedding go by without the welcome presence of  luxurious ranunculi in a bridesmaid’s bouquet or five. Ranunculi aren’t the cheapest flowers and it’s rare to see a bunch in a supermarket, but they are a real treat and an absolute delight so why not spoil yourself a little this week and buy a frush bunch to adorn your Easter table.

I’ve said it before, but hot cross buns are a real addiction of mine. Genuinely, the one good thing I find about Christmas being over every year is that freshly baked hot cross buns will be back on supermarket shelves pronto. I probably purchase my first batch of buns on 27th December and then it’s a slippery slope down to hot cross debauchery. I’ve made my own a couple of times, but bread isn’t my baking forte which has resulted in some lacklustre buns in the past. Finally though, I’ve found a recipe that really works for me. And these buns totally knock the socks off of their supermarket counterparts.

This recipe has been adapted from Essex granny’s favourite, Jamie Oliver. I found that the finished buns could be a little sweeter so I have increased the amount of sugar slightly here.

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Ingredients

  • 200ml semi-skimmed milk
  • 65g unsalted butter
  • 2 x 7g sachet dried yeast
  • 455g strong bread flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 freshly grated nutmeg
  • 55g caster sugar
  • 2 pieces of crystalised stem ginger, finely chopped
  • 1 large free range egg, beaten
  • 8 tbsp plain flour
  • 85g sultanas, raisons or any other combination of dried fruit of your choice
  • 2 tbsp mixed peel
  • Runny honey or apricot jam to glaze

Method

  1. Add the milk and 50ml of water to a small pan and place over a low heat for a couple of minutes, until slightly warm to the touch. Do not overheat – you should be able to keep your little finger in the milk without scalding it.
  2. Meanwhile, add the butter to a separate pan and place over a low heat for a minute or so until it has completely melted. Put the melted butter to one side.
  3. Place the warmed milk into a bowl and stir in the two sachets of yeast. Set aside.
  4. Sift the flour into a large bowl and add the salt, cinnamon, ground spice, grated nutmeg, stem ginger, and caster sugar. Stir together.
  5. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and add the melted butter, followed by the milk and yeast mixture, and finally the egg.
  6. Using a fork, mix the ingredients together until you have a rough, wet dough. Turn the dough out onto a flour dusted work surface and knead for around 10 minutes until soft and springy. You’ll find that the sticky, wet dough will suddenly change consistency to become smooth and will bounce back to the touch. This is when it is done.
  7. Return the dough to a lightly floured bowl and cover with a damp tea towel. Leave in a warm place for an hour or so, or until the dough has doubled in size. In my cold, Edwardian house this usually takes 1.5 hours in front of a warm radiator.
  8. Transfer the risen dough to a lightly floured work surface and knock the air out by bashing it with your fist. Place the dried fruit on top of the dough and knead for 1-2 minutes until the fruit has been evenly distributed.
  9. Divide the dough into 12 equal portions and roll into balls. Space the dough balls onto a greased and lined baking sheet and cover again with a damp tea towel in a warm place for 30 minutes or until doubled in size. Again, in my cold, old house this takes around 45 minutes.
  10. Preheat the oven to 190c/375F/Gas 5.
  11. Place the plain flour into a bowl and add around 8 tbsp of water. Mix until you have a thick batter which can be piped. You might need to add a little more flour or a little more water to get the right consistency.
  12. Once the dough balls have doubled in size, pipe over the batter carefully tracing a shape of the cross.
  13. Place the buns in the over for 15-20 minutes until golden brown.
  14. Brush the buns with the honey or apricot jam to glaze and then transfer onto a cooling rack.
  15. Scoff the whole batch over the Easter weekend. It’s possible.
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Simply springtime Easter table centres

Easter is coming and the eggs are getting fat, please do put some tulips and narcissi in an old man’s hat. 

Or any rustic container will do, really. Easter fills me with all the joys of spring for two main reasons. Firstly, regardless of how early or late it falls, I feel like it signifies the definite end of winter. The shops fill with a glow of mini-egg-yellow, reminding us that the days really are longer than the nights now. Secondly, I have a moderate to severe addiction to hot cross buns. Every year, I go to all the local bakeries and supermarkets in the Colchester area and, in a semi-scientific study, sample each shop’s bun, ranking them in order using a point based system. Honestly, I really do start to crave these sweet and spicy little fruit buns well before Christmas.

Mothering Sunday marks the three week countdown to Easter so, with all Gilliflower’s Mother’s Day bouquets safely delivered, I spent this weekend prepping Easter table centres. A traditional girl at heart, I decided to partner sweet little scented narcissi with radiant and graceful tulips. I was unable to find an old man’s hat waterproof enough to provide a home for these delightfully carefree spring blooms but found that a tiny tin bath worked just as well at giving the arrangement country cottage charm.

Orders are now being taken for these seasonal table centres at the price of £30 per arrangement, so if you’d like to brighten your home over the long bank holiday weekend, drop us a message using the Gilliflower contact formFacebook or Twitter.

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Mothering Sunday 2015

It’s been pretty busy in the Gilliflower workshop this Mother’s Day weekend.

And what a treat the workshop looked first thing on Friday after an early morning run to the flower wholesalers. I tell you, there’s really nothing more charming than walking into the workshop when it’s full of sweet scented stocks and radiant aqua roses. Busy we may have been, but stressed we were not. Glorious sunshine streamed in through the window whilst I put together the Mother’s Day bouquets jamming out to some cool funk and soul tunes. Bliss.

Delivering the bouquets to the deserving mummas of Colchester was equally as charming. Did you see the look of surprise on Mum’s face? It was a picture. Of course I don’t have favourites, I love all my flowers equally, but it was extra special delivering a bouquet to the Green Room Restaurant to lie in wait on a table as a sweet little aperitif to accompany a Mother’s Day lunch for one of my customer’s lovely mum.

Happy Mothering Sunday to all the mums of Colchester, and beyond. I hope your day was filled with spring sunshine, gifts and of course, flowers.

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Daffodils: everybody loves the sunshine

Just bees and things and flowers – spring time in the sunshine

Last week I was holidaying it up in the Czech Republic, snowy Prague to be precise. Now that’s one beautiful city but it’s still cold – very cold – this time of year. Travelling to the airport on our return journey home, the ground was dusted with a fine sprinkling of snow and spring felt like it was still a little way off for the residents of the city of Praha.

Returning to the South East of England has been somewhat of a spring awakening. The hyacinths in my garden are nearly in full bloom and there are signs of the peony plants poking their heads through the soil after their winter slumber. Heck, I even enjoyed a Staropramen in my local beer garden yesterday.

Following on from last week’s daffodils and Welsh cakes feature, I was hankering for a liberal scattering of spring flowers in my home upon my return from central Europe and, lo and behold, a dear friend of mine has bought me an abundance of narcissi. What greater pleasure can be had this time of year than having a jam jar or two of these golden beauties in each room of your little roost.

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