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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


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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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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  • 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


  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.

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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