This is how we went about building our display for this year’s Festival.

‘We’ = Sue Smith, Trudi Kearsley, Carole Druce, Debbie Lamb, Sue Austin, Janet Lambert, Dave Smith (spouse of Sue Smith, Dave is to flower arranging what Herod was to children’s welfare, but good with hammer and drill).

It started with a call from the Festival designer, Josie, in March 17, asking if Sue would like to put together a team from St Thomas à Becket to create a display for this year’s Festival. Sue said yes with vicar Mark’s permission. The theme of ‘This earthly paradise’ was announced and all the teams (80 or so) were given a list of subjects to choose from. Each team selected three subjects and the designer allocated one of them to the team.

We got “Aotearoa – The Land of the Long White Cloud” or New Zealand, in the Sailors’ Chapel. Josie gave us a brief of some things which she wanted to see in the display. Essentially we were to give a feel of the wonder that the early botanists and plant hunters felt when they reached New Zealand with Captain Cook in 1769, with some indigenous plants and a water feature, but generally it was down to us to prepare a design.

Sue submitted the outline design in December 17 and it was approved in February 18.

There were lots of visits to the Cathedral to photo and measure up the space we also discussed with the technical team the practical elements of making and suspending a long white cloud from the roof. During this time we were told that we couldn’t have the water feature. Dave was disappointed that he couldn’t use water pumps and acres of pond liner to float his canoe and build a beach (sand was banned as well).

The overall design comprised a waterfall (dry!), some mountains, a deck, canoe, some grass and a beach (pebbles not sand) and two tree ferns from Sue’s garden.

The flower budget was £550 and the flower order went in in March 18. Assembling the flower order was nerve wracking as when you submit the list, it can’t be changed. We needed additional money for foliage and other accessories which was raised from a cake sale, coffee morning and Carole’s excellent pop-up restaurant.

It took several weeks to make the waterfall out of papier-mâché and to build a canoe. We assembled other props and bits and pieces and laid them out upstairs in the Church Centre to get an idea of how we would fill the space on the day. We also held a workshop to paint scenery and build the cloud. The cloud was Debbie’s idea and comprised a chicken wire core with fleece and kapok outside. The cloud was decorated with dried gypsophila.

We were given two and a half days to set up the display. The first day started at half past eight on the Bank holiday Monday 28th May. Sue and Dave’s daughter Juliet provided her horse box, which we loaded with stuff and arrived at the Cathedral with. Naturally a large horse box took up a large amount of room and we were under pressure to empty it quickly. Fortunately Debbie’s husband Steve and Sue Austin’s husband Brad turned up to help and we didn’t upset the powers that be for too long.

Day 1 didn’t involve any flower arranging, the whole area has to be covered with fleece and plastic to protect the floor before you start, the flowers need to be sorted into the displays, the green blocks of Oasis that the flowers sit in have to be collected and soaked in water. The waterfall, mountains and the props were placed, ready for the flower arrangers to start on the second day.

Day 2 was the flower arranging day and the amazing transformation was completed with the placing of the hundreds of blooms using the talent of the team. We were fortunate to complete on the second day so that the third half day could be used for fine tuning and cleaning up.

The display needed watering every day of the Festival up to the tearing down on Sunday. The suppliers of the flowers keep a back up store of blooms, so when the odd bloom drooped, we were able to replace it.

It was amazing to see the Cathedral filled with hundreds of flower arrangers beavering away on the first two days and then the transformation when they had finished and left the Cathedral full of flowers in stunning displays. It was great to be part of it.

Tearing down the display on Sunday afternoon was quite sad in a way, but took a lot less time than building it. It will take a couple of weeks to get everything we borrowed back to where it came from, and another Flower Festival will be done with – until the next one!

by Sue Smith