I have started to grow flowers in my garden this year. I am picking my first tulips and I’m wondering how best to show them off in my house. Any ideas?
What can compare to the joy of growing one’s own flowers? I’m thrilled for you: once you’ve had a go, you’ll never not bother again. We’re entering our third spring in the Gloucestershire countryside, and our third crop of flowers and vegetables.
The tulips are my favourite. We grow many varieties and colours, but mostly dusty peaches and pinks, lilacs and buttery yellows. (I prefer this soft sherbet palette over gothic reds and dark purples.) Other things bring joy at the moment, too: the tree peony by our front door has flowered; the delphiniums and lupins in the borders are getting bigger and stronger by the day; the last of the daffodils are still poking their ghostly heads up.
I am by no means a master flower arranger, but I love the simple joy of heading out into the garden first thing when the grass is damp and the sky is pale and bringing a bunch of blooms into the house. Over the next few days, I’ll enjoy the way the flowers slowly open up and become even more fabulous.
I’ll probably move them around the house too, because a lot of joy comes from viewing blooms alongside the objects and furniture in my home. Tulips in particular add frothy drama and atmosphere.
Which kind of vessel to go for depends. These days I am enjoying the delight of a single bloom in a bud vase. Tulips can be so magnificent, it’s a pleasure to view them as individuals, with no competition. I like the elegance of old silver vases, such as the flower-shaped number I noticed on 1stdibs recently. This was made by Marcus & Co, an American jeweller that closed its doors in 1962, and is a thing of beauty.
I appreciate newer metal, too. Check Vinterior (whom I have collaborated with in the past) for interesting 20th-century pieces: I have my eye on an Italian “space age” vase from c1960, which consists of three sleek metal tubes. I enjoy the idea of frilly, blousy tulips poking out of this sharp, futuristic piece of design.
I very much like the informality of flowers stuffed into jugs, particularly in country kitchens. I could go on about the various kinds of ceramic jugs I like, but this will have to be another column. I regularly check the website of John Howard, who often has in stock wonderful 19th-century North Devon earthenware jugs, usually featuring leaves and animals.
Along with jugs, I love a good tankard. Martyn Edgell Antiques, specialist in antique English pottery, is offering a beautiful mochaware mug from around 1810 that I feel my homegrown tulips deserve. Its brown marbled decoration would be beautiful by itself, but its mint green edge detail pushes this humble mug into the sublime.
I do think that not all vessels work best in all places: pretty jugs and mugs might work in the country, but I prefer glass, metal and plain porcelain in the city. Of course, this is not a rule, more of a general observation. I use many inexpensive containers to hold my tulips: I always like a simple glass cylinder, and I adore a bucket.
In fact, I often use our common garden buckets as vases in my studio: we have bright yellow and pink ones that do the job, although vintage galvanised metal ones look even better. It’s worth remembering that even if a container you like isn’t watertight, you can usually place a smaller vase inside. I love the idea of an old lead cistern stuffed with tulips, for example — see Lassco’s brilliant selection.
The most important thing to remember about tulips is that they don’t need arranging at all. Plonk them in and don’t fuss. They’ll go where they want and this is them at their best and most romantic. Just remember to remove dirt from stems with cold water and get rid of excess leaves.
I don’t really follow any rules in regards to colour: usually I like a mix, but sometimes the purity of one single colour (or tones of a single colour) is just what I want.
I love growing flowers for our rooms, but my partner and I have decided that, perhaps even more, we love giving them away. Plus, I find flower arranging to be a soothing activity. (I’m trying to spend more time away from my phone and in the garden.)
One last note: if you’ve got the space (and the budget, particularly if you’re after an old one), a tulipiere is a marvellous thing. I commissioned a version last year and sold it to a friend after I found that it dwarfed our rooms and our cottage-sized furniture. Over a metre tall, it was made from several stacking ceramic sections that I hand-painted with an emerald green border, the top piece culminating in a golden flame.
A fun idea, but a jam jar can be just as good. Experiment with containers, let the flowers do the talking, revel in the spontaneity!