Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Flower Power at Leeds Castle

Written by Castle Florist Louise Roots

Summer is finally here and this season is set to be very busy and exciting for the floristry team. One of my projects this week is to decorate a punt with fresh flowers as part of The Chelsea Fringe From tomorrow, Thursday 22nd May for around a week visitors to Leeds Castle will see a beautiful bedecked ‘flower powered’ punt floating in the moat with what looks like a cottage garden on it. 

Leeds Castle entry to the Chelsea Fringe on display from 22nd May: 'Floating English Country Garden'

In my design I am including a mass of suitable summer flowers and cuttings from the gardens. Tall Delphinium, Peonies, Foxgloves, Alliums and Lupins all feature to create an idyllic summer garden scene gently floating on the moat. 
Although I have been lucky to be involved in lots of different things, I must admit that decorating a punt is a first for me as a florist, but then I have never been known to turn down a challenge especially when it involves using so many stunning flowers. 
Louise Roots, Castle Florist with Andrew from Leeds Castle Punting
This is our offering as participants in The Chelsea Fringe and there will be additional events going on during the day on 22nd May in the Culpeper Garden with talks, trails and Invicta School joining us early afternoon to sing. I hope that visitors will enjoy seeing our entry to the Fringe with the ‘flower powered’ punt and it encourages people to return to see our beautiful gardens all year round.

The floating English country garden punt will be on display on the moat from Thursday 22 May
The wedding season is well under way and we we are lucky to be involved in some beautiful wedding design themes. This gives me the opportunity to work with some stunning flowers and arrangements. 
The early part of the year is spent meeting brides and discussing their wedding themes and it is lovely to see it all come together on the big day. 

The trends we saw in 2013 are set to continue this year. Vintage inspired informal arrangements are still popular and glamorous whites and creams are always a favourite colour choice. Brides are opting for blowsy blooms such as scented garden roses, peonies and hydrangeas for a traditional look, while the feminine shades of coral, soft apricot, mint green and tiffany blue are a popular choice matching the current fashion trends.
Vintage inspired arrangements in the Banqueting Hall
Festival of Flowers 23-28 September
September will see the return of the Festival of Flowers to Leeds Castle, a floral celebration from the glory of the Kent Garden. We are lucky to have the involvement of multi award winning Mig Kimpton who has invited some fantastic designers to transform the Castle with floral displays. The festival will also provide the opportunity for anyone with a flare or passion for flower arranging to enter one of our floral competitions.

During the festival we will be running workshops, demonstrations and talks, as well as garden tours. Mig Kimpton will be hosting his autumnal floral inspiration show, something I am personally looking forward to. This is going to be a spectacular event that I am passionate about and I would love to see Leeds Castle become the flagship of flower festivals in the future.

Lady Baillie, the last private owner of Leeds Castle, loved fresh flower arrangements and always wanted fresh flowers in the Castle upon her arrival for the weekend.  

Lady Baillie carefully chose flower arrangements to match her outfits when hosting her infamous house parties. She often entertained high society guests during the 1930s including Royalty, politicians and Hollywood stars such as Edward and Mrs Simpson, Noel Coward, David Niven and Errol Flynn.
Lady Baillie loved flowers
Lady Baillie hosted high society guests at her 1930s house parties

Castle Florist Louise Roots
Lady Baillie would tell her Housekeeper her wardrobe choice for the weekend and the flowers would be cut and arranged accordingly. However, she was known for her eccentricity and sometimes changed her mind about the colour scheme on a Friday morning before she arrived and so the florists would have to start all over again!

We continue this tradition with floral arrangements inside the Castle and change the flowers every Wednesday and of course for weddings, special events or celebration dinners.  Lady Baillie had four greenhouses where she grew exotic flowers for the Castle and to plant out in the gardens. 

Spring blooms
Today the gardening team continue to use greenhouses for nursery planting. I always use seasonal flowers where possible and at this time of year there is so much to choose from. I love to work on a large scale and working in the Castle allows me to do just that. 

As part of my role, I work closely with the Gardening Team especially to find out what foliage from around the estate might be available for arrangements. I also advise the gardeners on types of flowers that are suitable for arrangements. For example, the team is currently ordering Alliums for planting in the autumn. By next spring I will be able to use the flowers for displays. It has a lovely globe-like flower head which works well for fresh flower arrangements as well as dried flowers in the winter.

The Culpeper Garden looks lovely at this time of year with lots of alliums, pink lupins, blue bearded iris, foxglove and purple delpheniums.

The Culpeper Garden: an English cottage style garden 
I have been the Head Florist at Leeds Castle for two years full time and prior to that I worked here on a casual basis when asked to help with wedding flowers. I trained for two years full time at college to an advanced level and once qualified I worked in various florist shops to gain experience. This fitted in well with working as a freelance florist at the Castle part time as it allowed me to be involved in large scale work that I might not have been asked to do in a shop. I have now been a florist for 13 years and love my job at Leeds Castle.”

 Louise with an asymmetrical front facing pale blue delphinium arrangement 

Horticultural Events at Leeds Castle

The Chelsea Fringe
Now in its third year, the Chelsea Fringe is an alternative gardening festival based across the UK and beyond celebrating everything about plants, gardens, flowers or landscape and if it's interesting or original and quirky then it's in. 

It is the Fringe to the RHS Chelsea Flower Show but it is different because it spreads far and wide, covering everything that could be conceivably linked with gardens, plants, landscape and environment with most events and activities free and un-ticketed.

The Fringe is all about harnessing and spreading some of the excitement and energy that fizzes around gardens and gardening. Entirely independent of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show (though acting with its support), the Fringe explodes out of the showground geographically, demographically and conceptually. Find out more at:

There are several ‘satellite’ Fringe events taking place around the country and Leeds Castle is one of them with a spectacular and somewhat quirky cottage garden on a punt: ‘the flower powered punt’.

Festival of Flowers: Tuesday 23 to Sunday 28 September
This September, Leeds Castle hosts a Festival of Flowers themed ‘Autumn Glory’, a floral celebration from the glory of the Kent garden. Leeds Castle Head Florist Louise Roots and multi award winning floral designer Mig Kimpton will lead a team of over 25 designers to transform the Castle rooms through floral works of art on display from Tuesday 23 to Sunday 28 September.

A Floral Art Competition sponsored by South East Flowers will feature three classes open to all whether you are a florist, flower arranger, student florist or simply enjoy working with flowers. Choose between Class A ‘Autumn Door’, a door wreath to be hung on a dark wooden panel staged on front of a barrel in the Cellar entrance; Class B ‘Autumn Celebration’, a table centre exhibit to be staged in the Henry VIII Banqueting Hall; or Class C ‘Autumn Basket’, to be staged on a window sill within the Castle in a basket including any fruit or vegetables.
Class A and Class B floral art exhibits must fit in a space of 60cm x 60cm, while exhibits for Class C will be given window sill dimensions on application. Download the application form to enter the competition at

Meet the Castle Gardener Tour: Thursdays from April to September at 1130 
The Castle Gardeners are once again hosting Garden Tours for visitors to ask questions, find out more about the history of the gardens and how the plants are maintained day to day to take some useful tips home. The tours run on Thursdays from April to October, subject to availability, please check the website for details. The Garden Tour is free of charge with a valid admission ticket and meets outside the Fairfax Restaurant at 1130am.

Garden tours meet Thursdays at 11:30 outside the Fairfax Restaurant