Shrewsbury Flower Show is 125 years old this year and is the world's longest running horticultural show held in the same location. For almost half that time, florist and flower arranger Gordon Bradley has competed at the event. Here are his tips for prize winning arrangements.
Anyone with a love of flowers and an eye for design can create prize winning floral art displays.
I believe that fantastic, flamboyant foliage is the key to good designs or exhibits and is really the cornerstone of an arrangement.
Imported tropical foliage has become increasingly popular, especially in contemporary designs, but many garden types of foliage used in flower arranging can be grown easily at home. For example, Fatsia japonica is a wonderful shrub for flower arrangements, it can be manipulated and is sculptural and attractive. Hebe varieties provide evergreen material as well as flowers in summer and are truly delightful.
Bamboo can provide a scaffolding support for arrangements and I tend to use this with designs that require height.
But a truly beautiful and captivating arrangement needs to combine the mastery of the artist and the sculptor and hold the eye with a balanced combination of the principles and elements of design.
It sometimes pays to sketch out the design in advance to ensure all elements fit within the structure. All show classes have a theme and I would suggest that competitors check the schedule definition of terms, as often classes can be won or lost through poor interpretation of the brief.
When it comes to the choice of flowers to use in arrangements, carnations / carnation sprays and lilies are ideal for arrangements and can provide a backbone for many an appealing showcase display. Roses are more robust now and can add class, elegance and colour to any arrangement. But good composition is vital.
Personally, I love to use roses in my arrangements, looking for different tones to provide a focal point and textures of various types of foliage as a backdrop.
It is important to study the colour wheel and to understand the colour spectrum and which colours work together in harmony and equally some that don’t usually go well together in traditional displays, may provide drama and impact in more contemporary designs.
I also follow the rules of nature, using those plants that grow vertically, in a similar situation and vice versa.
Regardless of the choice of flowers or foliage, ie florist flowers or garden plant material, it is vital that all plant materials are in excellent condition.
I grow a great deal of plant material myself as good foliage is hard to buy and even those cut straight from the garden need to be re-cut before they are put in water because nature is so clever and plants are all about self-preservation meaning that as soon as they are cut the stems close to maintain whatever moisture remains. So, to allow new moisture to reach the flower, you must re-cut the stem. In the case of tulips, it is advisable to wrap them in paper for approximately 30 minutes whilst they take up water to keep the stems straight prior to arranging.
This is an issue to be aware of when flowers are purchased from supermarkets. Yes, they are very competitively priced and of good quality, but what the consumer may not consider is that these bunches may have been picked up and put back many times before their purchase is made so invariably the flowers could have been left out of water, meaning that the stems will need to be re-cut as soon as possible after purchase.
Once you get the flowers home they need to be placed in plenty of water. The water should then be changed daily or it becomes cloudy and filled with bacteria which will shorten the life and vitality of the flowers. Clean containers and the use of added flower foods can help improve vase-life dramatically.
For would-be flower arrangers, I would recommend joining a local flower club or flower arranging class. Demonstrators from all over the country will give their views on flower arrangements and floral art providing lots of ideas.
The National Association of Flower Arranging Society also produces a quarterly magazine, aptly called Flower Arranging, which is also a good source of inspiration.
When it comes to competitions, I still get a huge thrill out of receiving the show schedule and really enjoy finding the class titles, themes and criteria and then start generating ideas and ways of interpreting the brief.
One of the highlights of my floral calendar is Shropshire’s premier horticultural event, Shrewsbury Flower Show. I have competed there for 50 years now and, to commemorate this, a new class has been established and I have donated the Gordon Bradley trophy.