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The art of flowers

Forget triangular arrangements and mismatched bouquets - today, floristry is an exciting art form waiting to transform your home

Photography Michael Harvey

Words Kate Stanton

Flowers McQueens

Almost anyone can learn the skills of a florist, but creativity cannot be taught," says Kally Ellis, founder of McQueens Flower Shop in London's Old Street. With ample amounts of both, she has the authority to make such a statement. Ellis left a high-powered City job to pursue her love of flora, and now supplies the blooms for the world's most glamorous get together - the Vanity Fair Oscar party.

British floristry has changed dramatically over the last two decades. No longer reserved for christenings, marriages and funerals, nowadays flowers are used for an ever-widening scope of events in an industry worth £1.7 billion.

Pioneers such as Ellis have led the trend for statement floral arrangements in hotels, at fashion shows and press launches. One of McQueens' projects involved creating an Andy Warhol-esque portrait of singer Lily Allen from the petals of 1,800 lilies. It took nine hours to complete.

Working with a mix of clients, from large companies to individuals, Nikki Tibbles, of Wild at Heart, has also produced some outlandish projects. She recently created a pair of tusked Indian Elephants in fl oral garlands to raise awareness for the Elephant Family charity, and she crafted Google and YouTube logos from flowers for House Festival in south-west London. "Those commissions were fabulous and very creative to work on," Tibbles says. They are also a sign of how floristry has diversified to become an art form in its own right. "Floristry used to be very structured," she explains. "Now we break all the rules. It's much freer."

Chrissy Price, head designer and owner of iFlorist, has been in the profession for more than 30 years. "When I started, everyone was taught the 'Constance Spry' method. It was all triangular arrangements of carnations. Now, boundaries are pushed all the time. You need real design flair and an ability to learn different techniques."

This evolution has drawn a greater number of creatives to the industry. "We often take on people from designer or art backgrounds, rather than traditional florists. It's hard for someone who trained conventionally to adapt to more adventurous briefs," says Jean Egbunike, who has worked with Ellis at McQueens for nearly a decade. This new appreciation of flowers is also integral to homes. "Flowers are a wonderful extension, or enhancement, of interior décor," says Price. "They are easier than redecorating, and you can change them weekly. I think that's why it's so popular with clients - corporate and individuals. Some take regular deliveries of flowers to gradually follow the changing seasons. It creates a talking point."

Vic Brotherson, of Scarlet and Violet, adds: "Customers now want flowers to reflect nature, rather than contrived arrangements. Even in contemporary interiors, we use boughs of cherry blossom or armfuls of delphinium. They bring natural shapes and colours into living areas."

Meanwhile, the online fl oral industry is coming up trumps for those with a smaller budget. Bloom and Wild, launched in late 2013, delivers flowers in a box that fits through a letterbox. At sometimes half the price, delivery includes instructions on how to arrange the bunch for maximum effect.

To that end, containers play a large part in turning even the most humble bunch of fl owers into a work of art. Scarlet & Violet is known for its retro-styled bouquets, displayed in antique teacups and vintage milk jugs. At McQueens too, "anything can be a vase," says Egbunike. "You can use a milk bottle, wine glass or shot glass. We've done amazing pieces using hundreds of one type of flower in a variety of vases to create unusual shapes." Modern floristry is all about experimentation. Now is the time to get creative.

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