Dried Hydrangea Ball

Regular readers will remember that back in July I shared some photos from a day that I spent at The Grower in Suffolk on a course about summer vegetables. The Grower is a business run by Belinda Gray and specialises in designing kitchen gardens, as well as running a number of courses related to growing fruit and vegetables.

Yesterday I was delighted to return to Belinda’s beautiful home to enjoy her Christmas Inspirations Day. This day has been an annual event since Belinda started her business a few years ago, but was cancelled last year after she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Following a gruelling year of treatment, Belinda is looking fantastic and is running her courses again. We were all especially delighted to be with her yesterday for our annual dose of Christmas Inspiration!

Every year Belinda enlists the help of talented florist Libby who owns Myrtle & Mint Flowers, a must-visit flower shop in Ipswich. Libby always gives a very relaxed and informative commentary as she effortlessly creates a series of beautiful arrangements. Whilst Libby brings new inspirations to every course, she always designs in a natural seasonal style, which is the Myrtle & Mint signature.

Rose Table Decoration Collage

Libby began the morning by making a stunning table wreath to surround a hurricane lantern. Using natural evergreen foliage, viburnum berries and velvet-like red and sumptuous pink roses she made a very luxurious arrangement. This would work equally well at Christmas as at other times of the year.

She suggested using this arrangement in the centre of a round table or making two or three arrangements to place along the length of a rectangular table. The colours are a perfect compliment to my red drawing room, so I am hoping to try and copy this design for Christmas.

Hyacinth Table Centre Collage

Next Libby went on to make a hyacinth arrangement in a long low rectangular glass vase. This would be ideal for a console table or rectangular dining table. She emphasised the importance of keeping any dining arrangement low, so that conversation can flow across the table. After lining the vase with large green leaves to hide the flower stems, she added hyacinths, viburnum berries and white anemones. The flowers were placed tightly in the vase so that they were self supporting. The final touch was white sprayed birch twigs, which added a very festive feel.

Bulb Collage

Libby then showed us how to make some very natural arrangements that we could use around our homes over Christmas. These included a stunning dried hydrangea ball, glass vases and planters filled with bulbs of paperwhites and muscari and a glass bowl lined with pussy willow, which could then be filled with festive baubles or pine cones.

I have a shelf full of dried hydrangea heads which I was planning to use in festive wreaths, but I am tempted to try and make the ball. It is stunning but may require more heads than I actually have dried, so this might have to wait until next year.

Myrtle and Mint Collage

Libby finished up with suggestions about creating Christmas garlands with sprayed poppy seed heads and using cyclamen as a cut flower. She left us all wanting more of her beautiful Christmas inspirations!

We then broke for a delicious lunch. As we milled around Belinda’s comfortable rooms we were treated to a lemon grass and sweetcorn soup with swiss chard and feta muffins, an Italian borlotti bean stew and a pudding of poached quince with salted caramel ice cream. All the food was served in beautiful containers such as shot glasses, Moroccan bowls and Moroccan tea glasses.

The day finished with Belinda talking us through a recipe guide which included the lunch menu and recipes for chocolate flapjack, mince pie cookies and Christmas florentines. To counter all this indulgence she also talked us through the principles of juicing, including a list of 20 antioxidant super foods with a recipe for a detox super juice and a very healthy home made granola.

At the end of the afternoon Belinda told us about an art exhibition that she is holding in her beautiful home near to Woodbridge to raise funds for Breakthrough for Breast Cancer. The exhibition will be on May 3rd – 5th 2014 and will show the work of a number of eminent artists. I will be posting full details after Christmas. To all my London and East Anglian readers – please save the date. This will certainly be an event worth going too.