The Queen of Vintage

If you love all things vintage then Niki Fretwell's gorgeous shop, Nostalgia, in Shepton Mallet near Bath is a complete must. This is where I was heading on my day out with florist friends Jennifer and Sarah and my daughter Libby.
Niki and I first corresponded as she wanted some help with a book she was writing. Later Niki went on to give my daughter Libby some help by adding a vintage twist to her book Love Pink.
When Niki isn't running the shop, sourcing everything vintage and sewing like mad to make pieces for the shop (including these endearing and quirky rag dolls), she is adding to her own blog.
We are like four over grown children in a sweet shop.
The fabrics ... the china ... the jewelery ... the clothes ... the books ... the glassware...
... We even like the buttons.
And then we find the hats!
Sarah heads for her favourite moss green colour - with a floral twist, of course.
For Libby it has to be pink.
Jennifer eventually decides against the Miss Marple look.
And I just want to be Eliza Dolittle!
As the rain pours down outside we are all very happy to be caught in this Aladdin's cave.
It is a real pleasure to actually meet Niki after all this time and I am so pleased Libby is on our day out too, so she can thank Niki for her help.
Libby is especially pleased as she leaves carrying a 50s style dress in a beautiful kingfisher-blue that is the perfect fit.
Libby would not look too out of place in the square outside. The BBC are filming a series in Shepton Mallet and are transforming the square each week into a different era. This week it is a replica of 1930's Britain.
For more photos showing the filming visits Niki's blog

Buxton, Bunnies & Barlow

Before I tell tales of our big day out - see the blog below - I want to mention a wonderful weekend I have just spent in Buxton. It was this year's literary and music festival and I was doing a double act with top local florist (and top woman altogether) Claire Foster. I talk books, she demonstrates flowers - and then we pop into the bar and drink rose wine together. A perfect double act.
Part of our talk covered the theme of colour and Claire was working with a wonderful dusky-lilac rose, called amnesia ...so easy to forget the names I find ...
The next day I was back on stage, but this time with Sarah Raven who I was interviewing about her new book. Despite not having met Sarah before this turned out to be easy; she was good company, also has two daughters and is clearly very passionate about what she does.
However, it wasn't long before she realised where the culinary skills lie in our family!
At the end of the session we took questions from the audience, including one gentleman whose garden was being over run by grey squirrels. He was keen to know if Sarah had a recipe for them. Apparently you can cook them like rabbit ...but I have to ask myself, why would you ever want to cook yourself a rabbit?!Buxton, Bunnies ...and Barlow? Well just to say that the Festival very generously treated us to the opera and a wonderful supper where I met Stephen Barlow. Stephen is known not only for his illustrious career as a conductor but for being the husband of Joanna Lumley. I am absolutely certain that he is often being told (quite rightly) that he is very lucky to married to such a gorgeous woman. But having now met him, albeit briefly, I can also say - lucky Joanna!

What a Day!

Wednesday 8.30am
I'm so excited. My florist friends Jennifer and Sarah, my daughter Libby and one Big Day out. Today we are off to see a flower shop, a vintage emporium and then it will be time for tea and cakes in a walled garden with a flower shop. How good is that?!
Watch this space for the photos.

I do Believe in Father Christmas

It was on Christmas Eve that Nicki Barley first got the keys to her new shop. On many fronts it had been a tough year for Nicki, but with the keys in her hand, the coming year was looking better already.
When I arrive in Henley to see the new premises for The White Gdn, I spot Nicki in the window of the shop. It is only a few doors down from her old shop, which features as June's flower shop in 'Flower Shops & Friends'.
As with her previous shop the front is dotted with unusual pots and ready-to-go flowery gifts.
But inside there is SO much more space. Space for flowers and gifts and lanterns and cards and chocolates and paper ... and there is even room for a sofa. Nicki has discovered this is a great asset to a flower shop - the men don't mind waiting, the flower loving ladies browse for longer and little children (who can find it irresistible to pull petals off flowers) fight to sit on it.
I have a feeling Father Christmas helped put the shop keys in Nicki's Christmas stocking, but it seems he drew the line at helping decorate.
That fell to Nicki, and she tells me there was masses to do before she could move in.
This included a new floor, new paintwork, covering the counters in distressed wood, adding some great floral wallpaper and even exposing a brick wall as a reminder of the look of her previous shop.
Now the hard work of decorating is done, it is just down to the hard work of running the shop. And there is always something to do - but Nicki still loves it.
Henley Regatta is just finished - a time for extravagant buttonholes and celebration bouquets.
But now it is the end of term, so it is time to fill the shop with well-priced gifts for teachers
(Lucky teachers!)
One last look around the shop, a stroll down to the river, and then home.
With lots of promises to come back soon.

If it's Good Enough for Liz

Most of the time I convince myself I don't really want to run my own flower shop (the cold ... the hours ... I wouldn't have time to be a flower shop hunter ...) and then, yet again, I see a shop that steals my heart and I imagine myself stood in my own shop ...
One such heart stealer is Martyn Crossley's flower shop in Windsor. Martyn was a jeweler for many years before becoming a florist, but it seems he never forgot the flowers he used to love looking at in his father's green grocers shop, and eventually he was drawn into opening his own shop.
I have to just add a note to any florist reading this blog; can you imagine working in a shop that has acres of work space, a cool and airy selling space, a storage room, proper loos (2 of them - and not a block of Oasis in sight) an office AND a loading bay?! Now that is florist heaven.
Add to this, Martyn has a Matthew.
Every flower shop needs one.
Matthew is Martyn's partner and it is Matthew who does all the paper work - I told you, florist heaven.
Martyn and Matthew met when they worked together on the QE2 (thoughts of floristry were put on the back burner for a while when Martyn was offered a job as a jeweler with a cruise line).
I am intrigued as to whether there was also a flower shop on board. Martyn explains that fresh flowers were loaded when they reached different ports, but that it was only in the early days that there was an actual flower shop on the ship. It was in the days when men wore button holes and women coordinated corsages with their cocktail dresses. I catch myself drifting into an "Affair to Remember" daydream.
This is a simply lovely shop. As I browse amongst the flowers and gifts I discretely watch Martyn and his staff as they deal thoughtfully and sensitively with a customer's funeral order.
I fall in love with a fat, ice cream swirl of a rose - a variety called, appropriately, Fiesta.
And as I browse I pick up a trick or two, that I will be unashamedly copying. Three vases, three different levels of water and three fully blown peonies. Simple but, oh so stylish.
Tucked away on the counter I notice a photo of one of Martyn and Matthew's neighbours in Windsor. It seems she also enjoys their flowers.
I have a lot of sympathy with one of Martyn's customers whom he overheard saying, "Heaven is seeing a Martyn Crossley van turning into your drive"!

On the Way to a Workshop

First stop is Ted Martin's Flowers in Tisbury, so I can collect the flowers I have ordered for a workshop I am running in Bristol. In between chopping, loading and chatting, I can't resist taking some quick photos of a bouquet that is waiting in the shop ready to be delivered, and a posy of fully blown peonies and hydrangeas sitting on a side table.
One more quick stop in a village I pass through on my way to Bristol. The border lining the path to the village hall catches my eye and I have to pull over for a closer look.
This photo does not really do it justice - but if you are near the village of East Knoyle, I suggest you go and have a look for yourself.
Once I get to Bristol, I could not be made more welcome.
We make summery table arrangements and I teach the ladies to make hand-tied posies from roses, stock, larkspur and alstromeria. The day punctuated by lunch and wine in the garden, including one of the best cheesecakes I have ever tasted - I do love my life.
And how thoughtful of the ladies to be wearing colours that compliment the flowers so perfectly!
One last stop on my way home. My friend Michelle missed out on playing with flowers when we created the arrangements for the rugby club ball. I know she really wants to learn how to make a hand-tied posy. So I call in and we sit in her garden gossiping whilst she feeds me wine and nibbles and I let her loose on the flowers I have over from the workshop.
She's a natural!


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