Breathing in the scent of the beautiful bouquet I was holding, I smoothed down my dress and looked shyly upwards.
‘I do,’ I mouthed.
Everyone stopped what they were doing and stared at me.
‘Erm, sorry about that,’ I mumbled, dabbing my eyes. ‘I think I’m still a bit emotional after the Royal Wedding.’
I wasn’t marrying a prince, but I was very close to Windsor, in the Buckinghamshire village of Stoke Poges. I’d come to Stoke Place, a boutique country-house hotel, to spend the day with Yannick Aubinais, who runs London florist Pascal Gabory. French-born Yannick, who trained as a chef with Marco Pierre White before swapping his Sabatier knives for secateurs, is running a series of one-day floral design masterclasses at Stoke Place this summer, aimed at ‘modern homemakers’.
I’ve never been terribly good with flowers. The bunches I buy start drooping pathetically within 24 hours, and I’m ashamed to admit that I once attempted to fob off an unappealing blind date by folding the rose he’d given me in half and shoving it in my handbag. But inspired by the glorious slideshow of floral designs that Yannick showed us on his iPad, I was determined to mend my ways.
First on the agenda was a simple garden herb arrangement, composed of foliage from Stoke Place’s 26-acre, Capability Brown-designed grounds. ‘The more you can use from the garden, the better’, advised Yannick, as we strolled across the lawn towards the lake. In this era of austerity, flowers are a luxury purchase, but when combined with freely available greenery, a little goes a long way.
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Back inside, decked out in organic cotton aprons, we whittled blocks of Oasis (the water-soaked foam that florists use as a base), and learned the secret of ‘The Five Stem Rule’, which sounds like the title of a Sherlock Holmes story, but is, in fact, a foolproof flower-arranging framework.
Once all our foliage was in place, we were let loose on the flowers that filled the room-powder puffs of viburnum, roses in delicate shades of raspberry pink and peach melba, sweet peas and hydrangeas. But it wasn’t a free-for-all-Yannick encouraged us to treat the blooms with respect, showing us how to cut stems properly, and explaining the simple ways in which an amateur florist can prolong the life of their flowers.
After lunch-a Mediterranean-inspired feast on the terrace-Yannick guided us through a contemporary floral design that cleverly intermingled fruit and flowers, and showed us how to set a table with flowers. Did you know that smearing Vaseline on fruit slices keeps them looking fresh? I certainly didn’t. We were given total creative freedom, but Yannick was always on hand for advice on design, styling and choice of materials. Through him we learned how to create balanced arrangements that expressed our personalities. Mine all seemed to turn out very serene-looking, and no wonder-I can’t remember the last time I felt so wonderfully relaxed.
I stayed on for dinner at Stoke Place’s restaurant, The Garden Room, where I enjoyed a contemporary British tasting menu of dishes that were every bit as beautifully composed as one of Yannick’s designs, with wine to match. Afterwards, as I walked through the peaceful grounds to my room carrying the arrangements I’d made, I couldn’t believe how much we’d all learned in a single day. When it’s Prince Harry’s turn to get married, I’ll be first in line to offer him my floral design services.
Pascal Gabory one-day floral-design courses will run at Stoke Place on the following dates: Thursday May 12; Wednesday May 18; Saturday June 18; Tuesday June 28; Friday July 8, Saturday July 23; Saturday, August 6; Wednesday, August 17 and Saturday, 24 September. The day costs £225, including all materials, lunch and refreshments, and participants will take home all their own work. For more information, visit www.pascalgabory.com, or telephone 07732 926730
Stoke Place, Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire, SL2 4HT (01753 534790; www.stokeplace.co.uk). To make a reservation at The Garden Room, telephone 01753 534 790