by Drucilla James
There’s a bicycle at the entrance to Lady Margaret Hall in Oxford – nothing surprising about that – except that this time orange Strelitzias are the passengers beckoning the visitor on into the green spaces of the college beyond.
For the last weekend in August Flowers@Oxford has taken over the College to promote cut flowers and everything you need to know about floral design. And to this end, everywhere in this Oxford college including the Deneke Common Room seems to have been decked out with flowers. Fantastic confections can be found both indoors and out, ranging from floral ladies languishing in punts on the river to temple huts in the Fellows’ Garden and gerbera pyramids right way up and upside down in the Front Quad.
The floral displays are the work of groups of demonstrators or of the international designers the event has attracted. Some of these creations are extremely beautiful, others rather over-luxuriant, but everywhere there is a favourite language of flowers – woven structures, circles, reflections and repetitions and the ubiquitous test tube or its glassy equivalent.
In the most beautiful category is the exhibit filling the Talbot Seminar room by Italian designer Rudi Casati. A table-size book’s cream woven pages are sumptuously interleaved with alchemilla mollis, hydrangea and pink roses. Lines of filament track backwards and forwards from ceiling to table as if the letters of the book are exploding into particles or else converging into words on the page. Illustrating a quotation from Dante- “You were not made to live as brutes, but to follow virtue and knowledge”- this is one of the must-sees of the show.
Almost equally inspiring are the colourful circles suspended overhead by the well-known Swede Per Benjamin, in the Old Library. Despite the rather heavy mechanics, the woven circles incorporating carnations, anthuriums and lilies, in Benjamin’s signature style, modulate subtly and cleverly in tone through reds to yellows like rising suns.
Filaments and woven circles combine in a design created by Belgian florist Stijn Simaeys comprising a single circle attached by strings to the piano filled with the fragrance and grace of pollen-free double rose lilies.
Outside in the Fellows’ Garden is a contemporary design group work, “Breakthrough” -with exquisite use of fine green yarn, creating spheres, buds opening into flowers and even a snail, the green complemented by strategically placed pink calla lilies and pinkish-red crab apples.
For something completely different there are the stunning floral dresses by Angelica Lacarbonara whose elaborate Southern Italian bridal bouquets are one of the workshop highlights of the Tesco Theatre.
And for extravagant excess there are Hong Kong’s Solomon Leong’s Edwardian épergnes rising from slabs of sprouting chrysanthemum in the Dining Hall, tumbling test tubes of flowers meeting their reflected selves by Jonathan Moseley, Dutchman Denis Kneepkens’ chrysanthemum spindles and Bruno Duarte’s variations on a theme of anthuriums.
Apart from the set pieces, throughout the day there are demonstrations, workshops and talks in three venues with yet more towering structures interwoven with flowers – vide the celebrated Gregor Lersch’s wood and flower combinations.
Out in the grounds are the competition sections. Green is the colour for the winners here. The ’Turner Prize’ class of an imaginary dinner party for a named artist, yields a clever and well-executed take on Magritte’s ‘Man with Bowler Hat’ with the hats made of foliage and chicken wire. The Floral Design Trophy is carried off by a work in the ‘Move on up’ class which like the First Prize winner in the ‘Inspired by Sculpture’ class involves the use of individual leaves packed densely like a threaded necklace. Anna Lamot Bach’s winning ‘Breaking the mould’ bridal bouquet is also full of subtle greens.
And if you want to try this look at home – sample Lehner Wolle3 woven ‘planters’ which look great filled with flowers.
Flowers@Oxford is a Great Flower Events Ltd organisation supported by Judith Blacklock Flower School and Fleur Creatif.