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Behind the Scenes

5 Minutes with award-winning Firenza Flowers

FirenzaFlowersAs part of our Christmas season, we are going behind the scenes with those who have helped ‘create’ Christmas at Harewood. Fiona Pickles from Firenza Flowers answers five questions here:

Where does your passion for flowers ‘stem’ from?
My love of gardening is where it all started. I adored working in my first garden, to the point of obsession! I transformed a small patch of a farmer’s field into a beautiful garden, with a wide variety of trees, shrubs and flowers. I became familiar with a huge variety of plants and flowers, their Latin names and most importantly their seasonality.

How and when did you begin your career in floral decoration/art?
I studied Print and had a good and enjoyable career in the printing industry, but I walked away from that in 2005 to retrain as a florist in London, then set the business up (named after my maternal grandmother Florence, known to all as Flo) I became a very successful wedding florist but gradually changed direction and focus, to utterly embrace my love of the landscape and seasons. I now enjoy creating large, striking designs and structures.

Where does your vision come from and how does it develop?
Everything I do is totally influenced by my surroundings and where I am working. I usually have a rough plan of the overall look and feel of what I am about to create, but the actual shape and style only comes as I work on each piece, they are totally dependent on the shape of each branch, flower, leaf and root that I use, meaning that every single thing I create is a one-off, never to be recreated or reproduced, no matter how hard anyone tries!

What skills are needed to create your designs?
I do have an ability to know what shapes are needed where, to elevate a design from something predictable and ‘samey’ to something totally striking, unexpected and dramatic. I also seem to be considering more engineering type issues as well as the obvious floristry considerations; weight, balance, attachments and fixings, which i actually relish. Fixings and stability are huge considerations, I am rather obsessed with hardware shops bizarrely! I try to work without floral foam too, so the main consideration in any design is ensuring everything that needs it has a water source. This is not always straightforward and I offer workshops and classes to other florists keen to understand this way of thinking.

How have you adapted to this changing world of online?
Having established a business pre-social media, I can recognise and appreciate the value of social media – believe me, it is so much easier, more pleasant, less times consuming and more focused to post an image on instagram with good photography and considered hashtags than driving a three hour round trip to attend a networking meeting, during which I might meet one person who may want flowers at some point in their life! I utterly embrace the effectiveness of social media and have met many fabulous people from around the world through it. If you have a business and want to find your ‘tribe’, you HAVE to make time for social media.

Firenza Flowers has created two large-scale wreath installations in the Terrace Gardens of Harewood. Visitors can see these as part of the Christmas experience.

Fiona is hosting a full day Stately Botanicals workshop, which includes a private, tailormade tour of the festively dressed House, making a bespoke wreath and a Festive Afternoon Tea.

HSBC volunteers give their time to Christmas

HSBC_volunteersWe talk about the wonderful work of our volunteers, but this doesn’t even relate to the additional support that we get from the local community and businesses around us.

We have been working with HSBC Customer Services and this year a team of nine came in to spend their volunteering day at Harewood.

As the House undergoes its transformation for Christmas, it’s all hands to the deck. The team split into two, with half spending time icing some of the gingerbread people who will form a display of 500+ in the Below Stairs kitchen, and the other half taking to the ground in the Walled Garden and turning over the soil for the next stage of planting.

Sarah Kirk, volunteer coordinator, said “We were delighted to get the additional support from the HSBC volunteers, they have definitely provided a boost to our Christmas activity. There is always such a positive input from volunteers and hopefully they got something back in return, it was highly amusing to see Artistic Director Simon Costin judging their creative icing on the day.”

Carol Harper, from HSBC Customer Service, said, “We work as a team in an office, and it’s great that the Bank provides us with the opportunity to spend the day working as a team for the benefit of the community.

“It’s something the Bank has been passionate about for some years now. We go out to a charity and spend the day doing something that’s quite often outside of our own comfort zone, but will be a great help to them. Either in doing a job that might have been on a back burner, or something that’s going to be time consuming for one or two volunteers to complete. We go back to the office with a feeling of accomplishment.”

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My Christmas – Christine Wardle, Head of Development

Salzburg Christmas BlogChristmas means so many different things to different people. In part of a series of Behind the Scenes blogs, we asked the staff at the Harewood House Trust to tell us about their Christmas.

Christine Wardle is Head of Development, looking after Harewood Members and working with donors and corporate sponsorship amongst other things…

1. What is your earliest Christmas memory?
My earliest Christmas memory is of the smell of holly, wreaths and Christmas decorations, when I lived in a flower shop. We always have a real tree and real holly and mistletoe decorations. Always have a poinsettia. None of your plastic rubbish!

2. Do you have any specific Christmas traditions?
We have lots of birthdays around Christmas, on 21st, 25th and 26th December, so that’s a big influence on what we do. I love the Christmas shop in Salzburg and we have a selection of decorative eggs from there.

3. Which period from history would you have liked to celebrate Christmas in?
Not so much a period – more a place. Austria or Switzerland where it actually looks like Christmas is supposed to, but with none of the commercialisation.

4. What’s the piece of music that gets you in the festive mood?
Ooh lots of pieces of music. Sleigh Ride comes to mind. All the school bands play it.

5. What’s the nicest gift that someone has offered you / you have given?
Nicest gift? Poinsettia. Can’t start Christmas without one.#

Booking recommended for Christmas at Harewood on www.harewood.org 

Gordon, A Recovering Soldier

Gordon Soldier Seeds of HopeGordon is a recovering soldier, stationed at the convalescent hospital set up within the House.

A young man from the Scottish Highlands, he, like many of the soldiers at Harewood, had never left his village until leaving to fight. War opened his eyes to awful terrors, but it also broadened his horizons and introduced him to new things.

Gordon’s injuries are worryingly serious when he first arrives, but thanks to the care he receives, and the healing atmosphere at Harewood, he makes a miraculous physical recovery. Whilst recovering, Gordon spends much of his time taking walks in the gardens, where he meets Olivia, a servant girl from the House.

Visit Seeds of Hope in the Bothy, Walled Garden and Servant’s Hall, Below Stairs, and learn more about the characters at Harewood 100 years ago. Exhibition closes Sunday 4 November.

Mr Leathley, Head Gardener

Mr Leathley Seeds of HopeMr Leonard Leathley is the Head Gardener at Harewood.

A brilliant man with a deep understanding of agriculture and nature, he is much respected by those who work under him.

As war progresses, he becomes an even greater taskmaster, with the focus on feeding the troops and the Home Front becoming more and more of a priority.

Like John, he has family fighting in the war – his two sons Tobias and Ernest. The thought of losing them has led Mr Leathley to become obsessed with his new war-time responsibilities – to turn the once ornamental and decorative gardens of Harewood into a hive of food production and cultivation.


Seeds of Hope continues in the Walled Garden until Sunday 4 November.

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