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Autumn seasonal interest

Far from being a time of slim pickings, autumn is rich in British grown materials for florists to choose from, and offers some of the most distinctive colours and textures in the whole floral calendar. Kate Ladd of Greenery floral design introduces us to some of her favourite autumnal ingredients.

October is a month of uncertainty for southern flower growers. While our friends in the North are almost certain to be hit by frosts early on, those below the Midlands, and further inland like myself, have to play the waiting game. As I write, the garden is still producing.

Two years ago I created wedding flowers for a gardening couple keen to include dahlias in their scheme. The week before their 3rd November date was spent anxiously watching the thermometer, but frost held off, and on the date marking Samhain, the traditional beginning of winter, I cut buckets of dahlias untouched by Jack.

My dahlias were slow to start this year, then grew slowly, and are now slowing down! But they are still there, along with chrysanthemums, sunflowers, and the second flush of strawflowers.

British grown helichrysum

Strawflower (Helichrysum bracteatum)

However, as production of these cut-and-come again flowers falters with the waning of the sun, it’s time to look around for alternatives to use in the seasonal bouquets I offer year round. This includes British flowers grown at a larger scale under glass, but also as much local material as possible, both fresh and dried. Foliage is key – things like physocarpus, eucalyptus, weigela, griselinia, viburnum, and the ever-useful rosemary – along with much-needed pops of autumn colour to lift it.

British grown autumnal ingredients include dahlias, osteospermum and evergreen foliage such as rosemary

A seasonal October bouquet by Kate featuring dahlias, eryngium and rosemary.

Some of the best colour pops are the ‘reds’ – rosehips, hawthorn and cotoneaster berries. These won’t work in all situations – hips can be scruffy and haws are well protected by thorns – but cotoneaster stems make a lovely line in an arrangement, especially when the leaves are tinged orange and red.

I also love ivy berries. The soft-green buds are pretty, then less appealing for a while as they flower and wasps hide in the folds. But it’s the clusters of black berries I’m really waiting for. And there is the yin to this yang of snowberry (symphoricarpus). My own supply was cut down this year in a misunderstanding about what needed pruning (growers countrywide will sympathise I know!), but it’s a beautiful delicate leaf, with plump white berries tipped with the promise of pink buds.

British grown cotoneaster

Cotoneaster berries offer good “pops” of colour in autumn, and the stems of the plant have a graceful shape too.

Other things looking lovely as November arrives are mahonia, the bare stems of corkscrew willow, and Garrya elliptica. The latter is a great all rounder when the foliage is fresh, and once it has begun to brown and curl, leaves can be removed to leave the beautiful silvery catkins that give its common name – silk tassel bush.

Autumn is the natural time to use grasses, and dried flowers and seedheads stored over the past few months. Favourites are the warm colours from strawflowers, cool blues and white from statice, the orange of Chinese lanterns, scented Lavender, and the structural spheres of poppy seedheads and craspedia.

A gorgeous October bouquet of seasonal British flowers and foliage created by Greenery floral design

The elegant stems of corkscrew willow and the dark green foliage of Garrya elliptica are visible in the background of this autumnal bouquet by Kate.

While the seasons return reliably despite unexpected twists in their patterns, there is always something new to catch my eye that I haven’t considered before. This year we’ve been gathering conkers, and I’m busy skewering them onto strong wires for use in my winter designs.

In the colder months, it’s harder to source ingredients with the range of colour and form for a successful bouquet recipe, but it’s the seasonal details that separate grower-florists’ offerings from those of the high street, and truly mark a point in time.