True to her first name, floral stylist Willow Crossley is renowned for her naturalistic flair, favoured by companies such as Mulberry, Anthropologie and Jo Malone.
Whether you find your flowers at the florist, flower market or your own back garden, her message is that you don't need a large bouquet to make an impact, and in her new book Flourish, she shows how it's done, Crossley style, with apparent ease but to great effect. For example, several single stems of the same flower in individual bottles, jam jars or bud vases, clustered in a group or ranged down a console or dining table, look artlessly wonderful.
"Just a couple of branches or a few wispy stems in a vase make all the difference," says Crossley, who likes to cut a metre or two of passionflower vine from her house wall and lay it down the centre of a dining table, or twine trailing ivy around banisters for a quick-fix festive garland.
"Get to know your local friendly florist and ask them to order things in for you if they don't have it already. Go for walks in your local parks and woodlands, look at the way the plants and trees grow in their natural habitat, study their shapes, colours and tones. Arrangements should look as natural as possible."
As in the garden, foliage is as important as flowers, and Crossley, who has just designed a range of faux flowers and foliage for lifestyle store OKA, has her fall-backs that act as leafy fillers. These include box, purple smoke bush, heuchera and Solomon's seal, though she uses stand-alone foliage too, such as ferns, which she fixes to candlesticks so that, with curving eucalyptus sprays, they replace candles with cascades of lacey green.
Like all of the new breed of artisan florists, Crossley is keen on reducing carbon footprint by buying British and buying seasonal, so that flowers look more as if they've been hand-picked from the hedgerow. For autumn, along with dahlias and Japanese anemones, both of which need little arranging or addition, she suggests a simple but eyecatching display of cut apple branches or smaller Golden Hornet crab apples, laden with golden fruits. In spring, stems of blossom or ornamental quince have a similar effect. At this time of year, too, she uses old man's beard — the wild clematis that has silken seedheads — to fashion into wreaths and garlands.
As well as our huge choice of British flowers, exotics have their occasional place, too. Crossley uses miniature pink pineapples on long stems to augment more formal arrangements or, cut down, likes them as placement card holders for dinner guests and to hold gilded candles. In winter, for a dramatic large-scale display, she mixes five or six amaryllis stems with the same number of hydrangeas and eucalyptus branches, and coaxes mini phalaenopsis orchids — which don't need soil — into large recycled glass jars, terrarium-style.
For the more creative, she has many ideas that are worth taking more time over, such as a "disco ball" — a giant pompom, suspended from the ceiling. "It looks as if my garden has exploded and I've rolled it into a ball and hung it up again," says Crossley, who assures it requires relatively little skill to make.
Perish the thought of using a standardissue glass vase. "As far as I'm concerned, anything with a hole in the top can be used as a container for flowers," says Crossley. "Make it a game — every-where you go, try to find the oddest thing you can." As well as jam jars, which are her staples, she suggests mustard pots, drinking glasses, glass pickle jars, vintage jugs and milk churns. Thus foxglove plants come in from outdoors and are fittingly displayed in old wooden apple crates, while blue delphiniums are ideally suited to a large and silvery zinc planter. For winter, hellebores, which last longer as small plants than cut flowers, are settled into kitsch china swan holders, to stunning white-onwhite effect.
Crossley suggests keeping a stash of cut-down plastic water bottles, in different sizes, for lining containers that aren't watertight, or use bucket liners for larger ones. Of course, you can bypass containers entirely and just use moss to display your creations, as in her enchanting moss wreath centrepiece of springtime aquilegia stems, or white jasmine wrapped in a ball of moss, secured with parcel twine.
- Flourish (Kyle Books) costs £19.99, but Homes & Property readers can buy it for £15.99 including p&p by calling 01903 828503 and quoting code KB HP/FF