HOLIDAY BLOOMS with THOMAS BROOM-HUGHES of THOMAS BLOOM FLOWERS, LONDON
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This week on Cultivating Place, British gardener, floral designer and horticulturist Thomas Broom-Hughes of Thomas Bloom Flowers and Petersham Nurseries in Richmond and Covent Garden – speaks with us about the history and richness of the human impulse to deck the halls and ring in the winter season here in the Northern Hemisphere.
Anyone who knows me or has listened to me for any length of time knows I was born and grew up in Colorado – at 8,000 feet – the middle daughter of three of a gardener-floral designing mother and a wildlife biologist father amid Ponderosa Pine forest. Winter meant dry cold, snow and wreath and tree season.
Our home, and my mother’s garden surrounding it , was adjacent to a 2,400 acre Colorado Mountain Park established in 1914 and known for its free ranging wild bison and elk herds that lived within the enclosure. Sometime in late October, we girls were paid (not particularly well) to venture along roadways and trail verges and even into the bison enclosure to forage for wind fallen ponderosa pine cones. We gathered these by the bagful and brought them home to then wire them into bunches of 3 for later wiring by my mother and her festive women colleagues – Schwarzie and Audrey and Barbara and many kind others - onto thick evergreen wreaths for sale to the holiday regulars and at markets.
The activity, sights and scents of foraging the cones, the rhythm of wiring them into their bunches - which by the time Christmas actually arrived left our fingertips sore and chapped and perforated by the prickly cones - the smells of my mother’s workshop, loaded with wreaths and trees and cones and forced paper whites starting to open in their rocky basins, and the talk and laughter of the older women - sometimes exhausted and panicked worrying that they wouldn’t get everything done in time – these remain some of my strongest winter, solstice and Christmas memories.
Traditions of greening in anticipation of the Solstice, as good luck and protection for/assurance of the returning of the light, dates back to ancient Druid, Celtic and Roman traditions. No matter your religious or cultural background, there is something about preparing both the garden and the home for the winter holidays that’s – primal, universal. A gathering of evergreen and aromatics, and beauty to hold us through the restorative dark and dormancy.
In our conversation this week, Thomas Broom-Hughes shares with us his own history of growing up in rural England, from age 6 to age 13 finding seasonal connection and meaning in his boarding school gardens, and being a member of his school choir, which required him to stay at school over the holidays to sing for all of the advent and Christmas church services. These weekly and seasonal rituals and tradition taught him to see flowers and seasons in specific ways. Each winter, he introduces and encourages 100s of people to cultivate their own creativity in holiday wreaths and other winter garden beauty.
Inspired by a green and pleasant land – even as winter arrives – Tom takes some time out between his Luxury Wreath Workshops and his School of Garden Inspiration in Winter to join us via Skype this week from his home and (lovely) garden room in London.
“You know we’re all exposed to so much media where you might look on the television
and see an advert of a family sat right round a roaring fire smiling wearing their
christmas jumpers, but I think it’s a sense of calm and beauty that people want -
in winter people want simple things of beauty to focus on - whether it be a
bowl of paper white narcissus on their table or a beautiful vase of foliage,
it’s a very comforting thing to make your home beautiful."
Thomas Broom-Hughes of Thomas Bloom Flowers & Petersham Nurseries
Tom's own home garden, which he shares with his American-born husband, is a place of orderly simple green, white and black color-schemed calm and sanctuary for them both, to enjoy with each other, their dogs and a glass of wine after their busy work days. While they used to have a much larger and higher maintenance garden, the current multi-roomed though small garden they allows them to both garden, but also relax in their space instead of always having the nagging sense that something needs to be cut back, dead headed, weeded etc. Tom supplements his desire for more cut seasonal flowers with an allotment garden plot of raised beds.
I loved the continuum of this conversation – the overview of the personal sense of calm, meaning and beauty in our own gardens as well as in how we connect to one another and to the seasons of our place. How while these may change with time and space, culture and climate, they remain at their essence our own continual expressions of this human impulse to garden and grow.
After this conversation - and visions of trees trimmed with small vial vases of hellebores trimming a tree, I'm kind of wondering how to get an invite to Tom's house and garden at the holidays next year. If you don’t follow him – make sure to check out Tom's website or social media – he regularly provides views of extraordinary beauty.
The thing I love most about Cultivating Place are the connections I make with you – other gardeners out there around the world. Like hearing Tom talk about his own early life traditions: British boys' boarding school, working in the gardens and singing in the choir. And now his new traditions forged – so lovingly – with his husband. Very good reminders about life’s best priorities.
People always told me time seemed to speed up as you aged, and I kind of didn’t believe them – but this year it’s been very true for me. It’s hard to believe we are knocking at the door of December. On December 9th one of my own annual traditions of the past decade takes place when I host a native plant wreath workshop for the California State University Herbarium. It’s one of my favorite things to do each year – for a few months prior I am thinking about and looking for interesting dried flowers, seeds, stalks, stems, and fresh cedar, redwood, and pine boughs for the day. It's not fancy, but the group of 15 or so wreath makers always slows me down and places me at the heart of this season’s meaning for me.
What are your holiday greening traditions – old or new that center and bring slow, savoring of these celebrations for you?
Cultivating Place is an award-winning co-production of North State Public Radio, where it airs every Thursday at 10 am PST.