I first met Clare Nolan when she came to style my flat for a piece she was writing, and saw first hand how she worked her magic in my space. Back then, I had no idea what a stylist actually did and I watched in awe as Clare picked her selection of things and created exquisite little vignettes in my space. The skill, I realised, was exactly the same as an artist’s, except through the eye of a camera. It’s all about creating a picture and it requires in-depth knowledge of how a camera ‘sees’ as well as an instinct for colour, form and space (especially negative space). She somehow managed to make everything sing for the camera in a way that I have never mastered, and it’s this talent, along with her experience in growing flowers simply for the joy of cutting them, that makes this book so special. Since then Clare has moved to the countryside where she grows bucketfuls of glorious blooms in her cutting patch and posts swoon-worthy pictures of them, along with her gorgeous work-space on Instagram.
In Bloom is like a marvellous, juicy scrapbook of Clare’s wisdom and experience…its cover and photography might have you thinking that this is pure coffee-table stuff, but no… it’s packed with properly useful, practical advice and tips, laid out simply in a way that everyone can understand, even if you are a total novice. Her growing instructions are detailed enough to give you a thorough insight into the task at hand, but sparse enough so as not to put anyone off having a go. She sets out an exhaustive core list of plants and how to grow them, (including her favourite cultivars).
Clare is quick to point out that growing plants to harvest is not about creating a garden in the traditional sense. I think it’s easy to get confused about motive when sowing seeds, so this very simple admonition is basically a huge get-out-of-jail-free card to those A-type personalities who want both a cutting garden AND a ‘perfect’ outdoor space. It’s not that the two are necessarily mutually exclusive…just that you’re going to have to be okay with a flower-filled jumble to mooch about in. Being the sort of person who adores a plan, I love her suggestions and plans for a simple cutting patch. The simple diagrams are a great springboard, and something that anyone could achieve over time.
There is a very helpful chapter on thinking about the ingredients of any flower displays in terms of SHAPE rather than being obsessed with particular plants. Clare divides the elements of her displays into five distinct sections…again, as a person who generally smooshes flowers together and hopes for the best, this is a revelation to me and I can’t wait to start including all these elements into bunches of flowers in the future. Here they are:
Heroes - the showstopping blooms like roses
Supporting Acts - beautiful flowers to compliment the heroes and provide a foil to them - so spikes like larkspur or snapdragon if you are using peonies, or something rounder, like cosmos or zinnia if your main event is spiky.
Fillers - These give bulk to the arrangement, adding texture and airiness, like alchemilla or ammi.
Foliage - All the leafy stuff (not necessarily green)
Sidekicks - to add ‘quirk’, or even a signature look, unique to you.
This book is one of those rare ones that straddles the two territories of ‘beautiful book’ and ‘practical guide’. The pages are going to end up muddy and crinkled AND you’ll want it centre stage on your bookshelf. My suggestion is to place it directly beneath an enormous vase of flowers. Happy reading!