Jenny Shelton tries her hand at wreath making with Violets and Velvet
There’s a wonderful aroma filling Sam Cotterrell’s garden studio. It’s a cold November day outside, but in here it’s all cosy and twinkly: as we rummage through various bits of garden foliage, picking out pretty seed heads and evergreens, a lovely earthy smell mingles with the spicy, Christmas scent of our mulled wine. I’ve joined florist Sam Cotterrell of Violets and Velvet, Bishop’s Stortford, on one of her wreath-making courses. Held throughout December, they take place at her gorgeous garden workshop: a hideaway of vintage furniture and treasures, and the perfect setting for getting creative.
“My main focus is wedding flowers but I do a few workshops, especially at Christmas,” says Sam. “As well as wreath making, we’ve got a table centrepiece workshop; they’re all really popular. Some people come back every year, so I make sure I’ve always got lots of new, different bits in! There’s always mulled wine and mince pies on the go, and we stick a bit of Christmas music on… It’s a nice, sociable evening. People like to come and have a play – it’s quite messy, so it’s not something you can easily do in your own kitchen.”
Sam came to floristry fairly recently, from a background in costume and textiles. “I worked in theatre and on a few films…
I worked on Harry Potter – I had to dye lots of Harry’s pyjamas!” she laughs. “I did about ten pairs just to get the right blue. Then I worked at a costume house four days a week, and me being me, I thought ‘I can squeeze something else in!’ So I took a little job at a florists. I helped with weddings and in 2008, I left to set up on my own.”
While we chat, Sam shows me how to secure tightly-packed handfuls of moss to a circular frame, creating a padded base for our wreath. Then we wire in some pine branches to create a fluffy outline, before adding dried slices of orange and lime, silvery olive branches and other natural decorations to it.
“Some people are very neat and have an idea for a colour scheme, but others like to stick everything on,” Sam smiles. “People often amaze themselves in terms of what they can do. You can’t really go wrong with a wreath, it’s quite simple and doesn’t have to be neat. “I get my flowers and foliage from wholesalers,” she explains, “but things like pine cones and poppyseed heads I’ll forage for. My daughter loves looking for pine cones, which is helpful! Holly is difficult because it’s quite prickly, but nice for the berries. I like to use rose hips, which last well. The dried oranges are lovely – last year we used sprouts, too. I like to have lots of natural decorations.”
In 2014, Sam’s blowsy, natural approach won Violets and Velvet Perfect Wedding magazine’s Award for flowers – a top industry accolade with some stiff competition. “I’d done bouquets for their cover shoots, then they asked if I wanted to enter their awards. I got shortlisted, which was amazing. So I went along to the ceremony thinking I didn’t have a hope in hell. There were some really big florists up for it, so when they called out my name I had a sort of out-of-body experience!”
Asked what she loves most about the job, she says: “I love the creativity of it, and that every week is different. It’s lovely working with the seasons and with nature – you really look forward to the new season and what flowers you’ll be working with.”
Wreath making takes place 3, 7, 8, 14 and 15 December, either 12-2pm or 7-9pm (£40).
Or, make a table centrepiece on 21 December, 7-9pm (£70).