Neill Strain is renowned for the extraordinary installations he creates to decorate the front of his Belgravia boutique on various occasions during the year such as Christmas, Valentine's Day, RHS Chelsea Flower Show and more. For the first time, he reveals the techniques and mechanics used to create the recent installation for A Celebration of the Rose with a photographic Step-by-Step of his team at work, from the growing of the Roses in Holland to the final touches of the completed design.
I am often asked where I find inspiration for my boutique installations and how "on earth" they are created. So that's why I am dedicating this blog to revealing every step of the recent installation "A Celebration of the Rose."
Living in Belgravia, it is easy to be inspired by the elegant local architecture. Combine that with the seasonal influences of nature as I walk through Belgrave Square with its centennial trees, established shrubs and colourful May blooms. For this year's Chelsea Flower Show display, I wanted to accentuate the geometric elegance of my boutique and hence the linear rectangle and cube design evolved into opulence in a contemporary style.
As we were celebrating the Rose, the store-front display had to be an extravaganza of Roses. And Roses of the highest quality to hold up against the direct sunlight, wind and rain of our unpredictable British weather! Which is why I decided to use Avalanche Roses and none other than those from my favourite grower, Meijer.
The breeders in Holland usually sell their plants to several growers, depending on the success of the flower. This is the case with Avalanche Roses; there are many growers, not just in Holland but in Kenya, Ecuador, even China; and there can be a substantial difference in quality amongst each grower's Roses. Producing 500,000 to 700,000 Roses per week, the family owned and operated company Meijer is not the largest grower in Holland but it is definitely the highest quality producer of Avalanche Roses focusing solely on producing the best Roses - tallest stems, largest heads, longest lasting vase life - and only in The Netherlands where quality control and glasshouse conditions are the finest. Run by the four Meijer brothers, their 12 hectares of glasshouse are dedicated to Sweet Avalanche (since 2005), white Avalanche (since 2006), Pearl Avalanche (since 2012) and a very special new Rose which will be introduced to the market later this year. For our Rose installation we used 3,000 Roses from Meijer: Sweet, white and Pearl Avalanche.
Here are some images I took while visiting Meijer's glasshouse in April when our 3,000 Roses were still growing.
On Saturday, May 16th, our 3,000 Meijer Avalanche Roses, along with 300 dark, fuscia-coloured spray Roses called Lavender Lace and foliages, Hebe and Senecio, arrived at the Flower Lounge in perfect condition, ready for my team to start work!
The preparations for our mechanics were already well underway. For the boutique windows we have rectangular wooden panels which had to be painted on the back and covered with wet oasis on the front. We sized our Oasis Designer Boards to scale, wet them with at least 10 buckets of water and it took 3 strong men to carry them into the windows to attach them onto the frames. Meanwhile, the girls were conditioning the 3,300 Roses, taking them out of their packaging, trimming the leaves, cutting the stems with a knife, wrapping them in silk paper in bunches of 10 and placing them in fresh water to make sure they had a really "good drink" before being arranged in the oasis.
After a good 20 hours of conditioning, the next day we began arranging the flowers... Two girls worked on the window panels while the rest of the team were outside. The foliage, Hebe and Senecio, had to be placed first to thinly cover the base of oasis. Then the white Avalanche, followed by the Sweet Avalanche, the Pearl Avalanche and finally the dark pink spray Rose, the contrasting colour adding excitement and depth to the overall design. The "window girls" had to frequently swap places to alternate their work on each panel, a method which ensures that both panels will eventually look identical.
Outdoors, we had three floral placements to create. The geometric arch surrounding the door to The Flower Lounge and 2 floral cubes on large Medici urns either side. The lines of the cubes were echoed on the window panels and repeated in the arch creating a modern, massed design with traditional-style Roses and foliage, similar to a Flower Wall which is very much in vogue this year.
The door frame had been made-to-measure and the Oasis Designer Boards had already been attached to the wood. Hence, we had to soak the oasis in situ by pouring water from watering cans and buckets onto the oasis, distributing it evenly. We used at least 20 full watering cans and 10 buckets!
Once the oasis was completely soaked, we starting adding the foliage and the flowers while two others worked on the cubic urns. The cubes were also covered with Oasis Designer Boards which had to be soaked and then secured onto the urns. Another heavy manoeuvre!
We worked almost all day Sunday. The Belgravia residents walked by and stopped in their tracks in disbelief to enquire what we were doing, why, how, who for, how long... We animated the street in style and the atmosphere was as warm and cheerful as the sunshine beating down on us.
One of the great highs I enjoy in design is that magical moment when the work is almost done and what was a figment of my imagination and a sketch on a piece of paper suddenly becomes a reality. It was time to Celebrate the Rose. Our 3,300 Roses were proudly placed to welcome all to The Chelsea Flower Show 2015 and to A Celebration of the Rose at The Flower Lounge.
I hope this blog has revealed to you the work and the joy, the technique and mechanics, the passion and expertise that goes into our floral installations and, indeed, all the floral creativity we design at Neill Strain Floral Couture. Although our Celebration of the Rose has passed, we still have many extraordinary Roses at the boutique, including some divinely scented English-grown Roses and many other seasonal summer flowers to delight you. So please drop in to see us and let's chat about making your floral fantasies a reality.