Every morning, behind the wheel of her little La Poste van, the post-lady sets out from the village to deliver the packages and letters to the local farms. When she reaches La Route Blue - the long, narrow driveway flanked by fruit and nut trees that leads to this farm - she turns off the road and bumpity-bumps his way down the narrow drive, shaded by the apple and walnut trees.
The driveway turns a bend and opens up into this glorious u-shaped yard - the back entrance to the property - bordered by three buildings, La Ferme (the farm house) on the left, the chateau (or main house) straight ahead, of which you can just catch a glimpse in the photo above, and the garden shed on the right. She drops the letters in the charming letter box at the ferme's front door, beeps her horn with a friendly toot, and then circles around the huge linden tree in the middle of the yard, back up the driveway.
La Ferme is where Flo and her family stayed when they would holiday here as she was growing up. (Her grandparents were in the chateau). Some years ago Flo's parents moved into the big house full time, and the farmhouse was left to sit empty, except of course for the many resident spiders and their cobwebs. Flo wanted to bring the building back to life for her workshop - it is where almost all of the 12 students slept - and what a lovely job she did. I can't help but think her parents must be so thrilled to see the building full of love once again.
Downstairs is a little kitchen, a living room with a fire place and two bedrooms. And, let's not forget, a brand new bathroom. Upstairs is another new bathroom (Flo's very handy brother and father did a terrific job) and three bedrooms. It has a very different feel to the chateau: rough plastered walls and exposed timber (as opposed to the wallpapered magnificence of the main house) and the light is much more moody.
Across from the farm house is the garden shed which is home to Flo's parents' garden tools, wheel barrows, a tractor, bee keeping gear ... a gardener's paradise. There is also a charming room called the hunting lodge and upstairs there are a couple of completely unrenovated bedrooms buried in cobwebs. Flo, another little renovation project for next year's workshop?!
When Flo asked me to be part of this workshop, it was to “teach” arranging flowers. I use the inverted commas because this is hardly something that needs to be taught. I mean, the flowers themselves have done most of the work for you. But I do have certain ideas about what arrangements work better than others, for both on the table and for more ambitious, overhead installations (I plan to share these tips in future blogposts) so there was plenty I wanted to share. But for me the most satisfying part of the flower lessons was spending several hours with each of the students (the group of 12 was broken down to groups of three for these classes) and hanging out while we picked and then arranged the flowers.
I have found that when people are occupied enough by something like making a flower arrangement they forget about having to be interesting or funny or very successful – whatever their go-to personality shield is - and genuine connection happens. It was a joy.
What was also joy defined, for me anyway, was that I was part of all this and feeling quite healthy. A few days earlier I had been completely flattened a very nasty flu/bug and I briefly thought I might not even make it to the teaching part.
(Just as an aside one of my favourite memories of this trip was when Flo delivered me yet another honey tea and a tray-ful of French drugs (they seem to be very keen on pharmaceutical solutions over here), this is all while running around like a mad woman to have everything sorted out for the workshop the next day, and she said “listen if you die I will put your corpse on ice and deal with it after the workshop, ok?”.)
The flower classes started with a wander through the gardens, each of us carrying a little wicker basket and a pair of secateurs. After we picked our flowers and other bits and pieces from the garden and surrounding farm, we headed upstairs where I had set up a tiny flower studio on the top floor landing, next to the laundry, complete with a zinc bathtub to hold our flowers.
It was a delight to see the different arrangements we all created.
I'm going to stop here for now - if you have any questions don't hesitate to email me or leave a comment below. In the next blog post, I am going to show you the different table settings - with more flowers - that we enjoyed throughout the workshop and of course, talk about THE FOOD.