pic from Saffy at Bath Flowers  

It’s that time of year when most folk are thinking of prepping for Christmas – unless you’re my lovely mate Sally, in which case your gifts have been bought and wrapped since June, the baubles are twinkling brightly on the tree and the turkey has had its place booked on the kitchen table since last year. Prepping for Christmas may well include consideration of a ‘workshop’ or two – either as an ‘experience’ gift for a loved one or a pre-Christmas treat for yourself.

For years I firmly believed that all workshops resembled my set designer chum Phil’s sawdust-encrusted barn. Apparently this is not the case. In fact, workshops are opportunities for ladies to eat cake, drink coffee, make friends and learn new skills! I say ‘ladies’, though gentlemen are by no means excluded. It’s just in my experience they tend to call them ‘courses’ – like the hedge-laying ‘course’ my husband has been wanting to do for ages. Courses are more likely to involve a lunchtime trip to the pub.

Whatever your gender, workshops/courses are “hopeful things, sold on so much promise”. I know. I run them with the most critical audience of all – children. Witness the faces full of expectation at The Paragon School in Bath some weeks ago when I arrived dressed as a Viking to lead activities in the woods, or my daughter’s face when I surprised her with a Christmas wreath- making workshop with Grace at Young Blooms a couple of years ago. Sadly sometimes that promise is dashed as the discovery is made that the workshop leader is pants at teaching and is just on a self-promotion exercise. I attended one of these once – a gift from a good friend. It got worse when I discovered that some of the other people at the workshop were mates of the leader there to make up the numbers and say nice things about her. I should say, at this point, that we thoroughly enjoyed our wreath-making workshop with Grace and my daughter came away with the knowledge and confidence to tackle the job entirely unaided last Christmas. Result!

#britishflowers hour this week afforded an opportunity for flowery tweeps to chat about workshops and ask questions, recommend courses they’d been on and tell all about courses they run. Poor Sara Davison was beseiged for an hour whilst Sara Willman bunked off to a recording of BBC Gardeners’ Question Time with me. She has redeemed herself somewhat by trawling through tweetdeck and compiling the summary of recommended or self-recommended workshops which I have included below for any interested parties.
Christmas workshops

• Angela Coulton @AngelaCoulton mentioned upcoming workshops @lovecedarfarm 29 Nov and 1 Dec getting creative with dried materials.

• Cherry @kilcoanGardens runs festive workshops in the barn, wreath making & table arrangements. Mulled wine, Christmassy Music, & good craic. Cherry also operates a pick & mix bar at her Christmas wreath courses so each one is unique! http://kilcoangardens.com
• Carole @Tuckshopflowers runs wreath making workshops http://www.tuckshopflowers.com There will be lots of mulled wine and mince pies, maybe even Frank Sinatra’s Christmas CD!
• Sharon Davis @interiorsflower has festive workshops beginning on 28th November http://www.interiorsandflowers.com Wreath making, winter garland, & table decoration. Also holding a couple at Cothay Manor foraging in the beautiful gardens & with a fabulous lunch included.

Floristry and flower farming workshops
FlowersFromTheFarm @cutflowergrower is running Floristry for British Flowers. Sat 1st Sun 2ND Feb in Harrogate at the Majestic Hotel.
Garden Gate Flowers @GGFlowerCo organizes courses for Italian holiday groups and is looking at doing workshops focusing on different eras which proved a popular idea amongst the #britishflower folk. They also run a one to one course for industry folk to snoop around Garden Gate Flower farm with help & advice on setting up a patch.
Sussex Flower School @TheSussexFlower has loads of floristry courses which include all materials and lunch. One of the most popular courses is One to One intensive setting up as wedding florist week which covers business side as well as growing. There is a 20% discount available on courses in Dec in Period Living Magazine. Valid for a year.
• Andrea Jones @MayfieldFlowers has cutting & arranging garden flowers workshops May+July 2014 with a discount for booking now. http://www.mayfieldflowers.co.uk
• Sara Venn @Saralimback will be running courses on growing in 2014 in Bristol http://www.thephysicgarden.co.uk
• Green and Gorgeous @GandGorgeous now have ‘masterclasses’ to take your flower growing to the next level, & consultations for growers http://www.greenandgorgeousflowers.co.uk
• Gill Hodgson@thepatientmole says the next ‘Start Growing Flowers For Market’ course will be in March, in EastRiding (which comes recommended by Paula Baxter @flowerpotpolly http://www.newmainsfarm.co.uk)
• Wild & Wondrous@WildAndWondrous do summer vase workshops using all British flowers http://www.wildandwondrousflowers.co.uk
• Marie McLeish@MyGardenCoachUK is happy to run ‘Plan to succeed workshops’ and collaborate with flower schools. DM Marie on Twitter or email for info Marietmcleish@gmail.com
• Flowers by Shamini @FlowersShamini recommends Jane Packer Hand-tied course, which gave her the flower bug!
• Yvonne Ramsay @ollieroseandblu attended http://www.fusionflowers.com summer school this year in Scotland with http://www.bjoernkroner.deabfab @Alisonsuper(Alison Bradley) let us cut from her garden
• Gillie Wilkinson @plantsandposies has posted step by step instructions on willow wreaths, Russian vine, solanum, dogwood, ribbon bow http://etonavenuegrowersassociation.wordpress.com

• Also mentioned in despatches were courses run by Clare at Plant Passion and Georgie at Common Farm
Snippets of information were exchanged and questions asked about whether there were courses specifically for wedding flowers, how to attract men and children to courses, whether there were any courses in Birmingham and whether you need extra insurance to run courses. The answer to the latter is inform your insurer but it should be covered in your public liability insurance.
I have not been on any of these workshops and have no drum to bang but I think I know a thing or two about what makes a good ’un.

  • Look for a leader who is engaging, really knowledgeable, adaptable and able to facilitate an environment where people can take risks, experiment, grow in confidence and learn. If someone comes away feeling discouraged, that’s not good.
  • Great workshops get the balance right with a third of the time spent on demonstration and the rest being very hands on and student focused with opportunities for feedback, discussion and exchanging ideas with the other students. All materials/tools should be provided.
  • 6-10 people is deemed a good number to attend a workshop and 10-3 with a lovely lunch a good timescale
  • Students should leave feeling like they’ve done work, and have some work they can take home with them if they choose and an idea of how to move onto the next stage.
  •  The best advertisement is the unsolicited praise of someone who’s been on a previous course. A good friend of mine went on a Green and Gorgeous Workshop and said it gave her confidence and knowledge where other workshops had failed. Praise indeed.
  • Whatever you arrange to show or teach people at your workshop, they’ll enjoy talking to other attendees best. Build in space for this.

By the way, BBC Gardeners’ Question Time is to be broadcast on Nov 29 at 3pm and, by the magic of radio we will also be present at a recording for broadcast on Jan 10th.On the panel was Christine Walkden, who could certainly run a fantastic workshop.