Marie Parry’s flower-arranging studio is a five-minute drive from the beautiful, windswept beach of Amroth Bay in Wales. It’s called By the Sea Flowers, and it’s no surprise to find that her flower arrangements are inspired by both her coastal location and the surrounding Pembrokeshire countryside. She sometimes incorporates beach finds, such as driftwood, into her bouquets to create a subtle seaside feel, and often uses hessian or rope as ties to add a nautical touch. Further seaside ingredients she forages for are the spiky blue thistles and succulents that tend to grow near the beach – the leaves of which Marie uses to add extra texture and visual interest.
Marie sources her flowers from British growers wherever possible. She is keen to support local businesses, and buying flowers that haven’t had to travel so far means that they are fresher and last longer – as well as being a lot more environmentally friendly. She often uses flowers such as hydrangea and rosemary, which she says are ‘so Pembrokeshire’ as they thrive in the warm, wet South Wales climate. Other favourites are tulips, roses and dahlias, which she tends to combine with greenery foraged from the garden to create lovely naturalistic arrangements full of colour and rustic charm.
Happy to share her knowledge, Marie runs flower workshops throughout the year, and I book in to learn how to make a floral wreath that can be mounted on the front door, on an inside wall or even used as a table centrepiece.
10AM NOVICES WELCOME
Marie greets our small group with cups of tea, a big smile and an even bigger plate of biscuits. She starts by introducing herself and finding out how much floristry experience we all have. With the exception of trying to make a Christmas table decoration out of an old loo-roll and some bits of holly for my daughter at primary school, I have none, so tentatively confess to being a complete novice. This doesn’t faze Marie however, and she assures me that I will be OK. ‘People are often quite nervous before they start, and at the end they can’t believe what they’ve made,’ she says.
10.30AM SPRING FLOURISH
Biscuits finished, Marie talks us through the flowers we are going to use to make our wreaths today. She’s lined up a row of vases, each containing different blooms and greenery, including brilliant red tulips and yellow solidago (which is also known as goldenrod). We are going to use branches of vibernum tinus too – this is a shrub that has delicate white flower heads tinged with pink, which will help give the wreath some extra colour without overpowering the tulips and solidago.
The flowers will be arranged against a generous circle of leaves, including dark green ivy and bay plucked by Marie from the garden, as well as silvery eucalyptus and mimosa – the greenery provides a natural foil to the brighter colours. There’s also a bucket of spiky echinops, and Marie explains that she uses these thistle-like flowers because they provide an interesting contrast to the softer leaves. The final bucket contains stems of strange-looking berries, which Marie says are eucalyptus pods. ‘Like thistles, I think they look quite seasidey and also add texture.
I like my arrangements to be full of different shapes and textures so that every time you look at it you see something different.’
11AM WREATH RINGS READY
We are now ready to start, and Marie distributes the wreath rings as we don our aprons. These are plastic hoops covered with Oasis, a dense green foam into which you push the flower and foliage stems. As Marie has previously soaked them in water, there should be enough moisture in the foam to keep the wreaths fresh for at least a week (although some judicious watering never goes amiss). I am itching to get to work on the flowers, but there is one more step to do before we actually start our arrangements. Marie is giving our wreathes a subtle maritime touch by creating a hanging loop out of rope. This has to be put in place before the flowers are added (so it doesn’t squash them) and Marie shows us how to wrap the rope around the hoops of Oasis and tie it in place.
11.15AM GOING GREEN
It’s now time to start creating the leafy background of the wreath – known as ‘greening up’ – and I put the wreath on a revolving stand. I am suddenly a bit nervous about starting as the foam looks so pristine, but Marie encourages me, placing some larger sprigs of bay as markers in the Oasis and telling me to gradually start filling in the gaps between them. I soon get the hang of it and carefully poke little sprigs of greenery in to build up a dense carpet of leaves. Marie advises me to mix the dark green of the bay with the silvery eucalyptus and to use a combination of both short and long stems to vary the texture and colour. The result is a green wreath that is almost pretty enough to display without the addition of any flowers. I’m pleased with my progress.
12PM FLOWERS AHOY
Greenery finished, it’s now time to add the flowers. I start with the tulips and Marie suggests using either three or five – ‘Always work in odd numbers’ – evenly spaced out to create a visual structure that’s pleasing to the human eye, which likes asymmetry. As the tulip stems are relatively floppy, she shows us how to make a hole in the Oasis with a twig and then insert the tulip stem. She also tells us to use short stems as the tulip will continue growing in the foam. Tulips in place, I then start building up the splashes of spring colour using the feathery yellow solidago and some smaller sprigs of pinky white vibernum, not forgetting to add the thistles and the berries for extra texture.
12.45PM PHOTO FINISH
After nearly an hour of pushing and tweaking I am surprisingly happy with my wreath, but Marie tells us all to go away and come back to it again in five minutes. It’s good advice, as the break helps us see our wreaths afresh, and I realise that mine is distinctly lopsided. I decide to add some more yellow and a few more pieces of bay to balance it out, and then finally feel I have done as much as I can. When we’ve all finished Marie photographs our creations for us – the floral wreaths will last for at least a week or two – but the photos I’ve got and the skills I’ve learnt should last a lot longer.
ASK THE PRO
Marie set up her Pembrokeshire floristry business when she moved to Wales three years ago. She had always wanted to live by the sea. ‘The sea is in my blood as I was bought up on the Wirral and I love being by the coast as it makes me feel relaxed,’ she says. Her first career was in publishing, but eventually she decided she needed a break: ‘I was bored and wanted to do something more physical and more creative and I like working with people.’ She started working as a florist part-time, learning as she went, and now runs her own workshops, as well as doing wedding flowers and bouquets. Marie loves sharing her skills with others and enjoys seeing pupils’ sense of achievement at the end of each session. ‘What I love most about the workshops is that everyone at them has the same ingredients but they all make different things and they all come out delighted with the results,’ she says.
NEED TO KNOW
HOW TO BOOK
Marie runs a variety of workshops, with special themed workshops at Easter and Christmas; she also runs wedding flower workshops and bespoke workshops for events such as birthday parties or hen nights. Venues vary with smaller groups being hosted at Marie’s studio in Amroth and larger groups in Narberth or St Davids. Marie provides all the equipment (including aprons) and the flowers are included in the price. Book online at bytheseaflowers.com or call Marie on 07808 065987.
WHAT IT COSTS
Three-hour group workshops cost £55pp while private full-day workshops are £250.
WHERE TO STAY
Wisemans Bridge Inn, 10 minutes’ drive away, is the nearest accommodation. It’s a traditional pub with rooms, enjoying a spectacular beachside location that overlooks Carmarthen Bay (wisemansbridgeinn.co.uk).
The St Brides Spa Hotel in Saundersfoot, is a little further along the coast and a lot more grand, and also has impressive sea views, this time looking back up the bay to Amroth (stbridesspahotel.com).