Here at the Charterhouse, like everywhere else, we keep trying to settle into a new ‘normal’ and then everything changes again…
For those of you that don’t know the Charterhouse, it is a seven-acre historic site on the edge of the City of London, which dates back to 1348 and the Black Death. Since then it has been a Carthusian monastery, a grand Tudor mansion, a school for boys, and an almshouse (now welcoming women as well as men) which it remains to this day. Since 2017 we have been open to the public – welcoming visitors on tours, schoolchildren, & local community groups – as well as offering venue hire. Since March that has all stopped. To protect our older and more vulnerable residents we will stay completely closed until it is certain it is safe to re-open. The total lack of revenue from the public is having a serious impact on the charity that runs the almshouse, and maintains the buildings and facilities here.
We have lost some of our team here (due to redundancies), which has been sad, but we have refocused our energies on creating as much digital content as possible to keep our supporters engaged and where possible to raise money for the charity. All the while the residents, known as Brothers, have made much use of the lovely gardens we have here, and many of them helped with watering, weeding and planting while our Head Gardener was on furlough. Inspired by the obvious benefit the Brothers were getting by being able to be surrounded by flowers, plants and trees, and to find a quiet spot to read or think, or to take exercise – we decided to create our own celebration of this vital connection between people and nature – so fundamental to our happiness and wellbeing.
And so the idea for Flower Power was born. Together with some florist friends we brought together a diverse group of presenters – florists, flower growers, gardeners and landscape designers – to create a two-day festival offering a programme that shared their passion for flowers and gardens.
We had three flower growers. Wolves Lane Flower Company, based in Wood Green, who grow flowers with a focus on sustainability. Marianne Mogendorff gave us great guide to all the best flowers to grow, & how & when, to start your own cutting garden. Sarah Whiting, of Nettlewood Flowers, was a florist who decided to start growing her own flowers, and is now expanding at a new site in Sussex. She walked us around her lovely cutting garden with tips and suggestions, so we could marvel at the marvellous variety and learn more about how we could do it ourselves. Nic Bird of The Floral Project started off by growing flowers just so she could have them in the house, but then, once she was growing too many to use herself, looked for charities who might like to have the flowers she didn’t need. She has now created a network all over UK of people learning to establish their own flower gardens with the purpose of sharing those flowers with local charities – whether it be a care home, shelter, or local Age UK branch – or anywhere else where people can be cheered by fresh flowers.
Broadcaster and blogger Ellen Mary joined us to explain in more detail why there is such a potent connection between contact with nature and our wellbeing. She described many ways to really maximise this connection in our everyday lives – from making fresh herbal teas, to (yes) hugging trees. She was so convincing we all did go out and hug trees afterwards…
Two very different florists, Floral Evolution, and florist to the royals Shane Connolly, gave demonstrations of flower arrangements that were extraordinary to watch, but which felt totally doable, and gave new perspectives on how to bring flowers into the house and make them not just lovely, but incredible!
The most moving presentation was by Ash Edwards, gardener with the amazing charity Horatio’s Garden, which designs and creates bespoke gardens for patients with spinal injuries. With a mix of slides and films he showed how the gardens are developed alongside NHS spinal injury units with easy paths, flowers planted that look, feel and/or smell great, with different areas for being with your family or visitors, or taking time out on your own. Patients often have to stay at the units for a long time, and many talked about how the gardens made that long stay so much more bearable, and how they create a hub from communities to form, and to be active in the open air.
And then of course our own Head Gardener, Kate Robinson took part – taking our guests on a virtual tour of the extensive gardens here at the Charterhouse. Finally we had a lecture by Todd Longstaffe-Gowan, the landscape gardener who transformed Charterhouse Square from a bit of green next to a big car-park, into the urban oasis it is today – full of wildflowers, trees and wildlife.
We had never created a multi-event virtual festival like this before. It worked out better than we hoped! We were pleased to create something around a theme that so clearly has resonance for so many people – and which is so easy to share. With our new skills we hope to create more events for our supporters, for new audiences, and for the local harder-to-reach communities we are now engaging with.
If you might be interested to know more about the Charterhouse do check out our website at www.thecharterhouse.org, and coming soon on our What’s On page – the opportunity to view all the Flower Power events again!
Charlotte Borger is Communications Manager at the Charterhouse, responsible for all the ways this historic site and charity communicates and interacts with our local community and the wider public.