Rhik Samadder tries… flower arranging: ‘I’m expanding the art form – and it looks rubbish’

At McQueens flower school, I’m trying to get my head in the game. I lack the visual flair for this. Whenever I make a bouquet, it always looks as if it’s been plucked from the central reservation of a dual carriageway. Senior tutor Christophe Berreterot, by contrast, worked on the flowers for Meghan and Prince Harry’s wedding, and now demonstrates a flawless hand-tied bouquet with Secret Garden roses, blue eucalyptus and cotoneaster. “Flower arranging is a reflection of personality,” he murmurs. I’ve been watching a lot of classic Match of the Day, which I do not think is the required personality.

We learn to spiral stems, rather than jamming them in a fist in a criss-cross mish-mash. That’s helpful. Think about visual weight, balance and colour, Berreterot advises. Anna, assisting today, lays flowers on our individual tables and we set to work. I throw in leaves, Christmas berries, some stuff that looks like Elmo the muppet’s fingers. This is the 4-4-2 of flower arranging, creo. Couple of big lads sitting in midfield to hold up the ball, shuttle some long boys down the wings, a bit of wispy stuff up top for the highlights reel. Sorted.

From installations and flower walls to event dressing and fashion shoots, floristry is arguably la art of the Instagram age, even more than short poems, or sticking your bum out. Extravagance and evanescence make flowers a luxury currency. McQueens, which has outlets in Mayfair, New York and Seoul, always champions seasonal flowers. They are cheaper and last longer, while also reducing air miles. They are also a reminder that this was originally a domestic practice that anyone can try. “If you don’t know what’s in season, look at front gardens,” advises tutor Sophie Powell.

My asymmetric bouquet is wild and loose, but bursting with joy, like a punk wedding. Even Berreterot is impressed. I’ve taken control of the game, on my debut! Everyone’s bouquets, using the same flowers, look notably different. Our class includes a super-yacht stewardess, someone taking a break from a career in finance, and an intensive care nurse taking a break from … well, sabes. Directly in my eyeline, I catch sight of a living Ambrosius Bosschaert masterpiece, already finished and hand-tied by ribbon. It belongs to white-haired retiree Gus, clearly an active floristry ringer. I feel deflated.

Por la tarde, vase work. We ball chicken wire into pots so the mesh will hold our stems. Powell demonstrates a sculptural “crescent moon” arrangement. The others imitate dutifully: using foliage to build shape, avoiding “bald spots” or sudden dips in height. I’m expanding the form, attempting a purple and a green side. “You’re working with groupings, almost a two-tone composition?” Powell asks. More of a game of two halves, creo, but do not say aloud. I have to admit it looks rubbish. Powell deftly transforms things, teasing out packed ranunculus, putting air between them, softening the effect with lisianthus. “Think about negative space,” she advises, sounding like Arsene Wenger. I love working with flowers.

The material in my hands can cost several pounds a stem. How do you get into flower arranging without getting into bankruptcy? At the florist, Powell advises, choose a focal flower that captivates you. Choose filler flowers to go around it that complement its shape and colours. Foliage is sold by weight – far cheaper than flowers, and good for volume. Bear in mind that a filler can be a focal – it’s all relative to what else you are working with. Flowers traditionally thought of as less pretty, ella agrega, can be the heart of the most striking arrangements. I like this attitude.

The flowers are working on me, también. I whisper their names as I slot them in place, scent winding in my nose. Amaranthus Velvet Red. Astrantia Roma. Peach Ranunculus. Delphinium. Sounds of ancient magic. I think of my father’s garden. I think of my mother walking me around Kew and the Natural History Museum, pointing to botanist’s parchments. I loved those delicate old sketches, the fruit of long-dead scientists holding pencil and pastels. Bear’s breeches, Milkvetch, Aster, Solidaster. Anna lays out a wand of blue trumpets. “Oxypetalum," ella dice, sounding like Harry Potter. It strikes me that flower arranging is, by any other name, spellbinding.

I’d be subbed off though, having undone Powell’s good work. My vase looks like it has antlers. My mesh is overcrowded and there are so many leaves below the waterline I can see Charlie Sheen wading through them with a knife between his teeth. It’s a recipe for bacterial infection. These are fundamentals, and I’ve messed them up. “How pretty! So that’s how you do groupings,” beams Gus the ringer, looking over. This is worse than I thought.

Todavía, it has been a perfume advert of a day. I’m no Constance Spry, but my eyes are open. I’m taking home flowers, and a new language. I’m excited about being able to walk into a florist and see possibility, rather than buying off-the-rack bouquets. To some, flowers will never be more than insect porn, or a first-thought gift. But there’s musicality in this orchestration of colour, shape and scent. And philosophy. We’re flowers too, born to fade away. There’s a beauty and a lesson in our brevity. Rather than war of the roses, I feel a sense of beauty and peace. Cheap at any price.

I look at the front gardens near my home to see what’s in season. Mattresses, odd socks and fox poo. That’s a hell of a bouquet.

Stem subjects really are fundamental. 4/5

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