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Words: Steffie Shields
Photography: Alan Walters, Steffie Shields and Sue Diedrick
Featured in the September 2013 issue

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Steffie Shields shares ways to set the scene for a country wedding.

Back in 1995 a dear friend asked me to travel down from Scotland, where my husband was stationed, to help arrange the flowers for her daughter’s wedding in Welby. She introduced me to a neighbour, Miss Elliot at the Old Orchard, who kindly allowed me to cut greenery in her garden. After several church rafters fell down suddenly, the wedding went ahead at Heydour for safety reasons. I remember my daughter Gabrielle and I had fun going to and fro along the lane, the car laden with flowers and greenery, playing music from that iconic film Four Weddings and a Funeral at top volume, to get us in the mood. The reception in a marquee beside our friends’ garden, a splendid, informal and fun-filled country affair, set the seal on the kind of wedding Gabrielle daydreamed about and hoped to have one day.

Life is strange, sometimes coming full circle. On my husband’s retirement from RAF Cranwell a few years later, we ended up buying Miss Elliot’s house. Then this year, thanks to another thoughtful neighbour, Mike regularly mowed the Glebe Field beside the very garden where I had picked wedding greenery eighteen years previously, to prepare what he called ‘The Field of the Cloth of Gold’ for the wedding that Gabrielle and her Welshman, Peter Gaunt chose to celebrate in Welby. We hired a smart, white-draped marquee from Events and Tents, based at Caythorpe and will both be forever grateful to their staff, as well as all the people involved in invitation printing, catering, the wedding cake, music, and the beauty and hair specialists, pulling out all the necessary stops and all strands together. We would have been up a creek without seamstress Lesley Cullen for last-minute alterations and Bob Gutteridge who went to Nottingham market for super-fresh flowers. Everything came together, just as the flaming orange rose, ‘Warm Welcome’, climbing amongst vines either side of the patio was flowering its socks off, on the hottest day of the year!

Naturally I spent ages mulling designs over in my mind, anxious to set a floral scene without it being too extravagant or overdone. The Royal Wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge inspired me to reduce the exhausting, time-consuming hassle of having to arrange several pedestals. Remember how we were all enthralled by the spectacle, and those magical trees lining the bride’s progress up the aisle? Not that I would clutter the much narrower one of St Bartholomew’s Church. On first moving into Welby, one visitor noticing the rowan tree by the gate, told me it is a sign of welcome. As July would be well past daffodil time, and as plenty of rowans adorn the Welsh hills, this was the tree to use as a sign of welcome to both families, and to friends.

Eventually, I sourced two suitably tall Sorbus aucuparia ‘Sheerwater Seedlings’ at Crowder’s Garden Centre, Horncastle, to ornament either side of the ancient rood screen. I hoped, after the marriage service, that a couple of young, strapping wedding guests might transfer them to the marquee, to stand beside the top table. In the event, considering the heat, and their best clothes, this proved a bridge too far!

Gabrielle loved the idea of mixing flowers with lime green foliage. She chose her theme for the bridesmaids’ dresses from her favourite climbing rose, Rosa ‘Pink Perpétue’, one of the late TV gardener Geoff Hamilton’s recommendations. The one I had planted beside the old summerhouse looked magnificent on the big day. The strange, cold and late spring played into our hands. Roses, peonies and romantic swathes of lime green Alchemilla mollis were still blooming alongside daylilies and summer herbaceous favourites starting to shine. A few years ago, the pink ‘Rose-Bay Willow Herb’, our family in-joke affectionately known as RBWH, arrived by magic on the edge of our garden and so, although almost a weed, had to stay. RBWH started to flower on the morning of the wedding.

On the Thursday, six of my best chums, including my sister Sue Diedrick, over from her Florida home, brought buckets of greenery and garden flowers for the church. We filled altar vases with white peonies, roses, lisianthus and snapdragons. Soon informal, blowsy country arrangements adorned all the window ledges and font, with baskets by the church door. Mixing in ferns and golden privet proved popular, but there were moans about the sharp-pointed, prickly thistle-like Eryngium that I insisted including because Gabrielle was born in Scotland.

My brother-in-law Ian helped me tie two celebratory circles of flowers with lime green ribbon on the churchyard gates, to recall the rings that Peter and Gabrielle would exchange. Again, to decorate the marquee tables, we masked oasis rings with golden privet and trailing ivy to rest high on the arms of tall candelabras hired from Helens Florist, Grantham who made up the bridal bouquets and corsages. The flickering white candles and the circles, filled with fluffy deep pink and white peonies, white-spray roses, pink and white daisy chrysanthemums, and white Guernsey freesias (where Gabrielle and Peter now live) achieved an effect of country elegance without breaking the bank.

Mike and I worked hard to get the garden and lawn looking their best, with one canvas gazebo to serve Pimms, the other Champagne. Potting up combinations of white and deep pink summer bedding weeks in advance helped to ease the pressure. White Cosmos ‘Purity’, snapdragons, violas, patio roses, or ‘Million Bells’ petunias, with rosy Diascia and pink Dianthus adding colour, effectively intermingled with tall grasses, curly willow or lime green stemmed Cornus stolonifera adding height.

Two containers of perfumed white Nicotiana looked stylish together, another two white daisy marguerites, and two more with deep pink Argyranthemum to give the correct name. I placed all these quickly, together with a couple of box balls, in and around the marquee the day before the wedding. My two-year-old granddaughter Emmy helped me to water them and large wigwams of sweet peas grown by a keen gardening friend. I found two six-foot-tall climbing hydrangeas at Rassells in Little Bytham, to stand gate guardian either side of the marquee entrance. Remembering a design from my German goddaughter Momke’s wedding some years ago, I wrapped these and all the pots with white net; an inexpensive, easy and fast way to add ethereal romance!

There was drama too: just as all the wedding guests sat down for the wedding supper, a huge clap of thunder right overhead signalled the heavens opening. My brother-in-law Denny told us that, in Jamaica, if it rains on a wedding, this is considered a sign of God’s blessing. Surprise gifts will help me remember the day: Rosa ‘Wedding Wishes’ a rich scarlet, and Rosa ‘Love and Peace’ pink-edged yellow. As I write in August, with wedding pots still flowering, I confess to having bought a plant purely out of sentiment, lured by its name. Penstemon ‘Wedding’ is yet to flower. Maybe next July it will kindle memories of my beautiful daughter looking so calm and happy; Peter looking proud and handsome; a tremendous day with family and friends, full of sunshine and music, laughter and love.

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