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Home Improvements: Alma Proust on creating tablescapes with seasonal blooms

The florists, who specialise in sustainable British-grown flowers, share their advice for creating striking arrangements for any occasion

Busola Evans
Jasper Fry
Harry Cave
Home Improvements: Alma Proust on creating tablescapes with seasonal blooms

Arriving at the home and working garden of floral farmer Milli Proust in the West Sussex countryside, the scene is nothing short of idyllic. The quaint Grade II-listed 17th-century cottage sits on a one-acre plot, its every corner teeming with colourful perennials, bulbs, shrubs and flowers. Pink phlox sway gently in the breeze, butterflies dance around a bed of clary sage, blushing lanterns burst with balloon-like pods… It all shows off nature at her finest.

“It’s a very special place,” agrees Milli, eyeing her surroundings. “It’s wonderful to be growing plants and then using them to create designs and put colours together.” Milli has the green-fingered ease of someone who has been nurturing flowers for a lifetime, though she is, in fact, actually a RADA-trained actor. She set up her business creating seasonal arrangements for weddings, events and personal clients seven years ago when she moved to Sussex from London with her partner, Ted Dwane, bassist for Mumford & Sons. Her success was cemented last spring with the publication of her first book, From Seed to Bloom.

A year ago, Milli became friends with fellow local grower Paris Alma. Both were struck by how similar their businesses were – and their equal passion for sustainable flowers grown in the UK. They decided to join forces and thus Alma Proust was born. This September, the pair will launch their online shop selling seeds, a burgeoning side of the business.

“The decision to merge coincided with me losing my growing space and Milli having a baby, Rex, who’s now one, so it made sense to bring our strengths together,” says Paris. Their future includes expanding their inventory – they have an additional floral farm a short drive away – and creating more workshops, sharing their expertise on topics like tablescaping.

On that particular topic, “it’s about setting the scene and creating an atmosphere,” explains Milli. “Now, after the worst of the pandemic, we’re able to enjoy being with each other again. People want to sit around and eat together and tablescaping makes that feel more special. What we love about it is the way it allows us to celebrate each season and its flowers in the process.” Creating an eye-catching arrangement is not as difficult as it looks, say Milli and Paris, and here they share their tips on designing a look for any occasion.

Learn which flowers are in season

“Choosing local, seasonal flowers is the best option. They should be readily available and certainly more eco-friendly. The best way to get to know what is seasonal is to look around at what’s blooming during your day-to-day routine. Even if you live in London, there’s still lots to be seen, whether it’s daisies popping up in the cracks of the pavement in spring, or the roses in people’s front gardens or the buddleia lining the train tracks in late summer. The flowers you frequently spot are the ideal starting point for your designs.

“In winter, consider plants such as hellebores, snowflakes, evergreens and, of course, dried flowers. In spring, think of anemones, narcissi and ranunculuses. Summer is great for roses, sweet peas, cosmos and calendulas, while dahlias, sunflowers, amaranthus and fruiting branches like crab apples are brilliant for autumn.”

Use different colour combinations to create a mood

“Think about the occasion and mood you want to create. For excitement, select flowers with contrasting colours. If you have hues that sit next to each other on the colour wheel, they’ll work more harmoniously and have much more of a gentle, romantic feel. We enjoy using yellow and purple – which are opposites and bring out the best in the other – but having just using one colour along the table can be equally striking.”

Give each flower a specific role

“When making an arrangement, remember that every element has a purpose. Start with the biggest blooms, which will be your focus flowers. Then choose your supporting stars, which may be the same colour, or a contrasting one if you want a bit more drama. These should be a similar shape to the focal blooms, but smaller. And then you need some filler, which will act as more of a backdrop. Something like an interesting-looking foliage will work well. And then you need to add what we like to call ‘sparkle’: textural elements that make you want to touch the arrangement. For this, we often use dried or fresh grasses.”

Play with heights

“While it’s nice to keep vases consistent in either material, shape, or colour, using vessels of varying tallness – along with stems of different lengths – brings interest and draws the eye to different areas of the table. Ensure the taller vases are not so high they restrict a conversation between people sitting opposite one another.”

Consider the supporting elements

“Colourful or textured tablecloths and napkins play a role when dressing a table – these softer touches are just as much a part of the overall mood. For a laid-back garden lunch, we would go for linen – something soft and not too starched – and use napkins that pick up the colours of the flowers. For something more formal, we would use a cotton tablecloth. Don’t worry about everything matching. If crockery is chipped or the plates aren’t the same, it doesn’t matter. Remember: flowers do most of the work for you.”

Think about layers and textures

“When we talk about layering, we mean using different things that pair well together – or change each other when put they’re combined. So, for a more relaxed feeling, we use vintage, chunky stoneware crockery, which feels more rustic and encourages people to want to interact with the softer, brighter flowers. It’s nice to have a contrast of textures too, such as the softness of linen against the crunchiness of grasses.”

Make use of seasonal fruit

“Fruit is great to include in a tablescape, because it adds colour and variation, especially when you don’t have access to foliage. Some of my favourite things to use at this time of year are tomatoes. In all their varying shapes, sizes and colours, they’re just so beautiful. And we’re just starting plum season here, meaning we’re using big bowls of them on tables at the moment. They look amazing.”

Further reading

Alma Proust

Alma Proust on Instagram

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