Floral art is blooming for friendly flower-arrangers
CALM and composed in the cloistered coolness, they moved with stately delphinium-like elegance, bustled and hurried like bizzie lizzies or stood all regally knowing like fine English roses.
The ladies of the Topsham Flower club were putting on a show at the town's St Margaret's Church.
And what a show – funny and colourful, fresh and unusual, it was all themed on games, whether a pair of pale squash with hairy tops or hops and a bottle of Scotch.
The theme may have been fun and games, but the care and flair with which the varied floral displays had been put together exuded a professionalism that underlined the skill of club members.
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The club was making its annual contribution to the Topsham Town Fair celebrations and the steady stream of admiring visitors, many locals as well as happy holidaymakers, showed that once again it had scored a verdant hit.
Which is only to be expected, given that the club has been recognised by the National Association of Flower Arrangement Societies as being the biggest flower club in all of Devon and Cornwall.
Set up in 1984 by Topsham charity stalwart Edith Hurtley, it now boasts around 150 members. Edith had moved to Topsham from Yorkshire where she had been an active member of a club. Disappointed there was not one in her new home town she soon established one.
To launch the club, she contacted the Echo which ran a story inviting people to join.
Around 40 people turned up for the first meeting at St Matthew's Hall in the town.
Edith made sure the key theme was friendliness – which is why when anyone entered St Margaret's, they were greeted with a cheery, "Welcome".
Among those on hand to help – in between ensuring the smooth running of the show – was former chairman Linda Wilkerson, who lives just along the Exmouth road at Ebford.
Fresh as a daisy from helping at the recent Exeter Cathedral floral celebrations, Mrs Wilkerson said that many of the club members regularly helped make their churches beautiful with their skilful and eye-catching floral displays.
"I help with the flowers at Clyst St George parish church, and many other members do similar work at their churches. It was an absolute privilege to be involved with the display at the cathedral as it is such a wonderful place.
"We use flowers and foliage from our own gardens for the displays. I have lived at Ebford for 30 years and my garden has many shrubs as well as flowers.
"The English style of flower arranging is to use quite a lot of foliage as well as flowers, while the style on the Continent is more about flowers alone.
"The club is a really good social gathering and this is really a bit of fun for everyone."
Club secretary Jill Lee, who lives in Exeter, said that members came from Exmouth, Budleigh Salterton and beyond to join in.
She said: "There used to be an Exeter Flower Club and when they ceased some of the members came along to Topsham."
Mrs Lee, a member of for some 10 years, started off doing the arrangements for Hospiscare at its Dryden Road base in Exeter. "Someone suggested that it might be a good idea to join the club and, as both my grandparents came from Topsham, I thought it would be a ideal.
"Members supply their own flowers. Of course, we buy some and these days flowers come from all over the world so you can get, say daffodils, almost any time of the year. We also use flowers from our own gardens.
"It is all very relaxing. People are all very friendly and you can learn so much from each other. People are always able to offer hints and helpful suggestions."
Pat Merrifield, who also lives in Exeter and has been a member for nine years, agreed: "It really is a very friendly group and always helpful. There really is a great deal of skill and knowledge among the members and they are all happy to share."
Ann Greenslade, who lives in Topsham and, like many in the town, only has a small garden, is still able to put together some awesome displays.
"I really enjoy the club and I have to say it is so very well run and just so friendly."
The club, which meets at the Matthews Hall on the third Tuesday of the month at 7.30pm, has nine get-togethers a year with flower arranging demonstrations and the arrangements raffled off at the end of each event.