A floral gathering

PUBLISHED: 15:05 04 July 2014

Multiple RHS Chelsea Flower Show gold medallist Suzanne Gaywood is Artistic Director of the festival

Multiple RHS Chelsea Flower Show gold medallist Suzanne Gaywood is Artistic Director of the festival


More than 100 flower arrangers from across Essex are finalising their designs for the spectacular Centenary Festival of Flowers at Chelmsford Cathedral this month. Philippa Pearson smells the roses

"The festival is laid out to highlight changes in society from decade to decade"

Philippa Pearson

100 years ago, the church of St Mary the Virgin in Chelmsford was given cathedral status and a special flower festival this month celebrates the marking of this event. From July 18 to 21, the cathedral will be filled with more than 30 glorious and spectacular displays which showcase national, international and local achievements and events from the last 100 years.

The floral arrangements have all been created by lots of talented people from across Essex and it has taken years of planning and much sourcing of plant material to ensure the displays are at their peak of perfection for the festival.

The Cathedral Church of St Mary the Virgin, St Peter and St Cedd is the main building of the Diocese of Chelmsford and the seat of the Bishop of Chelmsford. Founded in 1914, the diocese is also celebrating its centenary this year. Covering an area of 1,500 square miles stretching across Essex and East London and ranging from countryside to towns and suburbs, the Chelmsford Diocese has a population of nearly 3 million people and is the second largest in England.

There is quite a tradition of floral celebration at Chelmsford Cathedral. In 2004, a flower festival celebrated 1,350 years since St Cedd brought the Christian faith to Essex in 654 AD and in 2009 Ode to Joy presented depictions of Easter themes in flowers.

This year’s flower festival is being organised by artistic director Suzanne Gaywood MBE from Woodham Walter. Grenada-born Suzanne is a multiple Chelsea gold medal-winner for her sumptuous and stunning displays at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show for Grenada.

With lots of help from friends and other volunteers, Suzanne has been planning the flower festival since September 2011, looking at key events over the last 100 years to create a centenary celebration in flowers. ‘We’ve called the festival Seeds of Change,’ says Suzanne, ‘to reflect how the cycle of life, which begins with a seed that grows into the plant that bears the flower, is like the way our society grows, changes and develops through time.’

The display begins with St Mary’s parish church when it became Chelmsford Cathedral in 1914 and the festival is laid out to highlight changes in society from decade to decade. Important events are interpreted along with industry icons associated with Essex, such as Ford and Marconi for example, and fashion trends over the century to the present day.

‘With two world wars and the Depression, to immigration, the Coronation, swinging sixties, space travel, the Olympics and our environment, our festival highlights the many changes we have embraced in the Diocese of Chelmsford as we celebrate its centenary in flowers,’ explains Suzanne.

St Cedd’s Chapel in the cathedral has floral displays of several royal events including the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge as well as an amazing intricate floral altar cloth. Suzanne will also be creating one of her magnificent displays on the theme of immigration from the West Indies.

Work starts on preparing the exhibits on the Tuesday before the festival opens, when props and the mechanics for the exhibits begin to arrive at the cathedral. On Thursday, more than 100 flower arrangers from across Essex arrive to prepare their floral arrangements, starting at 9am and finishing at 4pm. The arrangers were invited in January 2012 and include 19 flower clubs, eight churches, 15 individuals, members from Writtle College and many others.

The range of flowers and plant material is extensive, varying from the simple to the exotic. One exhibit uses charming country garden flowers while another uses the stunning flowers and foliage from the Caribbean, Africa and other places around the globe. Several trees are needed for another exhibit while a catwalk is being built for the floral fashion displays.

The Seeds of Change Centenary Festival of Flowers is part of a year-long programme of special events to celebrate 100 years of Chelmsford Cathedral and Diocese. Highlights so far have included visits from Her Majesty The Queen, the Archbishop of Canterbury, a music festival and a number of special celebration services.

Visit The Seeds of Change Centenary Festival of Flowers

The flower festival at Chelmsford Cathedral runs from Friday, July 18 to Monday, July 21.

Opening times are 10am to 5pm each day, incorporating a special Festival Eucharist on Sunday.

Admission costs £5 for advance bookings or concessions while payment at the door is £6. Under 18s are free. Group bookings are available, but please apply in advance. Refreshments are available at the Chapter House.

To pre-book your tickets and for any further information, contact:

The Festival of Flowers

Cathedral Office

New Street



01245 294492


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