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Flower power

07 September 2012

GROWING UP in Derbyshire, the Revd Antony Pritchett, now Vicar of Pickering, in York diocese, got hooked as a boy on the art of well-dressing, he told me. There were plenty of butter­cups and other wild flowers to use and experiment with, and eventually he became, for many years, the joint designer of the famous well-dressing at Tideswell.

He explains how it is done. "A well-dressing is a wooden framework filled with clay made to a smooth satin finish. The outline of the picture, pre-drawn, is laid on it, and the design pricked out with compass points and a dressmaker's wheel. Once the drawing has been removed, the design marked on the clay is lined with reeds and straw, peppercorns and beans. Then, using lichen and leaves, thousands of petals, and entirely natural material, the whole picture is filled in."

The tradition is thought to go back hundreds of years, and is in thanks­giving to God for the blessing of water.

When he moved to the incumbency of Pickering in 2008, and began thinking about a flower festival, he met Gill Renshaw, of the National Association of Flower Arranger Societies (NAFAS), who was thinking along the same lines. She undertook to organise it, but was enthusiastic about Mr Pritchett's contributing a well-dressing. Last year's flower festival was on the theme of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Then, this year, the NAFAS exhibit at the Chelsea Flower Show was a recreation of Monet's famous painting of the bridge and water lilies in his garden. Originally, they thought of having a copy of the actual painting on an easel beside the garden. Then, thanks to Ms Renshaw, Mr Pritchett was asked to recreate the same paint­ing in flower petals (below), and he and Ms Renshaw spent 60 hours work­ing on it.

It is believed to be the first time that well-dressing art has been displayed at Chelsea, and it attracted crowds at times 20 deep. Mr Pritchett has been told that the Queen greatly admired it. He is now working on the idea of The Wizard of Oz as the theme for the flower festival at his church of St Peter and St Paul next year, to see how he can give it "a positive Chris­tian ending".

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