After a two year hiatus, the annual festival of flowers has returned to Salisbury Cathedral in a glorious celebration of both 800 years since the foundation of the cathedral and the Queen's Platinum Jubilee, with floral arrangements filling the aisles in a profusion of colour, sound and scent. On for only one week, it really is a spectacular way to see this already incredible building.
The Flower Festival has always been a much anticipated event in the cathedral calendar, and after a long wait it has finally returned. 2020 was the 800 year anniversary of the cathedral's foundation and although the events of that year were unable to go ahead, they have been incorporated into this year's festival, which also commemorates the Queen's Jubilee. The overall theme is one of celebration, as well as recognition of what people have been through over the past two years.
Over 450 flower arrangers have been hard at work setting up their displays in the cathedral, under the supervision of professional florists. Arrangers have come from across the region - churches within the diocese, flower clubs across the south west, colleges and individuals, who have used over 30,000 blooms between them.
The local community has also been involved, with 400 hearts hanging from the ceiling, made under the direction of the cathedral's Education Department. Visitors to the cathedral over the Easter holidays were able to decorate the hearts, with others created by community groups in care homes, day care centres and art groups.
The result is an impressive feast for the eyes. Entry to the cathedral is on the western end of the nave, and the first thing you see as you enter is the hundreds of pastel hearts hanging down from the vaulted ceiling, complemented by three broken arches of pale pink roses, eucalyptus leaves and luscious, fresh greenery. Interspersed with the arches are more traditional arrangements on single pedestals; pink, purple and orange peonies, roses and ferns. The hearts and colours reflect in the still water of the central font, creating a multi layered depth to the whole scene. The effect is of a subtle, soft-hued opulence of springtime.
In front of the huge doors at the West end is a section called 'The Royal Nursery'. Here we see a pale yellow muslin hanging down from the ceiling over a child sized bed, with a pillow and blanket of yellow and white flowers: tight little yellow rose buds and furry white grasses which look soft enough to sleep under, ornamented with an old teddy bear, dolls and a rocking horse. This is in homage to the Queen, whose London nursery in 1926 was decorated in yellows instead of the traditional pinks and blues.
The royal theme is continued up the quire, with the pièce de résistance at the high altar - a magnificent display of the Queen's Coronation robe flowing down the steps. This richly coloured purple robe is made entirely of plants; Pampas and Laguras grass, gilded ruscus for the gold trimmings and ferns. It is a stunning display and hard to believe that it is made from flowers. It is surrounded by white flower arrangements of lilies and large cardoon leaves to represent the work of Constance Spry, who arranged the flowers in Westminster Abbey and along the processional route for the Coronation in 1953.
The entrances to either side of the quire is through a rainbow arch of flowers - one in recognition of the work of the NHS over the past two years, the other as a symbol of inclusivity. Once through the arches there are further arrangements down the sides. Some displays reflect the Commonwealth, with a huge, vibrant display of flowers from across the globe, with striking orange Bird of Paradise flowers intermingled amongst vivid purples, reds and yellows.
Not all displays are large, as on the other quire aisle are some petite arrangements, representing the construction of the cathedral. Old window frames found in the Works Yard have been repurposed with panels of flowers, and a piece of medieval stone from the Hungerford Chantry which was demolished in the 18th century has been decorated with small, tightly packed flowers to represent floral embroidery. Carnations fill lead shapes which were specially made for the festival and which represent the lead roof of the cathedral, and there are panels of bright glass interspersed amongst other displays to represent the stained glass which fills the windows.
In the Trinity Chapel, behind the High Altar, is a large turquoise frame filled with hanging glass vases, each containing a different posy. Suspended with garden twine over moss and mirrors, this installation is intended to encourage people to pause, to appreciate the importance of spending time in thought and mindfulness, a lesson we all learnt during Lockdown and not one that should be abandoned now that the world is returning to normality. Next to it, Bishop Osmund's tomb is covered with a display which recreates the bejewelled golden canopy which once covered his tomb until it was destroyed during the Reformation.
Both of the transepts have been put to good use for the festival. The floor of the south transept is covered with hundreds of jam jars, each filled with colourful wildflowers and grasses chosen for their popularity with pollinators; poppies, foxgloves, marigolds and grasses.
These represent the Coronation Meadows which are currently growing outside the Tower of London and also reflect the environmental theme of the festival. Amongst the jam jars, which flow in curvy drifts, are little wooden butterflies and straw beehives, which hide discreet speakers. The air is filled with the sound of chirping birds and buzzing insects, bringing the outside in and showing the cathedral's commitment to NoMowMay, an initiative to encourage people to let their lawns run wild to encourage insect life.
In the North Transept there are twice daily demonstrations of flower arranging, where you can sit and watch the experts at work while listening to live music. It is a very soothing way to spend some time; listening to two excellent musicians on piano and violin while watching people who can transform an empty jar into a coordinated and impressive arrangement. They made it look so easy, which I'm sure it is not.
Down the aisles of the nave are further arrangements, including some wonderfully quirky ones for the theme of Celebrating British Culture. A punk with a flowery mohican is next to a maypole, a recreation of a Beatles album cover competes with a Banksy and a traditional afternoon tea.
Outside in the Cloisters are further displays. Brightly coloured flowers hang from the arches to represent the four seasons, while nearby is an arrangement of yellow sunflowers and blue delphiniums to remind us of the people in Ukraine.
Other installations focus on recycling, with flowers growing out of cheerfully repurposed containers, while on the west cloister we see the liturgical year represented, with Christmas, Easter and other significant events in the church's calendar portrayed through flowers. In the middle of the Cloisters on the grass under the magnificent cedar trees, are two metal sculptures of deer, nibbling at flowers. They look completely at home and I do hope the cathedral keeps them there long after the festival has finished.
The whole festival is a wonderful, life-affirming display of beauty, creativity and whimsy. It must be incredibly hard to organise so many different people who all have to work against time to create something so spectacular before it fades and withers. Even the programmes were printed the day before the event so that the photographs were accurate. It is an impressive achievement and one which cannot fail to put a smile on visitors' faces.