The Church will be locked overnight…

26 July 2015
Ben Pentreath

There was a slightly ominous tone to the rules of the Long Bredy Flower Arranging Competition flyer that had been dropped through our letterbox a week or so ago.


Especially…. the seventh line down:  ‘The church will be locked overnight’.  What scurrilous behaviour did the committee think might have happened, I wondered, if the church had been left open. I love village shows.

We woke feeling tired and lazy on Saturday morning. Flower arranging competitions were the last thing on Charlie’s mind. But we lay in bed rather too long to be assured of an easy parking spot in Bridport, and by the time we had actually got up, the prospect of breakfast at Soulshine (the wonderful cafe in Bridport that opened a little while ago) was also combining with the rather more fraught possibilities of being stuck in a long snake of holiday traffic winding its way West on Saturday morning… and then the middle-class road rage of the Bridport Waitrose Car Park (which is something else to behold). All of which slightly takes the shine off morning coffee at Soulshine.

So I offered to cook breakfast at home…. at which point (I guess we are talking about 9.45am) Charlie decided he was going to enter the Long Bredy Flower Arranging Competition. Entries, you will have noted, had to be in the church before 11.

He dashed down to the veg patch to cut flowers.  I made him a fried egg sandwich.IMG_6251 IMG_6252 IMG_6254 IMG_6255

A bunch of dahlias, sweet peas and fennel grew larger by the minute.IMG_6256 IMG_6257 IMG_6258 IMG_6261 IMG_6265

Within 10 minutes he was back in the flower room. Giant buckets of flowers had appeared from nowhere.
IMG_6266 IMG_6268 IMG_6272 IMG_6274 IMG_6275

Bunches of sweet peas that he’d picked the day before were lined up to be ransacked.IMG_6276

The arrangement grew.IMG_6280 IMG_6281

And grew.IMG_6284

And grew.  45 minutes has passed and the clock was ticking dangerously close to departure time when Charlie declared he was done.
IMG_6288 IMG_6290 A last minute panic concerned the rule that the arrangement could be no wider than 60cm.
IMG_6292 IMG_6295 IMG_6297 IMG_6298

Overall the effect was rather incredible.  I was getting a little bit nervous that Long Bredy may not have seen anything like it.

The church of St. Peter is very beautiful.  We walked around enjoying the architecture and memorial tablets as much as the flowers.IMG_6305 IMG_6307 IMG_6308 IMG_6312

Note the heater for the organist’s seat.IMG_6315 IMG_6317

The west end has become something of a garden shed, replete with mowing machines and the accoutrements of the church flower arranging ladies, neatly stored.IMG_6327 IMG_6328

And an extraordinarily steep flight of stairs leading to the bell ringing loft.IMG_6330

The churchyard is beautiful, tucked into an amazing fold in the hills – separated from the fields by a stone-walled ha-ha.IMG_6333 IMG_6336

Beautiful paths have been mown through the long grass.  A perfect graveyard.IMG_6339 IMG_6340 IMG_6344

We finished at the church and left, stomachs in knots, knowing that the judging was about to commence.

Nowhere better to call in than at Bellamont, just up the road. We found Anthony Sykes in heaven, decorating his new conservatory with gold paint.IMG_6356

Anthony’s pedimented entrance into the conservatory, gleaming.IMG_6359

Anthony & Harriet built this incredible Georgian Gothick house about 15 years ago. I dedicated my book on English Decoration to Anthony. His vision is amazing.IMG_6361

We had a great gossip and catch up and left a little after 12, admiring the Sykes’s Longhorn cattle on our way out… gazing at us across the Gothick crenelations of Anthony’s creation, known locally as the Pink Palace.IMG_6364

We rushed back to the Church…. And found the third prize:IMG_6367

And second…..:IMG_6369

And then, the First.IMG_6370



Obviously I can’t comment any further at all. I’m biased. But I’d love to know what you think. It could be an interesting comments page!IMG_6372

On the back of the card were the judges comments “a startling arrangement. It appeared to be rather unsymmetrical. Maybe that was intended?”

Yes.  I think Long Bredy wasn’t quite ready for Charlie.

To drown our sorrows we took ourselves off (in the Morris 1000, which cheered things up immediately) to Weymouth beach for champagne and fish and chips.  We could be said to have a few bottles of bubbly left over after the party. It was heaven.  IMG_6376As regular readers know, I’ve got a thing for Weymouth – especially on a bright and breezy day in High Summer. It’s fab. Although I suspected we might have been the only champagne drinkers on the beach at that particular moment. IMG_6377

We got home and Jim & Nic came over and we carried on.  This, after all, is the face of defeat:IMG_6388The garden is looking incredible, heavy with flowers. I’m afraid I’d left my normal camera in London, so everything in this blog is taken on my phone, not quite the same at all (but hopefully you get the idea).  That reminds me – one of the most asked questions on the blog is what camera do I use. I’ll do a blog one of these days about all of that! I think it would be helpful. IMG_6396We walked, slightly tipsy, in the perfect evening, to our neighbours the Goodwins for supper.  We passed the cricket ground – which at this precise moment 2 weeks before had been the scene of the marquee, camels and our party. All very strange, and rather dream-like, now.IMG_6400And we had a beautiful dinner with the Goodwin family, in their incredible house, and walked home very late in the utter blackness of the night. And this morning a great rainstorm swept across the valley, and after church we went down the road for lunch with our friends the Sitwells, where just occasionally some of the talk may have been about the unfairness of life, and unrecognised artistic genius. 

And tonight it was so grey and stormy, we lit a fire, and autumn ever so gently knocked at the door.IMG_6414Of course, there are lots of adventures to be had before then.

59 comments on this post


I know I’m four years late to this post but this had me cracking up! Charlie’s lovely flowers deserved all the awards! You two are great and I love the blog, best wishes! ❤️

Charlie’s was clearly so far ahead and superior. Enter again… and again. I think one needs to pay their ‘dues’ before winning anything in these small town affairs. You are a stranger to them, and imagine the upset if you had won!? Charming any way you look at it. Gorgeous story!!!

They may not be ready for his genius but I am!! I hope you have his arrangements on a regular rotation!


Yes, Long Beady is not ready for “startling” asymmetrical arrangements.

When I saw the First Place arrangement before I realized it was the winner, I didn’t think it was even part of the competition. It is the the MOST GENERIC, dull, unartistic & soulless arrangement I’ve every seen. The flowers themselves appeared to have lost hope being stuck in that arrangement. And in that basket, too. I chuckled when I saw it was labeled the winner because I thought you pulling a joke on us. Then I burst out laughing when I understood you weren’t!

I agree with previous posters: There is a special relationship with the judge (small towns) and FRAME that response card!

Love from NYC!


Also, I admire Anthony’s green trousers and I covet that green tablecloth. That is all.

I’ll put it perhaps a bit less diplomatically than my prior posters; Charlie was ROBBED. Robbed by that stupid, twee assemblage of CARNATIONS(?!) pink roses and babies breath?! Seriously? Who uses babies breath anymore? It should be banned. Charlie is an artist, the others stick flowers in ugly baskets.

Hilarious. The ‘asymmetrical’ bit was the funniest.

Are the flowers in the First Prize basket even REAL??

Perhaps the flower arranger had a ‘special’ relationship with the judge? You know as well as we do what goes on in those villages. All those swinging of garden gates late at night…

Forget books about design. You need to write one about your life!


Screamed with laughter at this post…good heavens. And agree with Tyke–definitely shades of Miss Mapp!

Ellen Farissays:

Oh dear indeed.
Charlie’s arrangement has fluidity, artistry, and is a graceful accomplishment in color and form. It is number one in my book.
If it’s any consolation, I have always been told that I am a very good cook, but the county fair judges here in the U.S. didn’t seem to think so when I entered contests.
Since I’m very polite I wouldn’t think of saying anything like pearls before swine.
I guess champagne and jollity will have to do instead.

Peter Cape Townsays:

Obviously the judges were a bunch of wheelwrights, who had never heard of Constance Spry.

Jo Annsays:

Constance Spry is being slandered. Her arrangements are more like Charlie’s than the winning ones.

Anna Spirosays:

First place without a doubt – Charlie. xx

Flowers, sea shores and friends, what a fun post! As with many others, I prefer Charlie’s ravishing arrangement to the straight-laced ones that won, none of which would be out of place at a funeral. Yes, those arrangements are beautiful, but in a totally conventional (dare I say boring?) way. Charlie’s flowers are swirling, swooping, full of life! As an artist, I know that rejection more often reflects the taste of the jurors than the worth of the piece. Obviously the case in this instance.

Other items of note: Lunch at Weymouth with HEINZ KETCHUP!! Which is manufactured right here in Pittsburgh, across the Allegheny River on the North Side. On a good day I could almost walk across the 16th Street Bridge to the Heinz plant. (The bridge has been renamed the Rachel Carson Bridge, but to us old-timers it’ll always be the 16th Street. Sorry, Rachel.)

And, I see you’ve acquired a copy of Furlow Gatewood’s One Man’s Folly. How I love that book! And I’d love to know what you think of Mr. Gatewood’s Exceptional Houses. Wouldn’t it be interesting to sit him down with Anthony Sykes and listen in on their discussion?

Thanks for sharing another of your wonderful days with us!

Big Hugs,


julien devergniessays:

I laughed so much while seeing the winners…it reminded me the flowers of my childhood. Obviously, Charlie’s flowers are a bit too “special” for them, they were scared… !


Very Mapp and Lucia

Formalised flower arrangements are so “Constance Spry” I much prefer my flowers to be random like Charlie’s.
I once had the temerity to enter sweet-peas in a flower show without being aware of the rules – I had the wrong number of stems, they were not the same length, and were in the wrong kind of container – three bad marks – but mine looked much more artistic than the others.

I think….1979 called, they want their flower arrangements back!


Hurray the dahlias are back. Only in a film would Charlie sweep the board as a newbie entrant, so he should Carry On Regardless. By the way, perhaps he could offer tips of his own as he’s clearly gifted with a terrific eye for colour, texture and shape, together with a blatant disregard for the RULES. Best, Nicola


Team Charlie! The “winners” were outstandingly mediocre.


OH, DEAR, indeed! Next to Charlie’s artistry, the winners all look rather constipated. What did flowers ever do to them to deserve such punishment?

Some people seem driven to defeat Mother Nature, but Charlie does a terrific job of working along with Her, almost as if the flowers had gathered themselves up, hopped into a vase, and arranged themselves just for the pure joy of doing so, and the effect is outstanding.

At any rate, this is not a win he’d want on his resume. But do enter next year, and make it even more asymmetrical. Show ’em how it’s done. Those arrangements are decades out of style—even the perps must realize that.


Allison Holmessays:

I hope the person who won the First isn’t reading this or I’ll be so ashamed of myself…

You built up the suspense so well, Ben, that I was on tenterhooks by the end and I nearly spat my Tetleys all over the keyboard with laughter when I saw that the pert and smug little pink basket had got the First. Even the second and third were better!

However, Charlie looks like he was bearing up well and the comment he received from the Judges was priceless (and I agree with above poster that it is worth framing).

Oh well, I’ve just composed my own intentionally “unsymmetrical” arrangement with Black Prince buddleia, hollyhocks, valerian, clematis and nigella (no dahlias in Cley, sadly). It looks pretty mad but I love it.

Knew from the 1st pic with trug/carnations/roses/baby’s breath… would be #1. How? Dahling, what you did to it with the camera lense spoke volumes.

Perhaps they should add an auction after the awards. See who gets top dollar then !!!

Garden & Be Well, XO T


So many things to love about this post: fried egg sandwiches and Spode (memories of breakfasts past),the haunting beauty of Long Bredy Churchyard, Morris 1000 (where are you now my beauty), Champagne with Fish n Chips on Weymouth beach and the brilliantly evocative line “middle class road rage in the Waitrose parking lot – which to the uninitiated has to be seen to be believed – darling you’ve wrecked my rims!!


Ben and Charlie, I love your life. I just go into a dream state reading about your escapades. I think my favourite blog.


I always look forward to reading your posts Ben. Today was especially lovely. I thought the flowers arranged with such joy and skill, reflect the best of the garden. They are beautiful in that nature, and the variety of colour and texture, are as God created.
Charlie’s arrangement was and is beauty for beauty’s sake.
I then noted that the placement in the church of his lovely entry complimented the stain glass in the window it was placed in.
I shall end with this quote…”A flower does not compare itself to the next flower…it just blooms.” Love from Canada ooxx


I LOVE Charlie’s arrangement. You must read Beverley Nichols Merry Hall. Here Nichols describes one of his characters: “OUR ROSE”: So many readers claimed to have met her in their own lives. Well, of course, they had met her, if they had ever belonged to a provincial Garden Club … Our Rose is a distillation of those thousands of ladies who have transformed the gay and careless art of flower arranging into a grim and exacting science, with formal rules and strict taboos, and serried legions of passionate contestants, hotly arguing about the precise angle at which a lupin may be place in its appropriate vase.


What is a middle-class road rage?

Charlie’s arrangement is simply breathtaking. I’m sure the big man upstairs appreciated them, even if it left the judges a little perplexed. Bodes well for his entree come pearly gates time.


I’m glad you were there to help Charlie meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters just the same…

if they only wanted boring uptight little arrangements they should have said so!
charlie’s is MAGNIFICENT! it is the epitome of what i think of as a true english arrangement with careful artless abandon.
it’s as if he spent the morning in a dew covered garden and transferred that natural beauty into an arrangement.
THAT is art. THAT should have won first place. hands down.
and am i biased toward charlie? NO!
well. maybe just a little. i think you both are adorable.


After getting an eyeful of the “winners”, I should have been more worried if Charlie had won. This should be the aim of his arrangements each and ever year after…to go where no Church Florist has ever gone before, and to not just frame, as another commenter mentioned, this card, with the Judge’s comments, but to build a collection!

On another, and more serious note, I am now lying down, having not recovered from the fact that the two of you are living my dream life. In envy and hope, I am offering myself up for adoption. Please advise.

From seeing the winning arrangements this is not a competition I would want to win


I hope all those who entered abide by the quote that says something about not remembering whether you win or lose but never forgetting the journey. The journey to have that lush garden, and each who entered probably has one, is prize enough. I am one of those who was sailing thru your garden, church, and the room that you just want to curl up in with 20 good books, but when I got to autumn’s gentle knock, I did not want to walk with you into autumn. I wanted to slam the door and put on all the locks to keep it out. I am not ready for it nor to even think about it. thank you for the lovely blast of high summer.

Elizabeth Cornwellsays:

You must have lived in your village long enough to know that you will never get anywhere in these village shows until you have lived in the place for years & years!There is a set etiquette as to who wins what & in what class!The winning arrangement was rather dull with bought flowers Charlies arrangement was lovely & asymmetry( not unsymmetry ) is as visually pleasing as perfectly symmetrical!But you havent lived there for at least 40 years so you dont stand a chance!I speak asan exflorist & one who has done 40 years in a village!

Georgina Williamssays:

It comes back to being a Roundy or a Squary! Charlie’s arrangement is pure unadulterated, fabulous Roundy!

Shrieking! An arrangement similar to yours which I entered once for our own village flower and produce competition was rewarded with the comment, ‘Vase much too small for arrangement. If you intend to be more serious about your floristry I suggest you take instruction.’ BEST wishes, Georgie Newbery (ps I now run a flower growing and floristry business which would have the judges of both your and my entries shivering in their rule books.)


I love all these comments as much as the blog! Charlie, your work is stunningly beautiful! Rich and free and full. The others, regardless of old rules, are boring and a bit sad. Grocery store fodder. I love your abandon and love of color and texture! Ben, my daughter is studying architecture, so I’m always looking for the books you have laying around. I’ve bought some to surprise my daughter based on your stash!

Lyn Coombssays:

The other entries in the competition reminded me of the stiff, standard, refrigerated (in all senses of the word) arrangements one finds cooling in assembly- line fashion at your local, big box grocery store… or at funerals. Oh, Charlie, your entry reminded me of all that is wonderful in a country garden. It evoked ladybugs, bumble bees, butterflies and morning mist; lemonade on a wicker chair set beside blowsy roses, and warm, hazy air. Be glad that you did not win this particular competition. IMO, hands down, you are the Champion Artiste of Flower Arranging.


what a gorgeous arrangement = it seems that Symmetry is the rule for that contest. oh well, we love it and how beautiful to have it for your weekend.

this post is a short story – and yes, when IS the book? Beverly Nichols indeed, yours would be as delightful!

dashing off to work in the soggy humid Hudson Valley
from my wee garden with my two wee perennial beds… always lust after your garden!

As much as we love Charlie and his creations it is good to see things clear. His bouquet is an impressive bouquet. It is wild and messy, joyful and improvisational.
As for an arrangement it seems like to many different flowers (colors?)were used making the idea of composition unclear.
I don’t like the winners – they are plain boring, of course. My heart sings with Charlie’s bouquet, it is just for another kind of competition.


I’m not wading into the controversy because there’s positives for the winning arrangement, as well as Charlie’s..Love the Dutch /Flemish Baroque look of Charlie’s arrangement because it excites the senses-but also like the sweetness and calm country look of the winner, though I find it a bit too constrained.
I see that you have Furlow Gatewood’s “One Man’s Folly” on your ottoman! When I first opened the pages of this wonderful book I just was overwhelmed with the beauty,sheer perfection and sublime aesthetic sensibilities of his houses. True, they can’t be for ‘everyman’ but perfection, nevertheless..
And books can be soo enlightening Smile from the first moment I laid my eyes on that wonderful tall secretary desk that in your parsonage living room, I have been coveting it – I would pull out that book of yours every day just to stoke my lust! Now, I am happy to say that I found one very similar on ETSY, of all places!

Nessa Ryallsays:

What a fabulous weekend you both had!Charley was robbed! I must agree withLindag as summer has only just arrived in Sheffield and I am busy making jams and jellies with fruits from our abundant allotment. Your blog is always such a joy,thank you.

Pierre B.says:

Charlie’s arrangement may not be “perfect” but it has style: HIS.

Calhoun Sumrallsays:

Obviously the chiice for all 3 places leaves many of us speechless. Did the winning Roses and carnations come from Lady Grantham’s garden?

I loved it -it had fabulous “movement” and anyway when i do a more modern arrangememt the “oldies” love them -they say that they love to see something different !

“and Autumn ever so gently knocked at the door”….. You already had me hooked at the Flower Competition and cleverly had us holding our breaths to await the winner – then, dashed our hopes when Charlie didn’t win. But then, you picked us up, dusted us off and took us out to have a fabulous weekend. Made my weekend look damp, as it was, but I enjoyed yours immensely! Then, the last statement “…Autumn ever so gently knocked at the door”. I wanted to turn the page and step into Autumn with you all. This is, for me, the best blog ever, and you’ve written some good ones. Is there a book yet?


Oh dear – that basket of flowers! Made me laugh so much. Charlie’s arrangement is beautiful -agree that village life clearly isn’t ready for such radical changes. I’m sure champagne and fish and chips on the beach made up for it. Please don’t mention autumn yet – still waiting for my veg garden to reach its peak here in Barnsley!

As a fellow Kiwi I have to say that I think Charlie’s effort had true Antipodean flair and it is only a matter of time before his talent is recognised, perhaps it will take a while before that includes Church floral competitions….but I for one thought the arrangement was gorgeous!

Oh Dear! Charlie was robbed, no doubt, but I think local village/agricultural shows tend to be very traditional (capital T) and a couple of decades behind current thinking in artistic interpretation. I enter baking/crafts etc every year to the village show and am frequently amazed by the winning entries. All good fun though. x

Sue Tattersallsays:

Well all I will say is that I could easily have copied the winning arranement, just as I could probably copy a Rothko. However when we come to Leonardo I would be standing in awe at both his skill in artistry and originality. I think you get the message.


At the risk of offending Charlie’s many supporters, someone has to defend the judges a bit and point out that they are all probably NAFAS-qualified (in the old way) and judging by quite strict rules – much like the lady’s quiche that might have been fab to eat but didn’t follow the rules in the schedule. Traditional flower arranging has rules you know (!) so don’t be too hard on the judges who probably privately loved Charlie’s arrangement as much as the rest of us.
I hope Charlie isn’t put off and you keep supporting your local village show in the future. As ‘second homers’ (I am one too) we can get a bad press and getting involved in things like this helps to keep local traditions alive and shows that we are just as much part of the community as permanent dwellers. Gosh – what a Monday morning lecture! LOVE the flowers Charlie!!


Charlie was clearly robbed. However, maybe the other arrangements were just more “churchy” (no judgement – well, okay, sort of). I see you have One Man’s Folly. Have you had time to dive in? It’s one of my recent favorites. Would love to know what you think.


They all seem a bit Constance Spray compared to Charlie’s rather wonderful naturalistic arrangement, a veritable summer floral explosion. Shame one of the show rules wasn’t that the flowers had to come from your own garden. Village shows are funny things, I had a friend who had her first prize for a quiche taken from her hands as it turned out it was 1cm too big!


Oh Dear! Charlie, stiff and very lifeless is obviously the way to go for the village flower arranging comp. Very,very ‘Village in a Valley’, or whatever those Beverley Nichols novels were that had Our Rose in them. For the record, I thought they were just right for the lovely old church…Go Charlie! p.s. having won a first and a second in the set breakfast tray section of the local show, the burden of winning far outweighs the glory!!

David Sanderssays:

It’s a masterpiece Charlie, clearly the judges are not ready for your more free-form style; by-the-way Ben, Anthony and Harriet’s reception/drawing room in their Georgian Gothick house, has me drooling; reminds me of some of John Fowler’s (Colfax & Fowler) best rooms.


Oh, I thought his arrangement was breathtaking! But, in the end, it was your ending that was my undoing. That room! and the turn toward autumn…

Charlotte Ksays:

I can’t help wondering if that contest isn’t like some I’ve seen in episodes of Agatha Christie mysteries or Midsomer Murders where if the local so and so doesn’t win, someone will get murdered!!

Mary Jane Glasssays:

I think you’re correct, that the judges are not ready for Charlie’s work. I saw a connection between his lovely, naturalistic arrangement and some stunners in an article in last week’s New York Times T magazine. The same sense of movement, freshness, happenstance, though all put together with great skill by someone who just loves flowers. I wouldn’t want to slam the winners, but they seem a little tired and fusty.

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