Cathedral flowers helping wellbeing blossom

ANYONE who visits a cathedral in England will, at one point or another, remark on the flowers on show.
Nowhere is this more common than at Salisbury, where displays delight all who attend, prompting selfies from even the most self-conscious visitor.

But who is behind such displays?
Well, it turns out that at the helm in Salisbury is the David Beckham of flower arranging, Michael Bowyer.
The 69-year-old is renowned the world over for his skills, has won gold medals at Chelsea, arranged for royals and was awarded an MBE for his work.
He has been national president of NAFAS – the National Association of Flower Arrangement Societies (NAFAS) – for the last two years, a judge in world flower shows, a demonstrator around the world and gives talks to flower clubs up and down the country all year round.
Earlier this year, Michael’s displays were seen by billions – yes, billions – around the globe as he was in charge of two arrangements at the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II, at Westminster Abbey.
“As a child, I was brought up to enter competitions,” he explains. “My dad entered his veg and my mum entered flower arrangements.
“When I got my own garden for the first time I did the same and I enjoyed the flower arranging side of it.”
The enjoyment soon became a passion for Michael and in 1986, he qualified as a demonstrator with NAFAS.
“Through my family, I developed a love of gardening and exhibiting,” he said.
“Demonstrating was something I wanted to do since joining Shaftesbury Flower Club.
“Then, in 1993, I qualified as a national demonstrator, able to demonstrate at any of the 1,000 flower clubs across the country.”

An arch in the cathedral cloisters - popular with selfie takers

An arch in the cathedral cloisters – popular with selfie takers

The 69-year-old, whose favourite flower is ‘the one I have in my hand’, soon decided he was going to ‘make a go of this’, founding a flower business in Salisbury which he ran for around three decades.
Meanwhile, his talks and workshops continued to go from strength to strength, becoming a ‘senior’ talker and eventually a teacher, training judges and demonstrators around the world, as well as assuming the roles himself.
“I was lucky enough to judge at two world flower shows and very lucky to judge the first flower show in Estonia after they broke free from Russia,” he said.
“I have also judged in India, Barbados and demonstrated in Canada, New Zealand, Spain and more.
“When the national association was 50 I was made a national associate and for the last two years I have served as national president.”
But it is in Salisbury where his heart lies, overseeing around 45 flower arrangers at the cathedral, who come from across the region.
He has coordinated five flower festivals at the cathedral, each drawing hundreds of flower arrangers and 20,000 visitors.
“The major flower festivals usually take three years to plan,” he said.
Something Michael has spearheaded through his work at the cathedral and beyond, is the move away from the use of plastic foam by flower arrangers.
“We went foam-free two years ago,” he said. “The last flower festival was entirely foam-free.
“It’s a huge thing. It’s going back to the skills of flower arranging in the 40s and 50s.”
Such are Michael’s skills in the area, last year he was invited to take part in an exhibition in London celebrating the work of florist, Constance Spry.
“I tutored there on how to do flower arrangements in the style of Constance Spry.”
Constance was a renowned arranger for the royals and Michael has himself been thrust into the royal spotlight in recent times.

Michael ‘backstage’ at the cathedral

Michael ‘backstage’ at the cathedral

In April last year, through his role of national president, he took on flower arrangement duties for the Duke of Edinburgh Memorial Service at Westminster Abbey.
And in September, he returned to the Abbey to create two arrangements for the State Funeral of Queen Elizabeth II.
Watched by billions around the world, Michael endeavoured not to be overcome by the status of the event.
“It was a huge honour,” he said. “But I did have to cut that out and concentrate on the job in hand.
“I just had to focus and treat it as I would any other arrangement.
“But it was certainly something to hear it was being watched by something like two billion people around the world. There were a lot of TV crews there.”
So what next for flower arranging? Michael, unrelentingly positive, says the future is bright for the skill.
“During lockdown, what’s become clear is the simple handling of plants enhances your mental state, it really does.
“For example, the Alzheimer’s Society is doing work with patients, because flowers and foliage bring back memories for people.
“There are endless benefits to our mental health.”
So hold on to those flowers and enjoy them. You never know where they might take you. And when you visit Salisbury Catherdal, see if you can get a selfie with the tremendous displays – and perhaps even get a glimpse of the David Beckham of flowers.
“Well, I certainly don’t have the money or a wife who designs clothes,” he says, laughing.

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