Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Flower Power : Flowers Fit For The Queen

This week the annual Chelsea Flower Show is taking place. Today's article is another in which I turn the focus away from flowers and onto someone who has exercised his own Flower Power.

Michael Goulding (1933-2013) was, like Ian Cooke, a judge at the Chelsea Flower Show, but it was his flower arrangements for the Royal Family which were Michael's forte. His father, Stephen Goulding, was an insurance agent, so perhaps he hoped his son would have a career in the financial sector. However, a hint to Michael's actual career path can be found in his grandfather Edward. Edward Goulding was a park-keeper for a municipal council, and he eventually ended up as Superintendent of Parks to some of the Victorian London parks.

Michael's first job after leaving school was as a messenger for a firm of stockbrokers in the City of London. Indeed, when in suit and tie Michael looked every inch a stockbroker himself.

Floristry was something he took up after his National Service. Horticulture was his starting point, following in the footsteps of his grandfather. Michael started working for a friend, Thomas Rochford, at his plant nurseries in Cheshunt Wash in Hertfordshire. It was Rochford who encouraged Michael to enrol in the country`s oldest specialist institutes which offered courses in horticulture and agriculture, Writtle College.

At Writtle Michael`s tutor, Harold Piercy, himself a highly respected florist, recognised his natural ability for flower arranging. Also at Writtle Michael met Sheila Macqueen, the "first lady of flower arranging". They remained friends until Sheila's death in 2008. Sheila had been a royal florist whose career spanned from the Queen`s coronation in 1953 to the wedding reception of Prince Charles and Diana Spencer in 1981. Michael would, no doubt, have been greatly influenced by Sheila`s own "Flower Power" and gave him an insight into designing grand displays for royal occasions.

Michael`s royal wedding connection stretches to the most recent. Michael began working for Pulbrook and Gould, a floral business on Sloane Street, London. He was tutor to Shane Connolly. Using his own experiences in royal occasions and drawing on influences from Sheila Macqueen Michael was instrumental in shaping Shane`s own floral displays and avenue of trees in Westminster Abbey for the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in 2011.

Michael left Pulbrook and Gould to set up his own business. His talents were in high demand from many clients, including some of the leading stately homes and historic buildings in the country - Blenheim Palace, Woburn Abbey and York Minster, for example. For one commission, an international government summit, he closed the whole of the Tower of London for three days to decorate the Jewel House with flowers. He also provided displays for nine successive Prime Ministers.

It is acknowledged that Michael`s first major achievement were the floral displays he produced for the Roman Catholic Westminster Cathedral in 1977, the Queen`s Silver Jubilee year. It is considered to be the best he ever designed.

In 1990 Michael received an OBE for services to floristry. He continued to work up to 2000 when his last commission was to decorate the private apartments at Windsor Castle for the Queen Mother`s 100th birthday.

Michael loved to share his passion for flowers with others. He wrote several books on flower arranging which have been published in many editions. Together with his partners, first Stuart Hamilton and later with his Civil Partner Michael Coates, he opened his own gardens to the public for over 40 years. The UK has an annual event where thousands of private gardens open to the public for a while to raise funds for charity. Michael`s gardens often raised more than any other in the region.

From the Queen`s Silver Jubilee to the wedding of William and Kate the work and influence of Michael Goulding has brought a splash of colour and a wave of floral fragrance to many major royal occasions and special places, and his own garden brought joy to many people for over 50 years. Michael truly had Flower Power.

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