The Rebel Rebel Flower School Tuscany
Rebel Rebel have established themselves as one of the top florists in London. They were founded in 2000 by Athena Duncan and Mairead Curtin and are known for their bold and quirky designs which have become a signature of the brand. The uncompromising quality and presentation of their flowers has attracted huge clients such as Bafta, Stella McCartney and Selfridges and they most recently featured in a design installation at one of my favourite haunts, Sketch London. Having heard about their popular workshops both in London and China I was super excited to be attending one of their first Italian workshops within the beautiful Tuscan mountains close to the medieval town of Barga and walled city of Lucca. I was imagining beautiful scenery, creativity, exuberant flowers and of course Italian food and drink. I mean to me it sounds like the perfect mix and to go home with a few new skills to show off and apply would be a massive bonus. The course would run for four days and it exceeded my expectations on all fronts. I am going to share with you some of the awesome things we got up to over the four days illustrated with these stunning photos. I think its pretty much impossible to take a bad picture where we were, the juxtaposition of the countryside with the vibrant colours of the flowers and of course a group of luscious ladies is a triple whammy on the winning photo front.
We arrived to the beautiful Tuscan house which would be the base for the workshop in a small hamlet close to the river Serchio an area of outstanding natural beauty. We were met by the wonderful Athena the founder of Rebel Rebel. She was a vision, wearing a beautiful flower emblazoned tea dress and was the most welcoming host. The villa and its surroundings were rustic with reconditioned wooden tables and eclectic chairs scattered amongst the garden and outbuildings. We were introduced to our teachers Kat and Pel both warm, engaging Ozzy chicks whose passion for flowers shined through from the moment we met them.
The order of the day was to learn to make a posy and large bouquet. We spent the morning foraging through the woods amongst leaves of honesty, hazel, elder and wild rhubarb. I was particularly delighted to discover the multifaceted nature of mint. I found lemon grass mint, spearmint and even a basil tinged mint, the smells of each were potently vivid. Do be warned mint and nettle have basic aesthetic similarities and I thought I was sniffing mint and found it to be nettle by way of a nasty sting on my nostril! Luckily there was dock leaves harbouring nearby. Guided by our teachers we found various foliage along the way that was to make up our Posy and Large bouquets and I found it quite incredible the diversity of foliage available. The different types of plants were well explained and walks through the Surrey forests where I take my dogs may never be the same again now that I have so much to notice and can see how wonderfully these greens can adorn a bouquet and create quite the visual spectacles.
After our jolly ramble where we also took in the beautiful river we were taught the method of spiralling where the stems are all accented in one direction and learned how to steady and balance the bouquet. I must say my hands are rather small and I did struggle at first to get a grip on it but practise makes perfect and it did get easier. I’m sure muscles are have now appeared in my hands that were previously obsolete.
Lunch every day was a three course affair cooked by Craig Ballinger the house private chef. The first day we had panzatta with the most succulent Italian tomatoes bursting with flavour. Fruit and veg just tastes so much sweeter in Italy and I couldn’t wait to get stuck in being the foodie that I am. The main course was pork belly served with canelleti beans and a cucumber side salad. Desert was a cream gelato with stewed caramelised apple and biscotti. Everything was perfect but I was thankful my hotel had a gym as there was no way I was holding back from enjoying these daily delights.
By late afternoon we had created our posy and one standing bouquet which as you can see from the pictures was larger than life itself. I love the burst of colours and its magnitude, certainly a statement piece for any glamorous table adornment.
After a great nights sleep I was ready for day two. On arrival we were greeted with a fresh pot of coffee which was just the ticket to kick off the busy day we were about to have. We spent the morning picking out some foliage in the beautiful forest by the house which was to be part of our grand installation which was to be the creative challenge of the day.
The garage was to become a whimsical cabin with an explosion of overgrowing flowers at every corner. Our first task was to learn the skill of garlanding which I found to be incredibly therapeutic. Once I got the hang of it I could have gone on doing it for hours. It reminded me of of the joy and peace I used to get from making papier-mâché when I was younger. With the technique down and a bit of patience my garland eventually grew and swelled to the desired length ready to adorn the installation at the juste moment. If you ever feel like getting green fingered at home the garlanding technique can be used to make wonderful fireplace and table setting decorations especially at Christmas something I intend to have a go at. I mean it’s a pretty cool thing to show off about, I don’t know many people that can make their natural Christmas decorations from scratch. Once we had all made some solid garlanding ground it was time to stop for an aperitif of negroni and lavender. With prosecco and a cocktail being a daily fixture I knew we were in a for a jolly time. Drinks in the sunshine were followed by a lunch of aubergine lasagne and some locally cured meats and cheese. Following lunch I went for a little ramble through the countryside so as not to let a food coma catch up with me. On return to camp we started on our various jobs for the installation. I was to be up on the ladder adorning the top of the garage with a mixture of some of the most decadent and vibrant flowers I have ever seen interspersed with wild grass and the freshly picked foliage from the mornings woodland jaunt. We all worked together as a team to complete the finished project and were lead by our incredible teachers who were on hand to assist and guide at every turn. With disco music as our melodic playlist, I must say I loved creating this and felt like I had done a jolly good days work in the sun. There was a real sense of fulfilment in our creation. I loved getting stuck in, getting my hands dirty and throwing in my visual hunches for where to place those flower bunches. On completion we all stood back to take in the fruits of our labours and get a good few pics then sat down for a well deserved chilled glass of prosecco and a piece of Italian cake. A splendid and fitting way to end the day.
To begin the day we were driven up further into the Tuscan hills to a stunning house with a huge veranda which was to be our workshop for the day. It had stunning views to the valley below and our morning task was to create a shoulder corsage using the technique of wiring. I found it quite tricky to get the hang of it at first but as soon as I did it was so satisfying and fun to create our own design and flower mixture. As you can see mine was definitely a statement piece!
We stopped for a picnic style lunch with beautiful salads and local produce, prosecco, cheese and bread and some incredible middle eastern dips for which I must get the recipe. For the afternoon session we were driven to an another incredible venue the other side of the valley, steeped in an abundance of nature and fauna with plenty of wild flowers and foliage, ripe for the picking. The afternoon workshop was to learn the art of creating a traditional Constance Spry bouquet which we had lots of fun photographing as you can see here.
Our last day was spent preparing for the grand feast and fiesta the final evenings celebration. We learned to create hanging flowers using rope and wiring techniques and stunning festive flower crowns which was for me the most exciting part of the course. I am pretty much obsessed with head pieces I even created a jewellery collection defined by them so I was excited to manifest some grand designs on this one and I am pleased to say I was pretty proud of my final piece. I loved it so much I proudly hung it on my suitcase all the way home and it miraculously kept its shape and is now hanging to dry out in my kitchen as a mini memorial to my flower school experience.
In the afternoon we helped dress the table for the soiree. We finished up early to head back to our hotels to relax and then get ready and glammed up for the party. I of course relished this part of the day and wore a black wrap dress to offset my bold and colourful headdress the results of which you can see below. On arrival we were served canapes and prosecco then we all made our way down to the overgrown field which had been mowed out for our feast giving a sunken garden effect which had been created by the team. It was honestly reminiscent of a midsummer nights dream, all twinkling lights, hanging flowers, candles, and flowing greenery. The pictures show you just how whimsical and enchanting the evening was and as the night drew in sparks of fire flies surrounded us adding to the magic. We dined on home fired pizzas and delicious salads and wine. It was close to midnight by the time we said our goodbyes and I felt quite emotional, it had been such an incredible few days that I wont forget. The team was an absolute dream and I loved every minute. It was a connection filled and healing experience as well as being a practical one. It’s so soul nourishing to learn, create and ground in nature with good people. For anyone interested in flowers or just getting away for a few days and doing something different within a stunning landscape you will adore to come here. They are doing another retreat this year in September when I hear it will be a little cooler.
I want to finish on a quote from Constance Spry that was included in our welcome pack and it really sums up the tone of the experience the whole ethos of Rebel Rebel.
‘I want to shout out,do what you please, follow your star, be original if you want to and don’t if you don’t want to be. Just be natural and gay and lighthearted and pretty and simple and overflowing and general and baroque and bare and austere and stylised and wild and daring and conservative and learn and learn and learn. Open your minds to every form of beauty.’ And that’s what we did.
To make an enquiry to book in for a future flower workshop in Tuscany visit the Rebel Rebel website here
You can email email@example.com for direct inquiries.
Where I stayed
There are plenty of options to suit all pockets and vibes accommodation wise close to the school. I stayed at the five star renaissance Il Ciocco Resort and Spa Hotel which is situated within 1700 acres of immaculately landscaped grounds high up in the valley with the most magnificent views across the sprawling mountains and countryside. The hotel has both an indoor and out door pool with multiple spa rooms and a gym so if you are looking for somewhere relaxing to unwind after your day at the school I would highly recommend it. It is quite isolated so you would need a car to get around but for me I was quite happy to spend my evenings nestled in at the hotel enjoying the views. Each morning I had a wonderful breakfast on the restaurant veranda overlooking the valley which left me feeling invigorated and inspired for the day ahead. I found the staff to be particularly friendly and helpful and I loved that they proudly displayed one of the bouquets I made in their reception area. The room was a good size with a balcony and modern bathroom the only thing it didn’t have was a bath tub. A five night stay here is approximately £1110. View the hotel here.