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Magna Flora – Magna Carta 800’s Crowning Glory

Our Magna Carta Celebrations reach a floral crescendo in September wit

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Magna Flora – Magna Carta 800’s Crowning Glory

Posted By : Marie Thomas Thursday 6th August 2015

Our Magna Carta Celebrations reach a floral crescendo in September with up to 500 flower arrangers from across the diocese creating a grand scale flower festival themed around Magna Carta.


Around 20,000 visitors are expected to visit during the Magna Flora festival week, 15 – 20 September. Amongst the astounding floral art works they’ll encounter are a series of giant, 6ft x 3ft fantasy flowers, two of which will be hung high in the Cathedral Quire with silk Hydrangea heads at their centres, and a series of massive hanging lampshades, approximately 4ft in diameter.


An ambitious central display designed to run the full length of the nave depicts the country in chaos before Magna Carta on one side and ‘in order’ on the other. In the North Aisle, 25 panels of flowers, each 12ft high, feature every Baron present at the sealing of the Magna Carta. Each Baron will be shown bearing his shield.


Said Michael Bowyer, Creative Director of Salisbury Cathedral Flowers: “This year’s festival is the biggest yet. Big in ambition and big in form. It’s not called Magna Flora for nothing! The values and history that we are trying to express are huge both in impact and legacy so we have had to find structures and forms that speak to that. The planning has been on-going for about a year and for the last two months we have been running workshops with flower arranging clubs all over the country, creating the basic infrastructure for the exhibits. One of my co-designers, Pam Lewis, is a blacksmith and has forged a series of huge arches that will be set up in the South Transept for visitors to walk through. Three designers - myself, Pam Lewis and Angela Turner – did the initial paper planning and came up with the key concepts. It’s the third festival we have done together in Salisbury so we know and respect each other’s styles and strengths.”

The flower arrangers are being co-ordinated by Susan Branch, the administrator of Salisbury Cathedral Flowers, who’s helped to pull together teams from church groups, colleges, clubs and local flower arranging societies. One group is even coming from the Channel Islands. Said Susan Branch, “The logistics are mind-boggling; 900 aspidistra leaves are being used to create petals for the giant Magna Flora Flowers; a specially cut field of hay is forming the base for flowers on the huge South Transept arches and 216 panels have been papered and glued with enlarged images of Magna Carta excerpts for the ‘in order’ display in the Nave. The huge Lampshades go up in August, just before we start the main festival ‘build’ when over 30,000 blooms are brought into the Cathedral and arranged. We have to have a strictly regimented timetable, engineered to the minute, so that people have enough space to work - but there’s a great atmosphere too. Everyone chips in and we get a great buzz from the combined effect of all our efforts.”


All the blooms and foliage for this year’s festival are being supplied by Chris Wolfe of Southeast Flowers, an Ashford based wholesaler. Chris started her working life with a British flower grower, so knows first-hand just how tough the business is. She likes to visit as many of the farms she buys from as she can and when it comes to cathedral flowers, she’s particularly picky because they have to last. 


Chris Wolfe said: “Flower growing is a difficult business – a change in the weather will dictate success or failure and you get very little warning. We have close relationships with all our growers and try to visit them whenever we can - I was over in Columbia recently looking at roses. You get a feel for the quality of the grower and their flowers when you see them at first hand. We don’t just judge on price either, what we are looking for is a strong flower that will go the distance. Take a festival like Magna Flora, it runs over a week and you need the foliage and blooms to be looking as good on day one as they do on the last day. Supplying flowers for a festival like this is a meticulous business. Every bloom has be to individually hand checked and sorted into specific orders before it is loaded onto the lorry for transportation. At the other end the Cathedral gate’s height restrictions mean that everything has to be unloaded from the huge transportation vehicles and re- loaded onto smaller lorries to be taken up to the cloisters ready for the arrangers. Our biggest day is the Saturday before the festival opens. We start at 4am and work through until 10pm sorting, checking and loading so that we can deliver to the Cathedral on Sunday night after Evensong. On Sunday we work straight through – only stopping when the job is done even if it means a 2am finish. The Cathedral arrangers will work all day Monday and on Tuesday they’ll be there for the public to see!”


Whenever possible Chris tries to source her flowers in the UK but inevitably she has to look to the world market for some and that can mean going as far afield as Australia, Columbia, the US and Israel. So Magna Flora will be a very English but global affair – much like the Charter that is its inspiration!


It’s not just flowers on display, either. The Cathedral also uses the festival to showcase the talents of local musicians. Twice a day the North Transept is transformed into a performance space where the three festival designers - Michael Bowyer, Pam Lewis and Angela Turner - demonstrate floral design, accompanied by live music.


This is a festival that is truly Magna-ificent in concept and execution!



Magna Flora runs from 15 – 20 September.


For any other enquiries contact Marie Thomas 01722 555148



i)             Salisbury Cathedral is one of Britain’s finest medieval cathedrals. It offers a warm welcome to all who visit and seeks to strengthen church and community life in the diocese. Salisbury Cathedral seeks to make a difference for God through exceptional worship and outreach, and has a special commitment to challenging injustice and fostering reconciliation, both at home and abroad. Over 300,000 people visit the Cathedral each year to marvel at the peace and beauty of the 757 year old building and admire Britain’s tallest spire. The finest original copy of the 1215 Magna Carta is on permanent display to visitors in the Chapter House.

ii)            Magna Flora is the third major recent flower festival to be held in Salisbury Cathedral. Previous festivals in 2008 and 2011 were also masterminded by Michael Bowyer, Director of Salisbury Cathedral Flowers and co-designed by Angela Turner and Pam Lewis. As with the others festivals, Magna Flora will draw upon the skills of the many floral artists in the Diocese of Salisbury. Every church and every flower club within the Diocese were invited to take part and many agreed to participate. The festival was launched on 20 September 2014, with about 200 arrangers coming to Salisbury Cathedral for the launch.

iii)           Angela Turner has worked with flowers and plant material for many years, starting as a trainee florist over 25 years ago. Having achieved her Society of Floristry & Teaching qualification, Angela became a National Demonstrator and Teacher for NAFAS (National Association of Flower Arrangement Societies) and travels internationally in Europe and as far afield as Japan demonstrating and teaching her own style of floral design and floristry. Angela works in a very natural style and loves to create designs with strong colours and clean lines, using other materials such as wool and yarn, glass, metal or wood in unusual ways. Angela has been made an Honorary member of the Society of Florists in recognition of the many ways she has contributed to the organisation over the years. She currently works as a freelance floral designer and teacher of Floristry & Contemporary Floral Design tutoring workshops for all levels, specialising in current trends and techniques.

iv)           Pam Lewis started flower arranging in the early 1980s and within a few years decided to study for her City and Guilds. She taught herself blacksmithing when she could never find the right containers for her designs for exhibitions and shows, and today her original wrought iron containers are bought and begged for by flower arrangers throughout the land. Pam has been a member of Devizes Flower Club for over 30 years and is a National Demonstrator, working throughout the UK, Europe and the Channel Islands. She is also a very keen competitor at local and National Shows, winning several Firsts and other awards at the National Show, and was part of the South West Area team which won a Gold Award at Chelsea in 1995. Pam has organised several flower festivals locally and exhibited at the Canterbury Cathedral Festival of Flowers.

v)             Michael Bowyer MBE was born in Wiltshire and has lived in Salisbury for nearly 40 years where he runs a wholesale floral business 'The Flower Cellar'. He is President of the Salisbury Flower Club which is affiliated to the National Association of Flower Arrangement Societies (NAFAS). Michael is qualified as a NAFAS national demonstrator/teacher/judge/speaker and is an accredited adjudicator and instructor. He has designed flower festivals in Winchester and Canterbury Cathedrals and Romsey Abbey and has demonstrated all over the UK, Spain, Germany, Estonia, Barbados, New Zealand and Canada. Michael judges and has judged at major flower shows throughout the country and has just been named as the Judges’ Arbitrator for the 2017 World Flower festival in Bridgetown, Barbados. Michael teaches regular workshops for Brockenhurst College.