Howard Franklin talks about his latest exciting appointments
PUBLISHED: 15:02 23 February 2010 | UPDATED: 16:46 20 February 2013
Shropshire Life society correspondent Howard Franklin first visited Shrewsbury Flower Show as a boy. This year he has been appointed President of Shropshire Horticultural Society and the world's longest running horticultural show
My early childhood remembrance of August was school holidays and being taken each year to Shrewsbury Musical and Floral Fete as it was called.
My parents were keen supporters of the Flower Show and of course it was the social highlight of the summer. We would never take the car but rather travel on the steam train from Church Stretton to Shrewsbury. My mother, always a fashion-plate, would be dressed with elegant dress, a duster-coat, hat, handbag and gloves. My father and I wearing smart suits and shining shoes.
We boarded the steam train in Church Stretton, which was always packed with hundreds of people from South Wales. On arrival at Shrewsbury we would walk to the Quarry via Castle Street and Pride Hill, both were decorated across the streets with triangles of red, white and blue bunting, which I think must have been left over from the Coronation.
When I was about 12 or 13 years of age it was suggested I might like to enter the childrens classes in the Floral Art Marquee. I have had a passion for flowers and gardening since a young age, which I must have inherited from my fathers sister, my aunt, who was a florist and ran a chain of flower shops in the city of Leeds. This was how I became an exhibitor and a successful one too, as for several years I was awarded the BBC Childrens Cup for my efforts at Shrewsbury Flower Show.
I was educated mainly at Shrewsbury School of Art. Academic studies were in the mornings and the afternoons were filled with studying the History of Art, life drawing, textiles and fashion, lithography and plant drawing I especially loved pencil drawing and capturing the delicate structure of the plants and flowers provided.
My father hadnt wanted me to become a florist, but I was adamant that was to be my chosen career. I was enrolled with Constance Spry in South Audley Street in Mayfair, London.
Mrs Spry was to have the most widespread influence on the training of florists, with her original ideas of using plant material not normally associated with floral art, mixing both cultivated and wild materials to create displays of ethereal beauty.
I was taught by Eileen Russell, who had been taught by Constance Spry. Flowers arrived each morning from Covent Garden in heavy wooden boxes which were chargeable and had to be returned to the wholesaler the following day. The windows were always decorated in white and green, beautiful stone garden urns spilled over with lilies and jasmine and rustic baskets were filled with gardenias and white hyacinths in the spring.
After Sprys, I needed to have further practical experience in floral decoration and floristry and was most fortunate to be accepted at Moyses Stevens the Court Florists in Berkeley Square, then the largest florists in the world, with a staff of 130 people. Between Berkeley Square, W1 and their other emporium in Victoria Street, SW1 there were 30 juniors who were paying to be trained, as was normal at that time. Most of the junior staff at Berkeley Square were titled debutantes. I remember the huge artists easel with a board covered in green velvet displaying corsages and buttonholes which were purchased by Mayfair clients and worn with evening dress and the gilded baskets of roses and lily-of-the-valley being made for delivery to Victoria Station for passengers travelling to Paris in the Golden Arrow train.
My first visit to Buckingham Palace was during this time, assisting one of the senior decorators. My duties were limited to fetching and carrying the buckets of flowers and foliage, and sweeping up with a dustpan and brush.
A lucky break came shortly afterwards when a floral decorator was required at Harewood House in Yorkshire, the home of Her Royal Highness the Princess Mary, Princess Royal. My Yorkshire family connections helped me to secure the position and I was appointed to the Princess Royals Household. Living at Prince of Wales Mansions in Harrogate, I travelled the short distance daily to the magnificent royal residence. My work involved doing the flowers in the private apartments and then huge displays in the State Rooms which were open to the public. The Princess was truly lovely, rather shy, and really loved flowers, especially Parma Violets, which would be flown in from the South of France to Yeadon Airport, mimosa and double lilac.
Harewood House days were fairly short-lived due to the untimely death of the Princess who, while walking by the lake with her eldest son the Earl of Harewood, suffered a fatal heart attack. I designed and made most of the royal funeral tributes for her funeral and then my job came to an end.
I returned to Shropshire and decided to found my own floral design company, firstly in Church Stretton and a couple of years later in Shrewsbury. For 32 years I provided an exclusive service to the people of Shropshire and indeed much further afield, with County and Society weddings. I would exhibit at Birmingham, Harrogate, Liverpool, Southport and of course Shrewsbury Flower Shows in the classes for professional florists, winning numerous awards and trophies for my floristry and especially bridal bouquets. These achievements led to me being invited to exhibit, for 10 successive years at Chelsea Flower Show, eventually being awarded the ultimate honour of a Gold Grenfell Medal, still a treasured keep-sake.
The first World Flower Cup competition was held in Holland in 1972 and I was selected from all the florists in Great Britain to represent the United Kingdom against all the other countries of the world. The outcome of three days of competitive challenges was me being awarded the title World Champion in Bridal Design. This was a further boost to my business and with increased wedding orders coming from far and wide my staff of florists had grown to 12 employees to cope with the volume of work.
The following November was the wedding of Her Royal Highness the Princess Anne, I was thrilled to be invited to London to design flowers for the Royal Wedding. Based back at Moyses Stevens with Joan Pearson, I like to think it was one of the most beautiful of all the Royal Weddings, even if the bridesmaid, Lady Sarah Armstrong-Jones proved to be difficult, when she wouldnt carry her pomander of flower-heads on its ribbon over her arm, but preferred to hold it like an orb in a hot sticky hands! The first Royal Wedding to be televised in colour, there was so much technical camera equipment in Westminster Abbey it occupied all the best places for flowers! Such are the problems of being a florist.
The same year I began my extended career as a Special Interest Lecturer with P&O. shipping line, I travelled the world, often away for three months at a time, lecturing on board some iconic ships such as Canberra, Oriana, Arcadia, Orsova, and Himalaya. Flowers arrived from the port-agents in far-flung points of the Empire. Many of the exotic blooms of the Pacific brought with them the native insects which would infest my cabin.
During the 1980s I was invited by Peter Hercombe of BBC Television at Birmingham to join the team of presenters for the popular live lunchtime programme Pebble Mill At One which I did every Tuesday for four and a half years. Those were happy hectic times, when we had a viewing audience of 12million people every day. This certainly made me recognisable, wherever I went people would greet me like a long lost cousin and want to talk about the programme. Such is the power of television. I was even invited to open a supermarket in Diss in Norfolk!
Books were published by Batsford and my Flower Arrangers Guide To Showing is still used by many competitors when entering flower shows and has been borrowed from libraries throughout Great Britain thousands of times.
In 1996 I retired from my business and have in recent years concentrated on special commissions, and after-dinner speaking engagements. I continue my judging at flower shows and am a national judge for the Royal Horticultural Society. I have judged two World Cup competitions and am the most senior judge of The United Kingdom Guild of Professional Judges.
The unexpected honour of being invited this year to be President of The Shropshire Horticultural Society and Shrewsbury Flower Show is the ultimate accolade in my home county. I am truly delighted and shall endeavour to support and encourage exhibitors, hoping also to have the opportunity of meeting as many members of the society as possible. The County of Shropshire can be proud of its horticultural heritage, so wonderfully exhibited through Shrewsbury Flower Show, which early posters referred to as The Worlds Wonder Show and in my opinion still is.
I look forward to seeing our readers at this years show in August
President promises 2010 Show will be best ever
More than 75 members of the Shropshire Horticultural Society attended the Annual General Meeting at the Shire Hall, Shrewsbury.
Harry Wilson proposed Howard Franklin as 2010 President describing his international accolades and achievements in the world of floral art and calling him a true Ambassador for Shropshire.
Howard Franklin thanked members for the honour and trust they had placed in him as the new President and promised to take an active role, not only in the Shrewsbury Flower Show but all the meetings and events throughout the year.
He said: My ethos will be to preserve the old traditions while advancing the new ideas with encouragement and optimism, to make the 2010 Show the best ever.
Chairman, Lieutenant Colonel Mike Carver told members the societys objectives as a charity were to organise an annual Flower Show and secondly to support worthwhile projects whether they have a horticultural basis or not.
I think that your present committee and their predecessors can claim that the first objective has been achieved in a spectacular fashion and that the Flower Show is regarded as being one of the best in the country.
As far as the second objective is concerned, the society has made donations that, while not on the same scale that we have been able to make in the recent past, are still significant.
The Chairman paid tribute to 2009 President Lord Kingsland who died last July and to Lady Kingsland who represented her husband at last years show.
The Honorary Treasurer, Ann Tudor, reported said the society has made a profit before gains on investment assets of 52,267 for the year ended 30 September 2009, meaning a surplus in funds of 213,084 for the year. Investment income fell marginally from 194,000 in 2008 to 173,000.
Donations were made to the Walled Garden Project, the Shrewsbury Children's Bookfest, Coleham Primary School, the National Garden Scheme in Shropshire and the Gate Laboratory Torch Appeal. The society continued to support nurseries through a joint venture with the Royal Horticultural Society together with support of the Young Horticulturist of the Year award with the Institute of Horticulture.
At 30 September 2009 our net assets amounted to 5,247,501. This gives us a very significant and solid financial base from which to continue to deliver our Flower Show and the other activities which our society is justifiably proud of in terms of donations and support to our local community, she said.
The annual spring lecture on April 21 at the Shropshire Education and Conference Centre, given by Chris Beardshaw, the TV gardener, will be entitled a Garden Cornucopia and a donation will be made to Help for Heroes.