Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

Flower Festivals

Many churches use flower festivals, during which they are extravagantly decorated with spectacular flower arrangements, was a popular means of fund-raising.

It is thought that the first of these festivals was held at Walpole St Peter, in Norfolk, in 1962, but the idea really took off the following year, when the vicar of Flores, Nottinghamshire, and his wife organised a festival which attracted 5000 people who enjoyed the flowers and cream teas.  This festival continues with displays in the parish church and the United Reformed Church, and ancillary events, such as an art display in the local school, but due to increased competition from festivals elsewhere it no longer attracts such huge numbers.

It appears that flower festivals emerged from the special decorations which were prepared for patronal festivals and other special dates in the churches’ year.  Thus, at Barnstaple, Devon, the church flower-ladies decorated the church for St Peter’s Day (29 June); ‘as this church is always open and in a tourist area, many people would come into the church to see it “and the nice flower displays”, and tended to put more money than usual in the collection box!’

Although the arrangements produced at flower festivals entail much painstaking planning and work, they can be disappointing; the same florists’ flowers are used everywhere, and the flowers seen in a Devon church in May are likely to be the same as those seen in Derbyshire in September.  There is little sense of season or place.  A noteworthy exception is St Peter’s church at Westleton, Suffolk, which uses wildflowers, and from 29 July to 1 August  2016 celebrated its 50th Wildflower Festival.

Images: poster advertising flower festival at Lopen, Somerset, July 2018;  inset, flowers prepared for the Three Choirs Festival, Hereford Cathedral, 27 July 2018.

Adapted from Vickery’s Folk Flora, to be published in April 2019.

Edited 31 July 2022.