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Liz's retreats get Channel 4 exposure

Liz's retreats get Channel 4 exposure

27 May, 2024

Liz's retreats get Channel 4 exposure

Liz Inigo Jones, the owner and inspiration behind wedding florist Blue Sky Flowers at the Flower Market, launched a new venture last year and recently received a nice bit of promotion through an appearance on Channel 4’s Château DIY. We asked Liz about her Les Fleurs French retreats

Formerly known as Escape to the Château: DIY, the Channel 4 documentary series, narrated by Dick Strawbridge and his wife Angel Adoree, follows the stories of couples or families who are renovating châteaux in France.

One of the chosen locations is Château de la Ruche, which is about four hours drive south of Calais, near Le Mans, where the famous 24-hour race takes place each year.

Liz first visited Château de la Ruche in 2018 to do a photo shoot and struck up a friendship with one of the owners, Bec. “They bought it in 2017 and are still doing it up, but it’s lovely,” says Liz. “I actually found them on Instagram and contacted them about the shoot. Their original idea was to do weddings, but although with 15 acres of wild parkland and woodland surrounding the château the grounds are ideal, they decided the château itself is not quite big enough or located in quite the right place to do the whole wedding package.”

So instead, they have transformed La Ruche into a B&B within the château and added a beautiful gite, with four bedrooms and a living area. “When they initially looked to buy, Escape to the Château was taking off and anyone in the market to buy in France, Channel 4 latched onto. Some they followed through the process, mostly Brits and they may have to be a little crazy to take on some of the challenges they face!

“They’ve made it into a really nice place to stay and now Bec has also started to do retreats. We had talked about the possibility of me running floristry retreats there when we first met and our Les Fleurs retreat is the result.”

Les Fleurs invites flower lovers to join Liz for three days “playing with flowers, creating everything from bouquets, and tablescapes to archways and arbours, all while learning about the best sustainable mechanics”. The days give guests access to loads of foliage and flowers to get creative with and the very best laid-back tuition while the evenings are spent at beautiful tables full of flowers and great food and drink, sharing the passion for floristry.

Last year, nine florists came to the château for a Tuesday to Friday retreat. “We had brought in loads of flowers and foliage and we foraged a bit around the château as well,” says Liz. “They were all established florists from across Europe and it was really a way for them to gather new skills together and see how we and their counterparts do things. “There was a German girl who had never made an arch, for example, so it was a good learning experience for her to work with other people and see how they went about it. We set them individual and group tasks, gave them the flowers and the foliage and basically said ‘go for it’.”

Hosting the retreat is quite nerve-racking, admits Liz, “but it’s also really enjoyable and relaxing, which allows everyone to enjoy themselves, including me. Even though we are doing what we do for work, it isn’t really work.

“We took bedrooms in the gite and the château and they cooked for us day and night; the food was spectacular!

“We had already booked the week for our retreat when it transpired that the Château DIY production team was coming to film in that same week. They wanted to film us, to illustrate what the château offers and obviously that was fine by us. They filmed a lot of what we were doing and I knew they wouldn’t use much of it, but we still had to ‘perform’. It was great fun.”

April flowers After she spoke to Market Times, Liz has hosted another successful Les Fleurs retreat, at the beginning of April. “We didn’t get a lot of screentime, but the show aired in January, which was pretty good timing. Bec got a few more enquiries when it went out and so did I. We did it just before the château’s official season opened and we jointly promote it. Last year it filled up really quickly, this year took a little bit longer, but we sold out again. I’ve got my network and Bec also has a very good network and used to be a journalist – her newsletter brought three of the participants in.”

This time, Liz was hosting a guy from Jersey, who is a florist, someone coming from Scotland and an American lady who lives in France and is setting up a flower farm. The rest were from what you might call Middle England though. “The first time I did it, I didn’t want to have a number of very experienced florists, then someone who didn’t know what a jam jar is, as I felt that would be too difficult,” Liz says. “Now I’ve done it, I realise you could definitely have enthusiastic amateurs, but not someone with no real idea. I don’t want people to pay to be there, but then not enjoy it or get anything out of it.

“I’ve done a lot of teaching over the years and there’s nothing worse than a group of people who just sit there and look at you. If you don’t have some kind of interaction, there’s no energy or atmosphere and you need one or two people at least who are going to ask questions.”

After two sell-out retreats, there will definitely be more, maybe even taking in a different area of France. “I’m thinking about doing one at another chateau next year, in Cognac. I did a wedding there for someone I knew in 2023 and thought it was another place I could go back to.”


Blue Sky Flowers thinking

Liz gives us a whistle stop history of Blue Sky Flowers and her relationship with the Flower Market.

“I worked in magazines previously – World of Interiors and Elle Decoration – so I kind of knew this industry. While it was a departure for me, it was still something similarly creative. A lot of interior designers were my first clients.

“I’ve been doing this for 20-odd years now. I never wanted to do really big weddings – I know my level and understand the types of work I want to do and what I don’t want to do.

“All of my clients are lovely, occasionally they are a little bit demanding, often when they are under stress. You are a service to them; a lovely service that they want and need, but a service nevertheless. If you’re dealing with clients in this industry, you need to be good at dealing with people. Some people just can’t do it – there’s nothing wrong with that, but if you’ve never had to deal with the general public, it can be quite difficult to learn.

“I got my own unit in 2012 – I used to share a facility in the old market with Mick, The Flower Man, who I met in his shop in Belsize Park, when I lived in Hampstead. I’d started to work for another florist and bumped into Mick at the market. He told me he had a workshop there and he was like a father figure to me, so I gradually moved in more and more. I started doing runs for him, he’d give me work and I’d reciprocate. Then a unit came up next door, so I moved into that, then moved here when the temporary flower market was built.

“We’re here for a reason. I buy everything from the market apart from some British flowers direct from growers in their season. I’ve never worked anywhere else and I don’t think I’d find it easy now to come here, buy, load up and drive back somewhere else. I forget things and because it’s only downstairs that doesn’t matter!

“I’ve always figured I might be able to save a bit of money doing it another way, but I don’t do enough contract work to warrant that and it would be a slap in the face to the market. The market is my home, I want it to keep thriving and supporting it is part of that. I know lots of florists who come here and also buy from other wholesalers, but they come here for specific items and things they just can’t get anywhere else. They also come here to see people, that social aspect is really important. I sometimes come in even when I haven’t got much to do, to chat to people and see what’s new and happening.

“You have no excuse to not be on-trend if you come here.”

Tommy Leighton
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