Photography by Annabelle Hickson
This week we hosted the most beautiful gathering of women from north west NSW on our Odgers and McClelland Exchange Stores verandah for the Nundle launch of 'A Tree in the House' by author, photographer and friend Annabelle Hickson.
The beauty came from the patina of our 1891 building, Virginia Creeper covered verandah, and Fowlers preserving jars and enamel vessels, including jugs, mug, sugar bowl and Turkish coffee pot, filled with roses, dahlias, sedum, and wind flowers from the Tenterfield gardens of Annabelle, and Mandy Reid from White Cottage Flower Farm.
We gathered every available table, chair, and bench at our shop and created spaces for conversations on our verandah, then spilled onto our neighbour Mark Delahunt's Jenkins Street Antiques and Fine China verandah, borrowing chairs from Jenkins Street Guest House.
Beauty also radiated from the warmth and openness of the 40 women, who had travelled from Moree, Gunnedah, Scone, Tamworth and surrounds, and the supportive and inspiring atmosphere created by the possibility of imagination.
Annabelle’s book ‘A Tree in the House’ is the culmination of four years living on a pecan farm at Bonshaw, near Tenterfield, with husband Ed and children Daisy, Tom, and Harriet, and finding contentment living a simplified life, spending time in nature, and creating arrangements from foliage, flowers, and produce freely available in the landscape.
Annabelle wrote the words, but also created every flower arrangement, and took nearly every photograph in the 225-page book. That's in between normal family life, writing a monthly column for 'Country Style' magazine, creating a podcast 'Dispatch to a Friend,' and organising creative workshops in France and Scotland later this year.
Our gathering of women left, uplifted and enriched by Annabelle's talent and enthusiasm for her rural surroundings, but also the creativity of the event; live music by Rachel Webster, a handprinted bookmark for each guest by Natasha Soonchild of Stormcrow Studio across the road, and flavoursome food by Pip Joy and Brett Gorman of neighbouring Jenkins Street Guest House.
Guests enjoyed espresso shots, mocktails, and a picnic lunch of Antipasto tart canapes, Marinated lamb back straps, Rocket, pear, parmesan and pine nut salad, Sweet potato and spinach pie, and Cheesecake with raspberry coulis.
Annabelle says after an over budget renovation brought excessive stress to the Hicksons' lives, the they sold the source of their distress, and pared back to a modest house on a pecan farm. Annabelle began to feel joy again, seeing beauty outside in fennel, poppies, and gum leaves.
“Our farm house was tiny and grim, but I smothered it in the beauty all around us. Through the act of bringing flowers in, it gave me a reason to focus on the environment around us and look at the world through a flower filter.”
Annabelle completed several online courses by naturalistic American florist Sarah Winward, and travelled to New Zealand to learn from floral designer Nicole Land. She insists on the accessibility of flower decoration, encouraging that it is available to everyone, especially if you live in a rural environment.
“We are so quick to outsource as much as possible in our lives that we have lost the dignity in doing, and the creative process,” she says.
With her inside knowledge, secateurs in the car glovebox, and florists’ tape, chicken wire, and cable ties in her kit, Annabelle began writing about and photographing her floral creations.
These range from intimate scale arrangements on her kitchen bench, to wedding bouquets and decorations, seasonal installations in a shearing shed, shearers' quarters, and old convent, and an aspect of floristry rarely talked about, funeral flowers.
Creating a mock funeral for ‘A Tree in the House’ saw Annabelle explore the “outrageously secretive” process of decorating a casket with flowers. “This ritual could be a helpful way to express your grief and you know better than anyone what flowers your loved one liked. It’s not the result, it’s the process,” she says.
Annabelle is delighted by the response to her book’s launch this month, with several events across NSW, ACT and Queensland.
“It has been very moving to hear about mums who are motivated to keep secateurs in the basket of their prams to collect foliage, ex-pats who are enjoying the full Aussie landscape, and readers who are ill and find comfort connecting with nature through the book.”
While the Nundle book launch was in no way planned as a drought relief event, that is the effect it had on many guests, enjoying the abundance of flowers, lamenting losses in their own gardens during the past year and leaving, happier, some with a posy wrapped in brown paper with the hope of germinating seeds.
See those glasses on the table next to Annabelle below (photography by Sacs on Jenkins)? They are the most delicious mocktails prepared by Jenkins Street Guest House. They were an absolute hit, so refreshing and full of flavour. Pip and Brett share their recipe here:
White Peach Bellini Mocktail
Purée fresh white peaches with skins on. Place in ice cube trays until frozen. Add 1-2 per glass and top with sparkling non-alcoholic white wine.