Peeling Away the Layers

Peeling Away the Layers

We’re delighted to share Julia Marsden’s delicate and meaningful Concept and Design project at the ZE Flower School. She had already attended Zita’s Hand Tied Bouquet class when she enrolled and has since taken the Sympathy Flowers class. Julia felt that attending a subsequent Flower Embroidery course brought the final flourish to her foray into floral design with Zita, as she explains in her latest feedback about her time at the design academy:

dining table decorated with flowers

“I have now completed the floral embroidery class with Zita and I really feel that it was the missing part of my jigsaw with flowers, especially as I prefer intricate work yet at same time enjoy the ‘wild look’! I come from a family of sewers and quilters but I had chosen not to experiment in that field, as I thought it would be ‘too boring’ however, as I told Zita, using the embroidery technique really ‘feeds my brain and my soul’ with all those colours and textures! It feels like a whole new way forwards for me as I can create more unique designs. I also think that if I hadn’t done the Concept and Design course first then I wouldn’t have got so much out of the embroidery – it was so much more free-flowing than it might otherwise have been!”

details of a dinining table decorated with flowers

Zita absolutely loves her work as a teacher and enjoys drawing out technical and creative excellence in every student’s work, whatever their level of experience or artistic expression. She found working with Julia particularly rewarding: “It is always exciting to see students’ visions turn into magical reality and this is probably more transformative in the Concept and Design class than in any other. It has been really lovely working with Julia and getting to know some of her ‘layers’ through a progression of classes. As her teacher I can also see that, by peeling away and paring down, learning to be selective especially in Concept and Design class, that she has actually added some wonderfully refined layers to her floral compositions, through trusting her deep-rooted intuition to create a new vision. I look forward to seeing what she is going to come up with next!”

flower bouquet on the green tint

We asked Julia a few questions about her time at ZE Flower Academy.

Was this your first time learning with Zita or have you attended a class before?
The hand tied bouquet two weeks prior to my Concept and Design class was my first time learning with Zita and the chance to visit her lovely shop. It was good to meet and work with the other students and see how all 5 of us had completely different styles of arrangements using emotions and very different colours, with Zita’s guidance.

Concept and Design was like no other class I had ever attended and I was totally absorbed and excited before I had even got to London, blotting out all that was going on in my life! I definitely benefited from being the only student and spread all my material pieces out. I had put much effort into what I would bring to help my mood board and was glad I did. I could not believe how the journey went from the beginning to my beautiful mood table using all the different props, it felt very calming too. Zita was calm but we were both very happy inside with what was progressing.


elegant dining set up decorated with flowers

There were many highlights. Having Zita’s experience and totally trusting her way of working was one of them as this was all new to me. The highlight too of how everything just evolved from the beginning of the first morning until the afternoon of the second day and looking at the table just trying to comprehend that it was ‘my’ mood table. Also with Zita’s help I had gone through my comfort zone of ‘designing’ and I did! I’ve never really known if I was creative or not but I sensed it was there and it’s a side of me that I wanted too, but I’ve often not done things because of fear, the fear of getting it wrong.


Did you have a special reason to choose this class?
I chose this class I as wanted to take the next step for my flower journey. I booked before I’d even attended the hand tied bouquet class as I just knew this was something special for me that I wanted to do and I was ready to go out of my comfort zone and try a different level with Zita. There was something about her work that resonated with me. I’m still coming to terms with the fact that I can create having grown up not believing I can, but the signs were always there!

dining table set up

Did you have a special reason to choose Zita as your teacher?
When I started flower classes near to me in Sussex last January (2019) my flower teacher Georgia Miles from The Sussex Flower School would often say to me that my way of working reminded her of Zita’s! Later in the year I started reading about Zita and I also purchased some arrangements to firstly nourish myself but secondly to physically see how the arrangements were made as I’m very visual and tactile and this is my best way of learning. When I booked the hand tied class I wanted to see the shop and hadn’t realised that Zita was taking the class – I was delighted, my goals for 2020 already stated!


What do you think taking the class has given you for the future?
Going forward, taking these classes has given me more confidence, permission to be myself and to have my own style and to keep working that way — it feels great, more liberating! Thank you Zita! I don’t need or want to be an expert just to be fully myself and see where my journey goes.

decoration details of flowers and illustration on a table

What are your future plans with flowers?
I have been attending several classes and different flower arranging days for the past year with Georgia at The Sussex Flower School, as I explore my way forwards. I also realise that I was fortunate I could attend these weekday classes as I was working reduced hours as I had an autoimmune illness (PMR polymyalgia rheumatica) and the flowers gave me something to look forward to as well as a sense of purpose and they took my mind off pain. I used to be a competitive amateur cyclist and spent much if my life keeping fit and racing and got to the top level for my age group briefly. The benefit of having this illness was that I had to stop cycling and if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have found and developed my passion for flowers – I had always been interested in gardening but not in the same way as creating with flowers.


My late mother was a renowned plantswoman in Sussex, my grandfather used to grow chrysanthemums for the old Covent Garden Market and I recently found out that my grandmother was a florist for a little while in Eastbourne, so something is in my blood! I used to work with tropical plants in London and in a garden centre in my 20s, (I’m now 56) and I’ve always been interested in colour and learnt colour analysis in my 30s. I never did anything with it as I wasn’t passionate enough about what other people wore nor for myself either, it was only about the colour and textures!

details of flower bouquets

I was in the last 3 years diagnosed with bipolar and ADHD which again makes sense now, and I spent all my energy doing sport and competing… I’ve now completely slowed down due to the medications. I’m not ashamed talking about my mental and physical health as I’m all for awareness of mental health and my flower friends can see that, having finally in my 50s slowed down and taken up flowers, this is my best therapy. I must add I did a week’s intensive course at Moyses Stevens when I was 22, but there was no way then that I had any confidence to have a business, as I felt I was supposed to, and so I didn’t.


Now I have a perfect opportunity to start a business but my mini break in London with Zita has made me realise that my flowers at home and what I was doing for others was turning into a job and not the passionate hobby that I want as I continue to learn, evolve and develop… I can see I need more time creating. My mother recently passed away and I have been given the opportunity to use much of her special large garden as a cutting garden. I have use of the family wood to forage too, I feel very lucky. I raised £700 at Christmas selling different flowers arrangements for the PMR/GCA UK charity. I have grown up with parents for whom it’s more about raising money for charities and my father topped 1 million pounds of fundraising last year, through 47 years doing his annual Arlington Bluebell Walk and helping over 72 local charities! I too sold jam jar posies there last year for one of the charities.


I’m starting a flower group, like a book club but for like-minded flower people which will be held on a farm unit that I have recently taken. I’ve had an open weekend to work out the way forwards as I only want small groups yet many have expressed an interest.

flowers decoration details

I will continue to do my many volunteer flowers and a few paid bouquets. I do like making wreaths and have run two classes but I’m not a natural teacher, my heart is not in teaching. I like to make for raffle prizes when asked. My heart has to be in something for me to move forwards. I’m starting shortly at an old people’s home where I can arrange flowers with one or two residents as I find all that rewarding.


I’ve had a year of experimenting with all the different flowers available and I can now see that I’m inclined to the more natural look! I think I can finally use less too! I would like to create my own woodland looks and use more from foraging. I have several log trunk bits and pieces drying… And I’d like to develop the dried and embroidery side. At the moment I’m not in the right place for a business and have only realised that this week but I feel privileged that many want to buy my arrangements however I’m not feeling like a business woman at the moment!


A year ago I was not in a very good place and so really I’m trying to take stock of it all, see just how far I’ve come which is amazing in a year but to still learn, create and have space to do so and I’m not ready for the next part as I still have to be in the moment enjoying my process of just being and doing without pressures! Unfortunately due to my medications by memory is currently poor for learning new names and I struggle to take in while reading, so everything for me is in the ‘doing’ and my whole flower set up with my unit, my little flower room at home, a fairly patient husband and all the sourcing and looking after of my plants and flowers, the creating is all round help for me. When I was young I looked after many small pets, then my children (now adult) and now I nurture my flowers and plants!


Did you give your mood table a name?
It was called ‘peeling away the layers’. I like the name and think I suggested it as peeling away my layers!


What did you bring as your inspiration?
The many objects that I brought from home to represent me made doing this project easier as they were all comforting and it was easy to choose them, just very hard to narrow down to a few! I had no idea what I was going to do and just ‘trusted in the process’. I particularly like small cute objects — and branches, moss, lichen and wood pieces! Including butterflies, the peacock butterfly especially. I didn’t have to use every object I brought and could see why I didn’t and it felt really good to not overfill 3 arrangements or the table which is my tendency. I like to be ‘protected’ and am thus drawn to using lots of flowers or certain collections of objects but I realise it’s to do with comfort and I don’t have to have them! Less is more… which is what I’m striving for now with my flower creations!

flower bouquets in rattan baskets on a wooden table

What colours did you choose?
Surprisingly there was much less colour for me than I normally use. Dark and light, but it was about the many different textures and soft blended colours and since it was about peeling away my layers, it was showing the light and the dark side too.


What mood were you looking to create?
The mood was where I am at the moment and I’m still learning about myself and evolving. Much of the table material I brought came from when I was younger and in the last 2 years I’ve moved back to my roots from Kent to Sussex where I feel more grounded. But there have been so many adjustments and losses and I’m still seeking that space which I will get from my flowers and from working alone in my unit, once as all my materials are not crammed into our little house and garden and I can ‘see’.


What flowers did you select for your project?
A beautiful matt black hellebore, berried hedera, oxypetalum, clematis – a lilac one and clematis Kibo for its soft fluffy seed head (which was also my ‘queen flower’ when I did the hand tied bouquet), also dried plant materials.


See more of Julia’s Concept and Design project below and other designs on her Instagram page.


Photography © Fiona Caroline