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Festive spirit: How to make a bento-box arrangement

Candice Westgate switched a career in big business for So Blooming Beautiful, her own floristry business. As she demonstrates how to make her signature bento-box arrangement - ideal for a Christmas table centre - she tells Alice Ryan why she has no regrets

When Candice Westgate went to see a career coach, after 15 years in international sales, she was in for a surprise: "They discovered the most important thing for me was to be creative, which wasn’t at all what I expected. But it made me think again about what I wanted to do. . ."

Originally from Brazil, Candice, an only daughter, was raised with a corporate life in mind; business school was followed by a masters, then a series of high-flying jobs which culminated in a Government role. Yet when she met and married an Englishman, settling in Cambridge six years ago, the time felt right to make a change.

Portrait of Candice - use like byline shot (19370535)
Portrait of Candice - use like byline shot (19370535)

Encouraged by her mother-in-law, who recognised her passion for plants and gardens, Candice took first a voluntary job and then a duty manager’s position at Audley End. Loving the gardens at the stately home, she started training in horticulture - until a festive wreath-making workshop led to a light-bulb moment.

Finished - end of step five (19369755)
Finished - end of step five (19369755)

"I just knew this was what I was supposed to be doing: working with flowers," Candice explains. A course at Cambridge Flower School followed, and then, three years ago, So Blooming Beautiful, her own business, was born.

Candice says every arrangement - no two are ever identical, as all are bespoke - is created "with emotion". If it’s a gift for an individual, she explains, "I like to know what kind of person they are: are they relaxed or more formal, what colours do they like?"

If she’s arranging for a corporate or event, it’s the ethos of the enterprise and the decor of the venue that inform her creative decisions. A highlight, for example, was decorating the stage for Cambridge’s Rising Festival, an annual event which aims to empower women in every area of their life: the result was a wave of flowers, flowing from stage to audience, inspired by the wisdom flowing from the speakers to the listeners.

Living a more creative life has, as the coach promised, brought Candice both professional success and personal joy. Describing her work as "painting with flowers", she says: "This is what I’m meant to be doing. I love it."

Inspired by the Japanese bento box, famous for its neat and colourful presentation, Candice says this project is both beginner-friendly and never fails to deliver stunning results. Equally lovely from every angle, it’s ideal for a festive table centre or Christmas hostess gift.

You will need:

Shallow wooden box, 25cm square

Sheet of cellophane or a plastic bag

Block of biodegradable floristry foam

Knife and scissors

Eight stems of red berries

Eight stems of white phlox

One potted white orchid, with three to four sprays of flowers

Three lengths of wide grass

Two lengths of fine grass

Step One

Step one(19370975)
Step one(19370975)

Firstly line your box with the cellophane or plastic bag, to prevent water leakage in due course, trimming away any excess with scissors.

Soak your foam by sitting it on the surface of a sinkful of water and letting it drop of its own accord; forcing it under water can cause air bubbles - pockets of dry foam - to form.

Once soaked, use your knife to split the block in half horizontally long-ways, and lay the two halves side by side in the bottom of your box. You’re now ready to start arranging.

Step Two

Step two (19370213)
Step two (19370213)

Starting with your white phlox, trim each stem to 10-12cm in length - long enough that the flowers will sit above the edge of the box, once the stems are set into the foam. It’s wise to cut all the stems on an angle, as they’ll be easier to push in. Place a row of phlox along two opposing sides of the box.

Step Three

Step three (19371024)
Step three (19371024)

Repeat the process with your stems of berries. You can buy these from a florist, or simply forage berries from the garden or hedgerow - rosehips, plentiful at this time of year, would, says Candice, work well. Create a row of berries inside each row of phlox.

Step Four

Step four (19370086)
Step four (19370086)

Carefully snip the flower sprays from your potted orchid. You are going to fill the middle of the box with orchids, creating a focal point. Pushing the stems into the foam at an angle, close to the outer edges of the box, let them follow their natural arc. Set one or two sprays on each side, so they cross over in the centre.

Step Five

Step five (19369947)
Step five (19369947)

Finally use the grasses to create an arch over your orchids. Take your first grass and trim one end, again on a nice sharp angle, and push it into the foam at one corner of the orchid area of your arrangement. Guide the grass over the orchids and work out where you want to set the other end, so it's arching over the orchids on a diagonal, cutting it to length accordingly. Interspersing wide and narrow, and setting them at varying heights, position all your grasses so they ‘flow’ in the same direction. Your display is now complete!

Candice will be selling bespoke bento arrangements for Christmas, priced from £45 for the larger size, pictured here, and from £30 for a smaller version. To find out more about her services, visit sobloomingbeautiful.co.uk, email contact@sobloomingbeautiful.co.uk or call (01223) 967708.

Photography by Lucy Furini - see lucyfurini.com

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