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The Evening Class;Mind and body

Floral art

Students arrive clutching flowers, twigs, foliage and assorted containers. An hour later these are transformed into sublime displays of the kind only seen at the most exclusive social events. Or in the homes of floral artists.

Floral art is as different from arranging flowers in a vase as painting a picture is from painting a wall. Tutor Sheila Bishop calls it "exploring your creativity using natural materials". Anyone can learn the basics, she says, as long as they love flowers and have an interest in design.

Since she teaches three levels in the same class, each group is doing something different. The beginners are creating a "spring landscape", the second-years are responding to a design challenge involving very tall plant materials in curves and straight lines, while a third-year student is designing table decorations for her son's wedding.

Each term's work is structured around what is seasonally available. The autumn term makes the most of foliage, the January term looks at the creative possibilities of twigs and accessories, and the summer term explores the texture, form and colour of flowers.

The students work intently on their own creations while Sheila moves among them, suggesting a clumpy bit here, a touch of red there, or a subtle adjustment to suggest the infinity of a natural landscape. At the end, each arrangement is discussed, photographed and written up in the student's log book so it can be recreated at any time.

As a top floral artist who competes in international shows, Sheila feels the medium offers unlimited creative opportunities. "You can take it as far as you want, although most people who come here simply want to learn how to make beautiful presents or create something lovely out of flowers they are given."

"I came because I wanted something for me," says Elizabeth Zimmer, mother of two young sons. "I love flowers and this gives me time on my own to not think about anything and just be creative."

Nicki Household

The class takes place at Hogarth Adult Education Centre, Chiswick, London W4

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