Meet The Expert - Florist Willow Crossley and I create a magical Christmas table

As Christmas draws ever closer one of my highlights of the season is putting together a beautifully decorated table. I’ve relished the task of styling them for Minford readers and hopefully bringing a fresh jolt of inspiration into your home.
This year, I wanted to do something a bit different and dreamt up a sumptuous Russian fairytale meets War & Peace style table. I decided to depart from my usual minimalism and embrace the other side of my styling personality (you know, the one who feels perfectly at home in an eclectic country pile surrounded by mismatched china and oil paintings), so you’ve got everything here from crowns, military inspired crackers and even a fairy ship. And, to help me with that extra opulent flourish, I’ve called in the help of the brilliant Willow Crossley.

Willow is a florist who specialises in the romantic and the whimsical, creating arrangements for weddings and fashion events along with the flowers for a certain Duchess of Sussex’s recent book launch.  She’s also an author herself having penned books about craft and floristry.

I made the journey recently into the Oxford countryside to Willow’s home where we set to work on the festive table and I sat down to chat with her about her life, career and top expert tips.

Tell me about how your career began…

I went to London School of Fashion for three years and did fashion journalism and styling. 
And then I met my now husband and I followed him to the south of France and we moved to a vineyard in the middle of nowhere, just outside of St Tropez. I had nothing to do as I had quit my job as I had spent a lot of time in fashion cupboards of magazines and getting nowhere.
I am obsessed with fabrics and little bits so I used to collect them and pile them higher and higher until I thought, you’ve got to do something with them. So I started covering notebooks and diaries and trimming baskets with fabrics and pompoms and selling them for ridiculous amounts of money on the beaches of St Tropez. At the same time I was writing a blog about my life down there and the move and not really knowing anyone. 

I was 23 when I moved there and then I got pregnant with my oldest. It got quite lonely having him and having no friends out there so we moved back to London.

How did that lead into floristry?

I was writing my blog and got an agent through writing it. I wrote my first book which was all craft and then they commissioned another one which was about interiors. I love interiors and it was all about decorating with nature – shells, dried stuff, fruit and vegetables – all that kind of thing. When I was doing a flower chapter I loved it so much. It sounds so naff but I had a eureka moment. I had two small children and I was also doing a bit of styling and personal shopping and I was spreading myself too thin and stopped everything to focus on flowers. Since then I have written a book focused purely on flowers called Flourish.

For our table today what flowers have you chosen to decorate it with?
Individual stems of  Mistral Tigre anemone in my new favourite gold pomegranate vases from Nina Campbell. I am obsessed with these and thought they were so Christmassy. I’ve taken off the green frilly collars for them to be more statement. 

I paired these with crab apples which I scattered down the table along with sweet chesnuts sprayed gold. The finishing touch are some oyster shells which I was given on the beach the other day which I have also sprayed gold.

What are you top tips for decorating a Christmas table?

First things first is masses of candles then with the flowers I tend to do a lot of one style. I might stick to ranunculus, anemones and parrot tulips. 

I am obsessed with spraying things gold – if anything gets in my way I spray it gold! Kit my smallest got into my studio and sprayed all my vases without me seeing so I’ve got a lot of gold. I am also obsessed with all that, potentially quite dodgy, coloured gypsophila and asparagus fern. I am quite into gold gyp you can either spray it yourself or buy it pre-sprayed which is nice because then the stems are sprayed and that is essential. I don’t like mixing it though.

For this table my top tip is about flower care. The anemones get quite thirsty but can also go quite soggy so you want to watch the water level. You don’t want to drench them. You want a little bit of water at the bottom of the vase and then check them fairly regularly. Tulips are also so thirsty so always check on them daily. If you’re inside they droop overnight so if you want to make them stand up straight then chuck in a copper coin.

Other lovely things to use on a table are red currants, plums, cherries in little bowls. I like fir cones sprayed and pomegranates and hazelnuts. If you want to buy the spray go for a metallic gold – I don’t like antique gold, its a bit dull and you need the brilliance of a metallic.

What three pieces for your table would like for Christmas this year? 
I’d love some splatter plates from Not Another Bill and also some napkins from Summerill and Bishop. I’ve also fallen in love with the star tumblers from The Vintage List that you’ve brought up for this shoot so I’d love those please!


Get the look

The Vintage List set of 6 wine ‘oval’ glasses, £72 and set of 6 ‘star’ tumblers, £63

Plain red crackers (sadly now sold out) with bows made with VV Rouleaux double sided velvet ribbon, £2.95 per m and antique gold metal cord, 95p per m

Nina Campbell ceramic gold pommegranate vase, from £10

Crouch End Calligraphy place name cards, 95p each

Walther & Co gold crowns, £19 

Conran Shop slate blue linen napkins, £12.50 each

H&M Tall candlestick, £12.99

Polar Post paper fairy ship, £24

The table cloth is vintage but you can find something similar here

The plates, cutlery and votives are my own vintage stash.


Photography by Sarah Maingot

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Sheila Westgate

This is very different from last year’s which I loved and still do. I liked very much, the Nina Campbell pomegranate vases – I too take the paintbrush to this and that for a bit more gold!!
For me this would be very much a one off but I do feel the Russian/War & Peace style comes through very well.