Michael Goulding: Flower arranger who served the Queen and nine prime ministers


Click to follow
The Independent Online

Michael Goulding was a flower arranger to royalty and to nine successive Prime Ministers and their wives, from Macmillan to Major. They were all interested in flowers: Alec Douglas-Home used to rearrange Goulding's flowers when he left the room; Dorothy Macmillan would bring flowers from Birch Grove for Goulding to arrange – when he got them they were often dead. Margaret Thatcher took a great interest in his flowers, and put his name forward for a Queen's Birthday Honours award.

After completing his National Service, Michael Francis Goulding worked at Turnford Nurseries for his good friend Thomas Rochford, whose advice he followed by attending Writtle College to study horticulture. Harold Piercy, his tutor, recognised his natural ability for flower arranging and it was there he first met the royal florist Sheila McQueen when she was judging the arrangements. It was a friendship that lasted the rest of her life.

From Writtle Goulding went to the Constance Spry Flower School in London, leading to another lifelong friendship, with Fred Wilkinson. He then worked for Pulbrook and Gould in Sloane Square for a couple of years before starting up on his own with a friend.

One of his finest achievements was his floral display at Westminster Cathedral for the Jubilee celebrations in 1977; some of the arrangements were 8ft tall and 4ft wide. Goulding's last assignment was to decorate the Queen's private rooms at Windsor Castle for the celebrations of the Queen Mother's 100th birthday.

Goulding judged for over 40 years at The Chelsea Flower Show, The RHS shows in London, and The Hampton Court Show. Over 40 years he decorated many royal palaces, stately homes and cathedrals – to name a few, Woburn Abbey, Blenheim Palace, Lancaster House, York Minster, St James Palace, Lloyds of London, Mansion House banquets; the Tower of London was once closed for three days while Goulding decorated the Crown Jewels display for a government summit meeting.

He was born in Hampstead in 1933, the youngest of three boys. At the beginning of the war they were evacuated to Halstead – it was not a happy time and they were soon back home, in Wood Green, north London. There they spent the war playing on bomb sites and watching the Battle of Britain in the skies over London. He attended the Lordship School and left at 14 to work as a messenger for a stockbroker in Threadneedle Street.

From 1954 Goulding lived with his partner, Stuart Hamilton, at their beloved home, Hipkins, in Broxbourne and created a renowned garden which was visited and admired by many people from around the world. He opened his garden at Hipkins for 40 years for the National Garden Scheme, raising more money than any other Hertfordshire garden.

He was awarded the OBE in 1990 and published his book Flower Arranging. After Stuart's death he met Michael Coates, and they became civil partners. They moved in September 1999 to Broxted in Essex and work started on another large garden – 10 acres, and more open days in aid of the National Garden Scheme followed by several fundraising floral displays.

He was a generous supporter of many charities: SSAFA (Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association) luncheons at the Savoy, the Royal British Legion, the Essex Air Ambulance, the Isabel Hospice in Hertfordshire, the Hertfordshire Garden Trust, the Woodland Trust, Stop Stansted Expansion and the Friends of the Five Parishes. He was chairman of the latter, which has given over £80,000 for maintenance work in the group of four churches of the Five Parishes, and he served on the Broxted Church Committee.

Goulding was very proud of his devoted Scottish deerhounds. From his early days as a choirboy his faith in God was strong and secure, which helped to sustain him in later life. He will be remembered for his warmth, humour, joy of life and generosity.

Michael Coates

Michal Francis Goulding, flower arranger: born 25 February 1933; OBE 1990; civil partnership with Michael Coates; died 19 August 2013.