Are you supposed to catch the bouquet - or make soup with it?

Fashionable brides carry cabbages up the aisle, reports Clare Garner
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The Independent Online
You've said it with flowers. Now how about veg? Today, the last word in bouquets is cabbage.

Along with artichokes, chilli peppers and tomatoes, the vegetable long associated with being pushed to the side of the plate is now rubbing shoulders with roses in brides' bouquets.

Vegetables - beautiful ornamental vegetables to be sure, but vegetables none the less - are the latest thing at the florist's.

Enter Harper & Tom's, florist to metropolitan trendies in London's Notting Hill, and you are likely to find a cabbage among the lilies, chilli peppers peeking from a bunch of bougainvillea, or tomatoes interspersed with anemones and narcissi.

When the proprietor, Tom Harper-Vach, talks about a "work of art", you can be sure he is talking about a Savoy cabbage - or a Brassica oleracea bullata.

Customers rarely request veg - few know of their availability - but, once told, they're sold on the idea. Last month, the daughter of David Gilmore, of Pink Floyd fame, chose cabbages for her bridesmaids' bouquets.

"Cabbages of course can have a little drawback, between you and me," confided Mr Harper-Vach. "If you keep them for any length of time they can develop something of a pong."

Planet Organic, the organic food chain, started stocking stems of chilli peppers (not organic) two months ago. "They are flying out," said a spokesman. "We're really surprised. You put them in an arrangements of flowers and they almost look like a flower. Very aesthetically pleasing."

Paula Pryke, who has a flower shop in Islington, north London, and has written a book called Flower Innovations, says she can be "far more inspired" by a trip to the fruit and veg market than the flower market.

Ms Pryke is no stranger to vegetables but admits that stemmed cabbages are a new departure. "Ornamental cabbages have been in circulation in the flower world for eight to 10 years but only in the last year have they actually been grown on stems."

Ornamental cabbages don't come cheap - despite the fact that there is no VAT on fruit and vegetables. The average price of a Longi lily is pounds 2, while a decorative cabbage is nearer pounds 3. "You can get a very elegant flower for the price of a cabbage," said Mr Harper-Vach.

Decorative veg works out much more expensive than its edible counterpart, too. "If you have peppers on a stem they are much more expensive, simply because of the weight ratio. Often they're flown in from Italy so they cost a lot more. A stem of medium-sized peppers costs pounds 7.50-pounds 9 retail and you'd maybe get a dozen peppers. It's crazy, isn't it?"

Some customers try to have their veg and eat it. "We often get asked, `Can, you eat these?' The answer must invariably be, `If you must; it will turn out to be an expensive meal'."

He revealed a few of his customers' preferences. "I think we've done some vegetables for John Cleese," he said. "I'm sure. Cabbages."

Mr Harper-Vach is the first to admit that vegetable bouquets don't suit everybody's tastes. Chelsea and Fulham residents wouldn't go near an ornamental cabbage, he says.

Neither, it seems, would people in the City of London. Longmans the Florists, the century- old family firm based in the City, has supplied the bouquets for most royal wedding. Tom Gough, one of the company's directors and chairman of the craft committee of the Worshipful Company of Gardeners, said he had never had a request for a cabbage bouquet. "Oh my goodness. Not from Longmans," he said.

However, the man whose grandfather founded Interflora did once stretch to a wedding bouquet of alium (onion) flowers for a punk bride. "They ponged terribly, but she loved it," Mr Longman said. "I don't know whether she had a ring through her nose."

He does leeks on St David's Day and a good line in herb posies, but on the whole he is leaving the "trendy", "wacky" end of the market to others.

Four official bodies and the National Trust will tomorrow implicitly rebuke Prince Philip by launching a bid to save Britain's veteran trees.

The launch will pointedly be held in Windsor Great Park - where the Prince last year ordered the felling of 250-year-old oaks. The move comes from virtually the entire English conservation establishment, including English Nature and the Countryside Commission (the Government's official wildlife and countryside watchdogs), the Forestry Commission and English Heritage. They are joined by the Corporation of London and the Ancient Tree Forum as well as the National Trust.

English Nature says that Britain has more veteran trees than anywhere else in northern Europe and some of the oaks in Windsor Great Park date from before the Norman conquests.

"Veteran trees are part of our history and culture," it says. "They provide a sense of continuity in an ever-changing world and their extraordinary character and attractiveness catch the imagination."