Official dinners. How it works: flowers

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Claes Carlsson in the flower room at the Royal Palace of Stockholm. Photo: The Royal Court

The scene is the flower room behind the Banqueting Rooms. Royal Housekeeper Ebba von Mecklenburg and Royal Footman and florist Claes Carlsson make the arrangements before the official dinner.
The room is right next to the Royal Palace of Stockholm's Grand Banqueting Rooms. This was once King Oscar II's bathroom, and the bath tub was only taken away a few years ago. "We used to soak oases there, but there was a flood before a State Visit and so the room was rearranged," explains Claes. The room contains workbenches, flower coolers, vases, pitchers and everything that might be needed when preparing for big events. The first event that Ebba and Claes dealt with together was the millennium celebrations. Since then, they have worked closely together as a team.
 
It's just after seven o'clock in the morning a few days before the official dinner. The flowers are bought at Årsta Market, where Stockholm's flower wholesales are based. Ebba and Claes quickly cast their trained eyes over the various flowers. "We always play things by ear a little. We buy whatever looks best at that particular time of the year. For this dinner we know that we want tulips as they're very spring-like and are actually a little early for the season. The guests should think 'Wow, a taster of spring!' We're all getting a bit tired of winter now," says Claes as he gazes out at the snow outside the market hall. The spring flowers displayed on the stands include white lilacs, crowfoots and roses in various light shades.
 
The second stop in Årsta is to buy pot plants. The question of whether to go for pink or blue hydrangeas is quickly settled, as is the matter of which flowers should be displayed in the east upper stairs, where the guests enter the Vita Havet Assembly Rooms to greet the Royal Family before dinner. The stairs outside Princess Sibylla's Apartments will be decorated with crocuses. The Bernadotte Apartments will feature tulips. And the Vita Havet Assembly Rooms? "The Vita Havet Assembly Rooms are the most satisfying rooms in the Palace to create flower arrangements for. They're light and airy. It should feel like coming home to someone. There should be a certain atmosphere there. Not too formal. The rooms should feel welcoming, despite the grand décor. We really want the guests to feel that," says Ebba. Claes continues: "Some people might expect these dinners to be stuffy affairs, but they're not. And the same should be true of the flowers. They shouldn't be too pretentious. For most people this is the first and only time they are guests at the Royal Palace, and it should be a memory to last a lifetime."
 
Back at the Royal Palace of Stockholm, the hard work of carrying all the flowers up to the flower room begins. "There are no short cuts," insists Claes. "Every flower must be checked, stripped and cut. Some flowers are fine as they are, and can go in the cooler. Others need to open up, so they're stood out." One day before the dinner, the huge task of arranging and setting out all the flowers begins. "We start with the pot plants, and then set out the larger arrangements. On the actual day of the dinner, we set the large table in Karl XI's Gallery. It'll all be ready just a few hours before the guests arrive," says Ebba.