Winter is here finally. I’m waiting on a pot of coffee after tramping across miles of white, glittering countryside, my cheeks and fingertips burning over the stove. Aside from proposals and the odd delivery, January and February are our quietest time and I’m luxuriating in long walks almost every day. I love walking alone. Until now it was warm and wet; I quickly bored of my few road circuits - the fields were too sodden and marshy to schlep through without losing a welly. Now the ground is deep-frozen, the roads a hard slick of silvery black, layered with patterned ice. I crunch along through wonderland, my breath steaming around me. The world has changed colour overnight, the horizon lines are smoky, a misty mauve pervades the edge of my vision. It is hard to tell what time of day it is - mid morning looks like dusk. Pools of ice-bound flood water creak in the sunlight; the blossom that came too early shimmers, petrified on the branch. After an hour or so of walking, I have circumnavigated the wood and am back at the gate at the bottom of the garden. I’m reluctant to come indoors again, it is so exquisite out.
Last night, late, unable to sleep, I stood outside on the drive staring up at the stars in the dark, the three-quarter moon, icicles on the lip of the roof, a row of glinting glass weapons strung like fairy-lights. I remembered a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale that my mother used to read to us as children. The Snow Queen. Fragments of it came back to me as I stood there shivering in my insufficient jacket tugged on over pyjamas - the broken mirror, the shards of splintered glass entering Kai’s eyes and heart, the Snow Queen’s numbing kiss, sleigh rides through the lands of the permafrost. I remembered being mesmerized and terrified by this story, cuddling close to Mum as she read and trying not to think about what might lurk outside in the shadowy, icy world beyond the shuttered window, the silver river snaking its way through the valley in the dark.
This weekend we were in Hampshire planting roses. We've taken over a section of land there where we are experimenting growing our own flowers. A great deal of digging took place, forking, raking, manure spreading, soil-rotavating by means of an ancient but efficient tractor. We measured spaces for our beds where our annuals will be planted out later in the spring. To one side, a rare indigenous wild orchid was found and protected by encircling logs; a talisman of sorts. A rabbit-proof fence was dug in around the enclosure, robins grew fat on an abundance of unearthed worms. We crossed multiple thresholds of physical pain over those two days, I can tell you. My wrists still ache from the reverberation of spade tip on flint.
A while ago we began researching how and what we could grow ourselves to supplement what we buy from the flower market and Dutch wholesalers. While we buy flowers from local, independent suppliers when it is possible (to our increasing frustration this is often not the case), source fruiting branches from surrounding farms, and forage a lot of our own foliage throughout the year, we couldn’t ignore the vast gulf in pure aesthetic beauty between what we were discovering we could grow, and what is available to buy. I would liken it to a supermarket ready-meal, compared to a dish of garden-grown and locally reared ingredients cooked from scratch. We can’t buy the flowers we crave to use, quite simply, and this summer is a small-scale experiment to see whether we can cultivate them ourselves, whether we enjoy growing as much as we do arranging. If we do, and if we manage not to kill everything in the process, the possibilities are endless; it changes our business model significantly.
Our dream - which must be suspended in the mind’s eye on days like Sunday, when all around was a quagmire of mud and horse shit - is to furnish our London studio with provisions that are freshly cut from the countryside, to unload bucket-load by bucket-load of wild, unusual, half-forgotten blooms back in the city. I have a particular daydream (one of many but a favourite to revisit and revise according to day/mood/circumstance) of a foggy English dawn in early summer. Jesse and I in the cab of the Land Rover on the M3, windows down, arms (brown and farm-labourer-toned) resting casually on the lowered window glass, designer lattes in hand, aviators on, bare feet, Eurythmics on the stereo (poss. needs editing as engine noise somewhat prohibitive to hearing music over 50mph), wind in our hair (loose and silky, rather than ratty and leaf-clogged). In the back of the truck a sorbet-coloured assortment of fluttering blooms eagerly anticipating arrangement for sleek glass coffee-tables in sleek glass offices, or the hallways of elegant townhouses.
Every ambition starts with the embellishment of the original kernel, a castle in the air. If I've learned anything it’s to remain a dreamer, to beat skepticism with romanticism. I do believe that one has to make fantasy reality. Brick by brick, seed by seed. If you dream hard enough, you’ll slave hard enough, and persuade others to join you, and hopefully make beauty that people will enjoy, and things will come of that. All the details can be refined along the way.
A few years ago working with flowers was just a vague, whimsical dream for me. A dream among others both more and less obtainable, no more prominent perhaps than being a journalist or an English teacher, certainly no more considered. Flowers were one of the prettier, more indulgent what ifs. Through persistent embellishment somehow that dream has evolved to where I am now, freshly back from a winter’s walk, working with my tenacious, talented sister, writing proposals for brides not because they are friends of friends anymore but because they’ve seen our flowers and want them. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, how we are always so impatient to move on to the next thing and rarely stop to look back over the ground we’ve covered. In the last year our small family unit has been consumed by flowers. They have become our life and this has evolved to our extended family and I have a strong suspicion it will keep growing exponentially from there. Blind optimism endorses my confidence that this will, over time, swell and spread from one acre to another, one dream to another, a greenhouse, a polytunnel, a bigger studio where we will actually have space for all our vases and candles and ribbons.
But for now, we have roses in the ground. And there's coffee with my name on it.