Winter has come, 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 a quiet time for us 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. I see no-one. The world has changed colour overnight, the horizon lines are smoky, a misty mauve pervades around the peripheral 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, a cruel joke frozen in time.
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, but emails are waiting to be answered, calls to be made.
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 that entered 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 the warmth of Mum 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. Then I came inside and climbed back up to my soft white bed, watched this beautiful, hilarious short film Flower Piece from 1945, and slept a deep, dreamless sleep until dawn.
This weekend we were in Hampshire planting our roses on Ben's family farm. Ben is Jesse's partner and we have, to our excitement, taken over a section of land to experiment with 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. Ben dug in a rabbit-proof fence 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.
We’ve crossed a line lately with AESME, and it feels official somehow, like there’s no turning back now. 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 poo) 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 and unleash them onto the city.
I have a particular daydream (one of many but a favourite to revisit and edit 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 M4, windows down, arms (brown and farm-labourer-toned) resting casually, coolly on the lowered window glass, designer soya-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 (which, because this is a sustaining daydream, is 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 in the sexiest of vessels for sleek glass coffee-tables in sleek glass offices, or in the hallways of elegant townhouses.
Well, every flinty ambition starts with the embellishment of a kernel, does it not? A castle in the air. If this strange old life has taught me anything, it’s fight to remain a dreamer, to ruthlessly batter skepticism to death with romanticism. That’s probably my life motto. I still live in blind optimism, 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 sell some stuff along the way, and things will come of that. Perhaps the details will be edited on the way there; certainly there’ll be more stumbling blocks spring up than anticipated.
A few years ago working with flowers was just a vague, whimsical dream. 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, attending to my emails as the co-owner of a floral design business. 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 the candles and ribbons and antiques we have acquired this year.
But for now, we have roses in the ground.
And there's coffee with my name on it.