The shadows are lengthening already, the nights are drawing in, and I am just finding the time to reflect on a dizzying summer. Last week we took some time out, closed the studio for a few days. My husband and I retreated to Wales to a little cottage on the side of a steep hill overlooking the Irfon. At night I sat on the doorstep and watched the clouds puddle and glow with the sinking sun behind them - such vast skies, and the blue line of the Cambrian mountains ahead. I was feeling pretty burnt-out, the kind of tiredness that sleep alone doesn't remedy. Sometimes you need a horizon to fix on, a deep well of a view, strong weather. The darkness in that part of Wales is unlike anywhere else. It takes me a while to get used to it after London where it is never dark - I'd wake in the middle of the night and feel frightened by it, that coal-blackness and drenching silence, bewilderingly lonely when you're used to the constant flickers and din of the city.
We lived very simply, drove to town for supplies, took the dog for long walks, took time over cooking supper, lit a fire each night. We drove west into Pembrokeshire and spent a couple of days revisiting the beaches of Ed's childhood. Late September there was nobody there but us - we went from cove to cove, village to village, Solva, St David's, Porthselau, Porthgain. It was nostalgic for both of us - I spent summers as a child in Cornwall and the coastline, once joined, has that same dramatic, haunting beauty. There is something so fundamentally healing about standing in the lashing rain and wind, running into it with the jagged cliffs looming above you, the wind snatching words and laughter from your mouth. We ate a lot of fresh fish, gave the puppy her first induction to the shallows, weaving in and out of the water, running away from the frothy waves breaking on the beach. Before we came back we had a last walk on the beach at Newport - drove right down onto the beach and walked headlong into the wind towards the mouth of the Nevern river, little clusters of white flowers scattered here and there among the dunes. Before we loaded back into the sandy car full of wet clothes and books and muddy boots I stood for ten minutes in the buffeting wind, my clothes and hair flailing around me. There's an expression, blowing the cobwebs away, perhaps that was it. When we left London I'd felt heavy with tiredness, creatively drained; that week of stormy weather cleared the air, unclouded my head.
I've missed writing the blog, keeping a little trickle of the work we are doing each week documented somewhere. But this summer there haven't been enough hours in the day for so many things and I've had to prioritise my time elsewhere temporarily. To get the studio up and running has taken herculean effort but it is nearing completion and we are so proud of what we have created there. To have a workshop kitted out for creating event flowers, the space to host workshops and pop-ups, a creative hub for everything we have been imagining the last two or three years is, well I still have to pinch myself. Last night I was looking back through blurry iPhone snaps of the space when we took it over, a cave of rubble and dirt that had been derelict for over a decade. I'm very sentimental about places, superstitious even, and this space, from the beginning, had a whispering sense of promise about it, a dull gem in the dust that required a large leap of faith and a great deal of spit and polish. Arriving early morning, pulling back the doors, making a pot of coffee, watching the light pool among the plants and flowers, its magic hour.
The garden kept on giving all summer, drip-feeding us with bi-weekly deliveries of exquisite flowers, herbs and vegetables. Its the greatest gift, unloading a vanful of the flowers we have sown and nurtured, using them to inform our designs. I've always felt that the ingredients were key but its really becoming an entire way of life for us now - taking inspiration from the garden, seeing how plants grow and change and are affected by the elements around them. We've expanded our plot yearly and are slowly learning, by trial and error, what works and what doesn't, how to successionally plant so that we have more productive crops, the varieties we love that become mainstays in our arrangements for that particular season, those we don't like enough to grow again. Jess has championed the growing side of Aesme and I'm often in awe at the energy she has for getting to grips with the planning and design of the garden, having no experience whatever of gardening before the last couple of years. It makes me so happy to see her in her element, planting bulbs, clearing overgrowth - for such a small girl she is surprisingly strong, and there's a great deal of grit that underlies the seemingly effortless way she has lead this project and pushed it forward. The materials we bring up from the garden have been the crux in developing a style of arranging that we not only love in a practical sense, but that we feel is truly representative of our ethos and our way of thinking about flowers. Provenance is key and cultivating our own plants on our own soil gives us a holistic connection to the materials that is irreplacable; using flowers as an artistic expression, creating arrangements that will make people feel happy, revived, calm, loved and that are aesthetically beautiful for us must begin with where they come from - it has to begin in the garden. And a summer garden overflowing with foxgloves and sweetpeas and roses, humming with bees is a good place to start for inspiration.
I realised, being away - Pembrokeshire clearly the right climate for profound revelations! - how ambitious Jess and I have become in the last year with what we want to achieve at Aesme. This surprises me, in a way, not having ever been a particularly ambitious person before. Its a blessing and a curse, ambition, I think. It drives you, morning after morning to get up and keep hustling, even after disappointments, even when you are tired and creativity or motivation is waning. But it also makes you impatient, it makes you restless to move on to the next thing, it makes you hyper critical about what you've already achieved - oh that's nothing, compared to what will be. You struggle on, and that fuels the burn-out I felt in the weeks before we went away. Sometimes you need to stop, and look back over the ground you've covered. People tell you starting a business is hard, there are the platitudes you're told and focus on - it takes three years to build a successful business, five years whatever. Sometimes people tell me their start-up plans flippantly, something they've decided to do on a whim - oh I think I might just do this - and I think you have no idea, you have no clue how hard it is going to be to create what you're talking about. But we didn't either at the beginning, and you've got to start somewhere, you have to start by grafting, that's the only way, and then you have to stick at it, that's the hard part. Dad uses a german expression sometimes klein aber mein, small but mine. I like the grounding simplicity of that.
We've hosted some wonderful, talented souls for 1:1 classes at the studio this summer. Boys and girls from Seoul, Detroit and Sydney as well as closer to home. Until now I think we've both felt perhaps unqualified to hold classes except collaborative sessions with other beginners - what qualifies you to teach? A certain quantity of weddings or years of experience? Neither Jess nor I are trained teachers and we are both self taught rather than traditionally trained so we've been flattered and encouraged to have been visited by other florists at the beginning of their careers but some also with many years of experience. In each case it has been a creative and collaborative experience - a way of sharing our approach to design, the practical techniques we have developed for growing and arranging flowers and some of the experiences we've had along our journey so far. We've been carefully planning a programme of seasonal classes and workshops for spring and summer 2018 (dates and tickets will be available on the website in the next couple of weeks). We're super excited about these already and all the beautiful swag we are growing for our students to arrange with.
In the weeks since my last post there have been weddings and workshops and photoshoots and I've had neither the time nor the headspace to write about them, or even reflect on them individually until now. When I look back on the summer of 2017 I will surely remember it as the season I fell in love with bouquets - something that at one point I dreaded above every other element of wedding flowers. We made bouquets for so many beautiful brides this summer and it was often frustrating, but somewhere along the line I slipped into enjoying the challenge and pressure of it, interpreting our clients' wishes, working with different materials, and different combinations of materials, experimenting with shape and depth and angles. Loose, blowsy bouquets, asymmetric bouquets, low and wide - every one is an individual tussle. These were a few of our favourites.
We've been blessed to have the dreamy Camille working with us since the beginning of the summer. In a small business it can be hard to grow and in a family business primarily run by two siblings - excluding occasional amazing freelance support - even harder to find someone who is the right fit in what must be a fairly peculiar working dynamic for someone coming in from outside. Camille came on board at the critical point when we could no longer manage with just the two of us and has not only been an incredible support and brilliantly conscientious assistant, but has also quietly, seamlessly become an indispensable part of the team we're slowly building at Aesme. We're grateful for her unique glamour and cheering smiles every day she's with us.