It has been a very warm spring so far in England; the tulips are here early. Last weekend I sat in Bushy Park watching the deer; it was 24 degrees in the sun. The cutting garden, which last year was reasonably bleak until May, is a riot of colour. Spring, as Virginia Woolf famously said, is a season you enjoy more as you get older. That is certainly true for me - I never cared for it much before, always in a rush for summer, infatuated by smouldering autumn. Working with flowers has forever changed that for me, the intricately-flowered blossoming branches, the spiraea, the fritillaria; I'm a fully fledged spring convert nowadays. Two weeks ago, beyond my bedroom window, the apple tree exploded into bloom, the colour of ballet slippers. On the street people would stop and stare, reach their arms up, twirling their wrists around in the fluttering petals. Now it is gone, blown away and fallen, and instead the crab apple on the drive has taken up the baton, even closer - if I pull back the shutters I can almost reach it - dark magenta flowers against a beautiful copper leaf.
We took armloads of branches with us down to Wiltshire a couple of weeks ago, for a class at Marte Marie Forsberg’s spring retreat at Ashley Wood Farm, not far from where we grew up. Apple blossom, wild plum, rangy forsythia and spiraea. In the stone barn, in speckled ceramic bowls the colour of chaffinch eggs, we made arrangements cascading with blossom and ranunculus, narcissi and snowdrops. It always amazes me, when we teach, how different each and every finished piece is, and I find it endlessly inspiring to see how, with the same ingredients, the resulting arrangements can be so varied in composition, colour placement and spirit. From the Dutch-Masters-style design that Vibecke created, spilling rich Fritillaria persica, clusters of yellow-headed flowers at the centre, to Isolde’s white and green ikebana/Sissinghurst inspired bowl and all the variants of the wild, meadowy concoctions in between, each very much represented something of its creator and was uniquely beautiful, something new. Afterwards we ate at a long narrow table - delicious bowls of Nordic soured cream porridge prepared by Marie’s mother, scattered with cinnamon - the table decorated with Jess' hand-made bird’s nests filled with chocolate eggs, tall narrow taper candles and vines of wild clematis with their new tendrils, the first green shoots of the year.
It was a trip down memory lane, being back in Wiltshire again. We spent most of our childhoods just a few miles east, in the Woodford Valley. Those hills, the Salisbury plain, the river Avon. It felt different, as of course it would - smaller and yet somehow more connected than I remember as a child. Then it was untouched, thoroughly rural, it seemed such a long way from London. I remember our closest neighbour, an old man named Fred with a thick Wiltshire accent, who lived in the same tenanted flint-stone cottage until he died. Going back made me realise, in a way, how very fast places, the shape of our own lives, change and move on and evolve. I thought about taking a detour on the way home and standing on the river bank looking back at our house, the thatched house our father built with his own hands, the garden where we first learned the names of flowers, our mother’s studio, the one constant place we considered home for the first decade of our lives. But then I thought - how would I feel if it was all unrecognisable now? If there were electric gates or a Little Waitrose in place of Fred’s ramshackle house? What if I couldn’t find the enchanted, still, faraway place that we inhabited all those years ago? I remembered Mum driving us to school on summer days in the rickety Citroen 2CV with the top down - how long that winding 20-minute journey seemed everyday. But our fast modern wheels had already sped us toward London by then, and, in any case, perhaps sleeping dogs should be let lie.
At the end of March our long search for a London studio finally came to an end. After a nail-biting few months getting everything tied up, we finally signed the lease on our new place in Shepherd’s Bush and collected the keys. To have space, and seemingly such a lot of it, is a luxury that we have longed for for a long time. It needs work, a lot of sprucing, but we can’t wait to slowly build a home for Aesme there, transform the outdoor space into our own city garden, create a place that, in contrast to the gritty urban sprawl that surrounds it, spills with flowers and plants, vessels and props - an oasis in a concrete jungle. In addition to being our base of operations we will also use it to host private classes and group workshops throughout the seasons, bringing flowers up from the cutting garden on a bi-weekly basis for our weddings and deliveries. It feels very much like another beginning, but also the realisation of a long-awaited dream.
Working from home this past year, while, sure, I'll have many fond memories of my flat drowning under flowers in the lead up to weddings; flowers in the bathtub, the kitchen sink, the hall, vessels choking the storeroom, vases on bookshelves, urns piled high in the garden shed; I somehow don’t think I shall miss it, not the incessant need to hoover anyway, or the petals in my sock drawer and so forth. I am sure there will always be a certain amount of crossover, one thing Jess and I agree we don’t want is for the studio to feel too much like a ‘workspace’, per se - and this is the fun part, because having spent most of our adult lives existing in various office environments that other people had planned and executed and lit (most often in the least inspiring way), we are finally able to design our own. Essentially we have to incorporate many elements into one rectangle - some kind of reception area, an office, a kitchen, a bathroom, a workshop for conditioning and arranging flowers, a studio for photography - but now we can come up with our own way to combine them. And give equal weight and importance to the aspects of life that we, and I expect our clients, care about too - the priority, of course, being flowers, but also food, so somewhere to cook, somewhere to garden, to soak up the sun. A comfy old armchair to curl up in. Music is essential. In many ways I think of the project as a large 3D jigsaw puzzle. Now we have to get the pieces to align.
Standing looking at an empty shell where we are going to be spending the majority of the next years of our lives is an exhilarating feeling. There is nothing there yet but walls, ceiling, floor, dust, peeling paint and weeds and there is so very much to think about. How to lay it out, how the light falls throughout the day. Sorting it all, getting each individual task done, sourcing furniture and materials, building the entire vision will take a year, maybe more. Time, money, elbow grease, the concerted effort of family and friends. And that's in between the day to day running of the business. Have we taken on enough this year, I wonder?!
We look forward to sharing the journey with you all and will try to chart our progress here and on Instagram as we go. First up? Plumbing!