It is snowing as I write this, a dizzying blizzard beyond the window-pane. Yesterday it drifted down all day. Nothing settled but it was magical anyway - a vast, swollen sky of billowing mauve clouds, flurries of thick snowflakes, a peculiar sunset that made everything shadowy and filmic. Winter isn't over yet.
We've been getting back into some semblance of a routine, gaining a slow momentum during this quiet period before spring. I realise now how closely we follow the rhythms of the garden in our work, taking our cues from the natural shifts in energy throughout the year, and how right this is, how good it feels. January is for hibernation, late February the dormancy begins to lift, March and April are one long run-up, and from May, virtually to Christmas (if we're lucky!) it's hell-for-leather. During these fallow weeks in the studio we have a few small projects, a London elopement, a funeral, a photo-shoot, but it's mostly painting, cleaning and screen-work. February is one of the busiest months for enquiries and bookings for weddings so my vantage point is toward summer and autumn flowers; I spend a lot of time talking to brides and thinking about garden roses and honeysuckle, arches and bouquets.
Right now we're prepping for a London Design Week install at Chelsea Harbour for Porta Romana. It's been very rewarding working with this brand recently that began life, like us, as a small London workshop and one that continues to nurture artisanal talent and support British craftsmanship. We'll be sharing updates throughout the week and weekend over on our Instagram Stories, stay tuned!
In a couple of days we're into March - a month of finishing up renovations, working on the gardens at the studio and down in Hampshire, conducting site visits and gearing up for the beginning of peak season which begins just as the garden starts to bloom. Everything is coming on late, since it's been such a cold winter - our narcissus and tulips are half the height they were this time last year. An exercise in patience. Good things come to those who wait.
We created the flowers for the funeral of a much-loved Primrose last week, using her namesake flower in arrangements for the church service. Jess made up some wild wreaths of moss, ferns and jasmine. They were like little circular sunlit gardens with no beginning and no end.
The studio filled with plants as we gradually accumulated different varieties to use and then plant out in the garden. The 'Golden Lace' primula (above right) is divine - almost black petals rimmed with gold, sunny faces at the centre. And the delicious 'Blue Zebra' - a primrose with denim-blue stripes. Such happy flowers.
Winter has its own unique landscape of colour and texture. The stage is set: brown, against a curtain of white cloud and fog. In the past I have found this to be a bleak period with its palette of muddy, sludge-y greys, its long shadows. But I don't feel like that any longer. In the darkest days of the year there is renewal. It is a contemplative time, the yin to summer's abundant yang. It isn't obviously 'pretty', necessarily, but there is a gentle, bare-faced beauty to the milky light, a particular atmosphere cast by the incessant rain, swirling mist and storm-peppered skies that I have come to appreciate. If you look hard enough there are tokens of hope everywhere - hazel smothered in golden catkins, the frayed skeletons and architectural forms of umbel husks etched in ice, colonies of dried grasses, witchhazel with its shredded vibrant petals, crocuses and aconites, quince and daphne. Yesterday Jess pointed out that the cherry plum is starting to bloom - and there they were, trees along the road like little clouds of snow, monochromatic in the twilight (and snow falling all around us).
February is a fairly frugal time, past the excesses of Christmas and the novelty of the New Year - it is a time of 'making do' and I like that sentiment, it is something we are missing in this world of hyper-connectivity and mass-production, when you can get anything at the click of a button, day or night. When there are slim pickings in the garden it is a challenge to make a design uplifting and beautiful, especially because I crave colour and am not a huge fan of twigs or dead leaves. Hellebores are a saving grace - a little temperamental as a cut flower, granted - but a leading ingredient at this time of the year. Their colours are just extraordinary. Black and sand, coffee-taupe, dusty pink. Somehow a bowl of hellebores is perfectly reflective of this strange, unsheltered meeting point between winter and spring when the gardens are leafless and windswept, and the afternoon light is grainy, quick to dissipate, threaded with mist.
A bouquet for a February bride with conifer, hellebores, anemones, jasmine and snowdrops from the garden. We used variegated heuchera, and hellebores too, for the groomsmen - a palette of antique, tea-stained shades. Some of the best colours are those that are almost impossible to pin down in a name. Unless you are Farrow & Ball, of course, and have the authority to decide the colour of things like elephant or mole's breath. We've been looking at a lot of paint charts recently for the studio, so the poetry of colour names has been on my mind. Arsenic, Slipper Satin, Oval Room Blue.
The happy newly-weds at St Dunstan-in-the-East, a hauntingly magical garden among the ruins of a church bombed during the blitz. Captured beautifully by The Curries.
At the cutting garden our beds are being prepped for spring and there are a few signs of life here and there, little pockets of green among the dark churned earth. Our hardy annuals and perennials are withstanding the frosts and in the tunnel ranunculus, anemones, tulips and narcissus are shooting up. Soon thousands of other annuals will follow along in their wake.
Back in London Jess has been feverishly seed-sowing. There are seed packets, pots and trays everywhere - in the studio greenhouse, the fridge, the van, the car, on the dining table - little green shoots emerging hopefully through moist compost. It still amazes me to think that just one of these tiny tendrils can go on to produce hundreds of flowers for us throughout the summer. As we expand the garden, year by year, we're gaining confidence in what works for us, how, when and what to grow. We're trialling a lot of new varieties this year but have also honed in on particular palettes so its exciting to have materials on the way that we have never worked with before, that are entirely new to us. At night I dream of peach-leaved bellflowers, a few stems of which passed through my hands last summer and I haven't been able to stop thinking about them since.
Mavis continues to grow. Now ten months old she is an enthusiastic, highly involved studio / garden companion. Except when it comes to modelling - she won't be persuaded into that line of work, though try we might - and is highly suspicious of flower crowns following one woefully ill-advised attempt to coax her into one (see below). Her beard is becoming indecently long now and I think I must concede that she'll probably always be more of a scruffy tomboy than an Instagram success story. There's talk in the family of a dachshund joining the ranks, though, so perhaps we'll have better luck there...
Great excitement that we have almost finished our office (!), which is now separated by large glass barn doors from the workshop. This will be where the bulk of our design/admin - and, fingers crossed, blogging - work happens and it's such a luxury not to be hovering anywhere and everywhere trying to balance a laptop and concentrate with the tumult of flower prep going on around you. We're looking forward to having this be a creative space for design meetings, client consultations etc, separate to but with a view of, the hustle and bustle in the arch beyond and out into the garden. In a few weeks it will have been a year since we took over the lease and it is hard to remember (I have to keep reminding myself by looking back at old phone-snaps) how it was back then. Unrecognisable. A lot of work and a lot of love has gone into this project and in April we will finally be able to open our doors. While visiting the studio will still be 'by appointment only' for now (sometimes we're unable to accommodate visitors, particularly if we're flat out on an event, or we're on the road or down at the garden) we hope that you will drop us a line and come and see us this spring or summer! We'll be hosting another Pop-Up Shop with Gabby Deeming, Molly Mahon and Emma Chapman on Friday 27th and Saturday 28th April (with evening drinks on the Friday). If you'd like us to send you an invitation with details and directions please do drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And if you're looking for a dose of the kind nourishment that only a botanical fragrance can bring, a sense of a turn in the weather, the impending shift towards longer, lighter days - keep an eye out for a flowering daphne when you are on your travels and if you find one, take the tiny blossoms close to your face and inhale. It's worth seeking out. A hit of pure, distilled optimism, you can feel the warmth of spring spreading through your veins instantly. It's coming, folks!