IN THE STUDIO
June flew by. We are at our most productive now, in these summer months, moving from one project to the next but poring our hearts and minds into each one, always searching out the most beautiful plants, the perfect shade of this to go with that, how to bring the freshest, most ethereal produce to the table. Bringing the garden to the party, which is pretty much our company motto these days.
The studio is very much the home of the business now, bedded in, comfortably accommodating our workload and somehow expanding and contracting with the size of each project and the team we have in working on it. Yukiko has taken responsibility for the daily running of the space and keeps it spotlessly clean and organised, efficiently turning it around between each event so we’re ready for the next. The place has an uncanny way of being just what you need at any given time; a workshop of whirling activity but also a leafy, cool and calm haven in the noise of the city. My favourite time there is in the early morning, drawing back the shutter door and the sun streaming through the back window, drinking a coffee and answering emails under the silver birch in the garden with a long day ahead. Or later, once the flower work is done and the shadows are lengthening across the floor, rows of arrangements lined up to go out the next day, and a couple of bees buzzing happily between them gorging on nectar.
Twice a week a full van of flowers brings the latest freshly cut produce up from the farm and we gather round the workshop tables, going through the buckets, passing around new varieties that have come into flower - this week stems of raspberries and whitecurrants, the first velvety chocolate cosmos, sprays of Violette roses and maroon Verbascum.
Our June Masterclass proved to be another magic three days of creativity and floral collaboration, with students from Australia, the US, Korea, Hong Kong and the UK. During these workshops we place great emphasis on seasonality and using locally-grown materials, thoughtful sourcing and foraging but also design, careful editing and pushing the boundaries of working with ‘colour palettes’. It is so interesting to discuss and compare the differences in the industry in different parts of the world and hear people’s experiences in starting their own small businesses. No matter the distance travelled everyone seems to come together with the same goal and the same questions; how to design and supply flowers for events in a sustainable, mindful way, how to break into and then make a living in an industry still largely dominated by wasteful methods, rigid expectations and unnatural or stiff design templates, how to grow or source flowers that are softer, more beautiful, unusual and difficult to find from large scale wholesalers. In group discussions each morning we cover everything from honing a philosophy to live and work by, colour pairings, pricing, green waste management and wedding logistics - it amazes me how much we can cover in three days with our heads together, and at each Masterclass someone always brings a new topic to the table to think about.
This month the studio was continuously heaving buckets from the farm – the first flush of garden roses, sweet peas cut long on the vine, bearded iris, alliums, foxgloves, calendula, nigella, delphiniums, Californian poppies to name a few – and treats including beautiful lime-leaved mock orange and pale peonies grown by Babylon Flowers and Bosley Patch in Oxfordshire.
We have just scheduled our autumn studio workshops where we hope there is something for everyone - a day’s flower arranging class, a 3-day Masterclass in September and again in October and a foam-free installation workshop. These are the last floral workshops we will be running in 2019 (aside from Christmas workshops and wreath-making). Further info here can be found here.
We worked on some lovely weddings at one of our favourite London restaurants this month, St John in Clerkenwell. Specialising in seasonal British produce and with a staunch ethos of no-waste cooking, it is such an appropriate setting for our farm-grown flowers, and its all-white-painted/stainless steel interior makes is a real pleasure to dress with kitchen-garden botanicals. To tie in with the culinary setting, we incorporate lots of fruits, vegetables and herbs into the designs - artichokes and their giant, leathery silver leaves, chocolate mint, lemon balm, edible flowers and summer fruits. It is a simple and yet highly effective celebratory offering for the guests; exceptional food and wine, flowers and potted plants, a little candlelight.
Images mostly Kristin Perers, a few by us!
The week that ended with midsummer we escaped the city and headed for East Sussex for our annual retreat, this year hosting Flower Workshop Korea for four days in an idyllic private garden in the Weald. Arriving from London by train, our guests were whisked off to tour Sissinghurst Castle and Great Dixter where we drew inspiration from the gardens for the designs we would make over the coming days.
The floral design workshops were held in the beautiful glass ‘Woodshed’ and throughout the grounds including an all white installation in an ancient wooded dell of gigantic oak trees and shadowy ferns, inspired by Vita Sackville-West’s White Garden at Sissinghurst, and a tablescape of grasses and sorrel referencing the meadow in the Orchard at Dixter, using incredible ‘rock’ vases made by Noe Kuremoto Ceramics.
My abiding memories of the week are of birdsong, laughter, delicious healthy food, woodsmoke and classical music floating through the garden at Great Dixter in the hazy late afternoon light, roses scrambling up through lichen-laden apple trees in our host’s orchard, a candle-lit lantern at the gate at night, lighting the way to the guests’ farm cottages across the field, the hooting of owls in the valley, thunderstorms, dewy, sun-dappled mornings. It was an incredibly special week, and a great privilege to share one of our favourite parts of the English countryside with our Korean guests.
IN THE GARDEN
Down at the farm we are at full tilt in June, the rose garden and sweet peas now in prolific flower. In the tunnels we’ve been cutting from a statuesque crop of candy pink and lavender delphinium, many varieties of calendula, Californian poppies in shades of buttercream, streaky pink, orange and red, nigella, clarkia, forget-me-nots and agrostemma. Outside the perennial beds have yielded geums, wallflowers, heuchera, geraniums, campanula, achillea and ferns. In the large raised bed, rows of phlox are flowering and behind them, zinnias, cosmos and rudbeckia are fast on their heels, with the dahlia beds getting bushier by the day.
We cut and harvest bi-weekly for our weddings, workshops and orders, and at this time of the year all our materials are cut from the farm with the occasional top-ups from local growers or plant nurseries. As amateur gardeners it has taken a few years to trial how and what we grow, the right quantities and varieties etc to fully supply the schedule of the studio during the busy summer period. We’re now really starting to see the fruits of our labours, and nothing makes us prouder than delivering an event where every vase, bowl or bottle contains the stems we have nurtured from seed, shrub, bare root, tuber or bulb.
Year by year we have maximised the productivity of our farm plot, growing it gradually and organically in line with the growing of the business. This has felt the sensible way to supply the requirements of our studio (we use everything we grow in-house and don’t sell wholesale) and in keeping with the demands of an increasingly busy workload in London, without it being too much to keep a grip on or incurring much wastage. Having a gardener and extra help this season has moved us on leaps and bounds.
We’ve had the immense joy this year of harvesting particular colours of varieties chosen for specific clients’ events – something we’re keen to do more of as we continue to expand the growing side. Because much of our work is so colour and design-focussed, and the lead-time for events (particularly weddings) often reasonably long, we can tailor the bed-space we have to accommodate special elements in particular tones and shades - it’s a holistic process that is beginning to come into its own, and is deeply rewarding. Just last week we cut dusty-mauve delphiniums and burgundy centred phlox to fulfil a rich colour pairing one of our brides had hoped for when we first starting discussing her wedding last September. Working in this way keeps the palette of the garden constantly shifting and interesting, rather than being dominated by any one preference, and for clients who love colour there are so many possibilities. We love taking a brief and incorporating it into the garden - it’s no coincidence that this is when our studio produces its best work.
IN THE ETHER
A few things we’re loving at the moment…
L I S T E N I N G T O - Beth Hart & Joe Bonamassa - Don’t Explain (very loud, on repeat)
C O O K I N G - New potatoes and garden-grown mint. Roasted Romaine lettuce with pancetta, toasted breadcrumbs and lemon. So good!