Gardens have always been the greatest inspiration to us; to see how flowers converge, how plants are grown together, their shapes, colours and textures, is fuel for so many creative ideas and revelations. Establishing our own cutting garden came about simply because we fell in love with the myriad varieties of quirky, unusual and subtle flowers that grew in the gardens we explored, in their borders and wound around their trellises - watery-coloured clematis with petals like crepe paper, astonishingly beautiful climbing roses and fragrant shrubs.
The nostalgic and evocative power of those flowers was impossible to ignore, and we knew we had to use them in our work for their character, their intoxicating scents and subtle gradations of colours. We were encouraged, too, by the success of other small-scale growers around the country who are championing the use of organic, locally-grown ingredients. In 2016, faced with the offer of a small plot to rent, we took it as a chance not to be missed. That first year we cleared the ground, put in a few raised beds and tentatively experimented growing from seed with a small row of sweet peas, some silky Californian poppies and ruffled cosmos. By that June, burrowing our faces in bunches of our own-grown produce, we were hooked.
Headed up by Jess, our small garden is a productive space that we have adapted to suit our needs throughout the year. After the quiet of winter sweet scented narcissi and striped tulips burst into flower in the spring, along with speckled hellebores and fritillaria, and anemones and ranunculus in the tunnel. By early summer clusters of alliums, foxgloves, sweetpeas, poppies and early annuals are in flower, and the scented roses make their first appearance. In autumn we harvest Japanese anemones, buckets of richly coloured dahlias, cosmos and grasses, the final flush of colour and growth giving way to berries, seed pods and skeletal silhouettes as the year comes to an end and the garden is put to bed once more.
Many of the flowers we grow cannot be bought at the wholesale market for the exact reasons we love them - they are garden flowers, unsuitable for mass-production. They are irregular, unique in their flaws and quirks, variable in shape and colour. We celebrate these inconsistencies in our arrangements, the curve or fork of a stem, the mottled effect of leaves turning on the cusp of autumn. Every flower we use is cherished in the moment, whether it is a single stem of spiraea blossom, briars of dog rose in the first warm days, or an architectural umbel of wild carrot glittering with winter frost.
Alongside the bounty from our own garden, for weddings and larger events we also buy from a number of excellent small growers and farms and are always on the look out for new suppliers of interesting seasonal ingredients. After taking down arrangements from events everything is added to the compost, along with green kitchen waste and cardboard from the studio and our homes, nourishing the soil for future flowers.
Our cutting garden is on the far edge of a working yard on a turf farm outside Grateley village in Hampshire. Surrounded by farmland with ancient footpaths and droveways, it is a small rectangular corner plot consisting of ten long beds of bulbs, annuals and perennials, an area for shrubs and wild flowers, a tool shed and composting heaps, a rose garden and two large polytunnels for lengthening the growing season and protecting tomatoes, vegetables and tender plants.
Spring to autumn we cut from the garden two to three times a week. Leaving London at dawn and driving west into the countryside with the sunrise behind us, we are greeted each time by new arrivals and surprises, successional sowings coming into bloom, changing colours in the hedgerows, weeds and brambles encroaching.
The process of growing and cutting our own flowers utterly informs the way we think about arranging them. Having an intimate connection with the materials we use is an inestimable joy and has given us a deep appreciation for the cyclical rhythms of the year and the gifts each season brings, not only in the garden, but in the surrounding landscape. Everything is slow and deliberate and methodical, the plants and the soil they grow in must be nurtured and nourished, the process can’t be rushed and the results are utterly at the mercy of the wind and weather.