British Flowers Week puts the spotlight on florists
British Flowers Week celebrates a blooming national industry. Liz Anderson meets the growers, sellers and designers at its heart, and highlights events around the country
By Liz Anderson
7:00AM BST 12 Jun 2015
This Monday signals the start of British Flowers Week 2015 (June 15-19), when growers, florists and wholesalers will be joining forces for a nationwide celebration of British cut flowers. From Scotland to Cornwall there will be flower farm open days, flower market stalls in town centres, workshops and demonstrations, window displays, talks and special British Flowers Week bouquets.
Flowers made couture. A larkspur gown made by Zita Elze Picture: Julian Winslow
So why do we need a British Flowers Week?
Well, British flower growers have been struggling in the face of global cut flower production. Three decades ago, when florists such as Paul Thomas, Paula Pryke and Shane Connolly were embarking on their careers, British flowers dominated the markets. Shane says of his first trip to London’s Covent Garden Flower Market with the Royal florist, Michael Goulding: “There were boxes of flowers everywhere. The first thing that hit me was the scent. It was mainly English and seasonal. Back then, Dutch flowers were rare – I think Michael called them exotics!”
In the years that followed, growers – first in Holland then in Kenya, Ecuador, Colombia and now Ethiopia – swamped the UK market with competitively priced, standardised, all-year-round cut flowers to such an extent that today British seasonal flowers have become the new “exotics”.
Slowly but surely the British cut flower industry has been mounting a comeback. The remaining large-scale growers have continued sending into the country’s wholesale markets and increasingly into supermarkets by the millions of stems. New smaller flower farms have started springing up around the country, growing and selling flowers at farmers markets, at the farm gate, to local florists and online.
Jane Packer Flowers hatbox creation Picture:Julian Winslow
The originals such as The Real Flower Company (founded in 1995 by Rosebie Morton), Green and Gorgeous (in 2007 by Rachel Siegfried) and Common Farm Flowers (in 2010 by Georgie Newbery) have been joined by hundreds more artisan growers, who collaborate as the Flowers from the Farm network, set up by Gill Hodgson of Fieldhouse Flowers. Then came the Royal Wedding in April 2011. The memorable and ground-breaking displays of seasonal British flowers and foliages by Shane Connolly put British flowers firmly back in the spotlight.
Hattie Fox of That Flower Shop has a fresh way with foliage Picture: Julian Winslow
The origins of British Flower Week
New Covent Garden Flower Market’s original plan, when it conceived the notion of a British Flowers Week in 2013, was for a trade-only social media campaign to inspire more professional florists to buy British. But it was soon to become much more. “We have been overwhelmed by the interest in British Flowers Week from florists, growers, the public and the media alike. Last year’s social media campaign reached 1.5 million on Twitter alone,” says Helen Evans, director of communications at Covent Garden Market Authority. “People are starting to ask where their flowers are grown and what’s in season – just as they do for food. Our florist customers value seasonal, scented and locally grown very highly. It is one clear way to set themselves apart from the crowd.”
“It really seems as though things are finally starting to happen for British cut flowers,” says Gill Hodgson of Flowers from the Farm. “When we show our flowers at fairs around the country, people are interested and enthusiastic. We have a very passionate network of growers, and they are struggling to grow enough to keep up with demand.”
Dahlias photographed for British Flowers Week Picture: Rona Wheeldon
British Flower Week up and down the country
This year, the enthusiasm for British Flowers Week has spilt beyond the confines of social media and into a programme of events up and down the British Isles. Flower farmers are opening their gates to visitors, offering farm tours and a rare chance to see behind the scenes of a working nursery. Green and Gorgeous in Oxfordshire is opening every day for free throughout British Flowers Week offering tours, floristry demonstrations and pick-your-own sweet peas. Other artisan growers will be taking their flowers to town with pop-up stalls in stores and shopping centres.
At the RHS Garden at Harlow Carr, Yorkshire’s finest growers will be staging flower displays, running hands-on workshops and talking British flowers with visitors. Birmingham’s uber-cool Custard Factory and design store More by Design will host floral crown workshops and a pop-up flower stall by a local grower, Tuckshop Flowers. Florists are decorating shop windows and creating bespoke bouquets, and in London’s Camden, the Wild Flower Company is taking over the pop-up space on Camden High Street, selling British flowers and staging flower courses. Florists and growers will be offering British flowers workshops, and a primary school in rural Herefordshire will be having a special Flower Crown Workshop and its own flower market stall.
Zita Elze Picture: Julian Winslow
Flower Market Photoshoot
Central to the British Flowers Week campaign from the start has been the Flower Market Photoshoot. Five leading retail, wedding and event florists have been commissioned by New Covent Garden Flower Market to create designs exclusively for British Flowers Week, which will be revealed over the course of the week. Each is tasked with taking British flowers far beyond the jam jar and into the realm of art and design. Shane Connolly featured in the first-ever campaign along with Paul Thomas, Pinstripes & Peonies, Rebel Rebel and Scarlet & Violet, while 2014 was the turn of Hybrid, Euphoric Flowers, Okishima & Simmonds, McQueens and Simon Lycett.
Flowers by Scarlet & Violet – Red Riot Design Picture: Helen Jermyn
This year’s chosen designers – Bloomsbury Flowers, Jane Packer Flowers, Jay Archer Floral Design, That Flower Shop and Zita Elze – will also be talking at a special event at London’s Garden Museum on June 18 to celebrate British Flowers Week. All five florists bring their individual creative styles to the project, but one thing they all have in common is a passion for the quirky, individual character of British flowers and foliages, where no two blooms are the same, and the flowers look real, natural and freshly picked.
Hattie Fox of That Flower Shop has been described as “one of the hippest young florists in London”. Her botanical workshop and the new store in uber-cool Ace Hotel are frequented by the art set. Her loose, free design style is a celebration of the natural world, bursting with a profusion of flowers and foliages. Hattie has a passion for colour – “a Masters in Fine Art will do that to you” – but also for locally grown foliage, the much underrated florist’s material. Gone is salal and leather leaf, and in come euonymus, hornbeam, grasses and cotoneaster with pops of yellow and green that ties the whole (020 3302 5496)
Former dancers with the Royal Ballet, Mark Welford and Stephen Wicks of Bloomsbury Flowers have retained their sense of the theatrical in their floristry, whether it’s a small hand-tied bouquet from one of their stylish shops in Great Queen Street or Ham Yard or sensational arrangements in the Firmdale Hotels of legendary interior designer Kit Kemp. The Bloomsbury Boys love the architectural structure of alliums within their floral designs, from the near poker-straight stems of Allium ‘Purple Sensation’ to the pliable, contorted stems of allium sativum var. ophioscorodon (020 7242 2840)
Mark Welford and Stephen Wicks of Bloomsbury Flowers Picture:Julian Winslow
Jane Packer Flowers in New Cavendish Street is a mecca for flower lovers. The late Jane Packer wrote books on floral design, founded a world-renowned flower school and revolutionised the way flowers are styled in Britain. Charlotte Slade worked closely with Jane, and for British Flowers Week has taken the humble snapdragon far from the cottage garden and into the world of minimalist chic
Charlotte Slade of Jane Packer Flowers
Zita Elze is an artist with an eye for texture and a certain “softness” that imbues her work with a dreamlike ethereal beauty. Walking into her flower shop in leafy Kew is to enter a magical garden, overflowing with seasonal flowers and foliages. Larkspur, the annual cousin of the delphinium, was Zita Elze’s chosen flower. In Zita’s hands, larkspur is transformed into a textile for an exquisite haute couture gown, flowering stems cascading from the skirt and individual flower heads forming the bodice.
Jay Archer of Hampshire is a wedding florist extraordinaire with an irrepressible passion for British flowers. Her new flower school focuses on what she terms an “English design aesthetic”, and she has developed unique and flourishing partnerships with local growers. Jay has taken the American design style of loose, natural asymmetrical designs and given it a distinctly British twist. The lupin is Jay’s flower of choice for British Flowers Week. Far from the rigid, uniform stems of imported lupins, Jay loves to work with the quirky, kinked flowers from British growers, which bring a sense of movement into her designs.
British Flowers Week, June 15-19
Green & Gorgeous, Oxfordshire, June 15-19
RHS Harlow Carr, June 17 0845 265 8070
Five Florists, Five Designs Talk, June 18, The Garden Museum, London SE1