From Seed to Bloom: A year of growing and designing with seasonal flowers
Flowers are the best things in the world. They are with us at the most important, beautiful, sad, brilliant, happy, and challenging times of our lives. We need them – they are special, full of magic, and the power to heal. Whether it’s a gifted posy to bring a smile, or calendula rolled into a balm for tired skin, flowers can make us feel better, both physically and mentally. And at a time when more of our natural landscape is giving way to high-speed rails, much-needed housing, and other developments, flowers, in all their fleeting delicacy, feel all the more precious.
Life is messy, the way it threads and weaves itself together, and it can be tough and beautiful in equal measure. This is true of gardening, too. Though it won’t be neat or perfect, not sunny when you need it to, not raining when you want it to, there’s plenty of joy, goodness, and satisfaction to be found in growing. The little Edens that we tend to – our green spaces and our gardens – are sanctuaries, lifting our spirits and reconnecting us with the Earth. They are havens not just for us, but for insects, birds, and animals. What we do and how we grow individually does matter, and it does make a difference – long may we grow flowers, for the planet and all its living things.
I believe a garden, whatever the size, should reflect the place, the wildlife, and the people tending to it, and I think that the most beautiful floral designs are able to honour that, too. Working with nature is full of circular, loving relationships that are bursting with reciprocity and nourishment; the more the Earth is loved, the more beauty and sustenance it provides. We growers are people, not machines, imperfect and fallible, and at one time, every human on Earth would have been a grower in some way. And so it goes that the landscape is, and always will be, the backdrop and backbone to all of our lives.
In working with flowers, in practising, meditating, and creating with them, our connection with the world around us is strengthened. Within these pages are flowers, seeds and life in all its intimacy, and in writing this book, I urge you to support small-scale agriculture, to find and support your local growers – the people working in harmony with the Earth – to be encouraged by the slow flower movement, to enjoy it, be inspired by it, and perhaps to even add to it yourself. All you need to get started is a packet of seeds.
It’s summertime, and the scent of something sweet is hanging in the late afternoon air. For a moment, my mind meanders to my grandmother GJ’s garden, where roses collected dew in ruffled bowls of petals, catmint crept in delicate silver, and great clouds of fennel spilt from the flower beds, all these things fragrant and delicious. To me, this is still the smell of pure happiness.
Like so many of us, my obsession with flowers started young. I was born in London and grew up in a relatively grey and concrete neighbourhood, but my siblings and I were routinely swept out of the city to spend time with our grandmother, my horticultural hero to this day. Back then, she would tend to her garden in a long A-line skirt, a straw hat balanced on her head and trowel in hand. She gave us free rein in her garden, allowing our imaginations to conjure up large, fantastical stories within the boundaries of her oasis. When we grew tired, she would provide us with trays of dirt in which to create small botanical paradises, complete with moss caves, stepping stones and ponds from whatever we could forage from her beds. She taught me the names of the plants growing at home and those we passed on our walks, and her love of flowers inevitably rubbed off on me. I still think of those small gardens in a bowl when I’m creating an arrangement or planting up a garden border.
Despite the sentimentality of these fond garden memories from childhood, I came to tend my own garden later in life. Inner city living, and my generation’s predicament of starting our working lives in conjunction with The Great Recession of the early 21st century, came with sky-high rents and increased costs of London living. Little disposable income was left after paying for essentials, and the luxury of a garden beyond a windowsill was out of reach for most of my 20s. It wasn’t until my partner led me down a steep lane in West Sussex one late December day that circumstances began to change. The road tapered off down a track heading deep into the woods, on the left, barely perceptible between the trees, was a tiny timber-framed dwelling. This was to be his new home – a far cry from the cramped, city houseshare I was used to inhabiting. It was the first time I had seen it, and if I didn’t know what I was looking for, I might never have noticed it, so small it was, and so hidden by the trees.
I hadn’t had much say in my partner moving out of the city. Work commitments had him away from home for long periods of time, and his parents needed him close by when he was back; it felt like a dutiful and necessary change for him to make. Together, we packed up his London life, and dismantled the tiny container garden we’d both been tending on his balcony. Despite some protestations that my life was in London, and London was where I was going to stay, as a gesture of inclusivity he bought me a pair of waterproof boots.
He moved to West Sussex on a cold January morning, into the five-roomed cottage with not a curtain or piece of furniture to fill it. We were ill-equipped at fire-making, with zero skill, wet logs and no kindling. We trembled close together, hung towels over the windows in an attempt to retain any warmth, and in the morning, a layer of dew lay cold and glistening on the bedspread. It was wonderful. We laughed at the ridiculousness of it all, and in the morning, before commuting back to the city for work, I dragged us up through the frosts to have our breakfast at the top of the hill, watching the winter sun rise over this new life. While we waited for spring, I fell so deeply in love with this corner of Earth that I made my decision. I packed up my city life, said my goodbyes to my housemates and moved in with him.
We began making big plans for growing food and flowers. Packets of seeds were sourced for plants we’d never dreamed of growing in the city. I’d never attempted to grow flowers specifically for cutting on my own before. Yes, I’d nurtured sunflowers destined for pitchers, supervised by my grandmother when I was small, but now with free reign on our own plot, sweet peas, zinnias, cosmos, poppies, snapdragons and many more made it onto the ambitious list. My Sunday mornings in London had been spent walking down to the flower market on Colombia Road, a favoured flowery haunt of the city, to meander past the buckets of flowers for sale. Now my Sunday mornings were spent shovelling heaps of compost from one pile to another, with the future promise of being able to have flowers on a Sunday morning once more. I liked the hard work, I liked being out in the weather, and most of all, I loved seeing the process of growing something that I had only ever bought from plastic buckets, in plastic wraps from a supermarket or from the flower market. It bought me far more joy than I could ever have imagined.
That first spring we nurtured the soil, saw to its health, fed it with enormous piles of compost, and then planted out our first seedlings. That first summer we reaped great rewards: armfuls of sweet peas and basketfuls of beans, tomatoes straight from the vine, and more courgettes/zucchini than we knew what to do with. Having spent my life so far in a deep disconnect from nature, it felt like the best magic trick I’d ever learnt; a conjuring, a great summoning of the Earth and all the generosity it had to offer. With these lavish gifts, came the desire to share. Neighbours saw jars of flowers, piles of beans, and sacks of earthy potatoes left at their doors. We even made our first sale to a greengrocer in London – bunches of yellow carrots, bowls of white currants, and crates of gooseberries accompanied me on the early morning train (I was still commuting to my 9-to-5 job), to sit proudly in the shop front in the middle of Vauxhall.
By that first autumn I was flowering friends’ weddings, with dahlias and cosmos cut in the name of love. All that muddy, back-bending work of winter was paid off a thousand times from this feeling of sharing the bounty from home. It was a wild, thrilling moment, growing things from seed to bloom, a kind of happiness I had not experienced before, but one I felt I already knew, one that felt deep, simple, and above all – human.
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|Epub||June 24, 2022|
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