The Flower Appreciation Society: florists for the digital age
- Credit: Nigel Sutton
Ruth Pavey takes a look at the duo’s new book, as well as Margaret Willes’ latest work, A Shakespearean Botanical.
The Flower Appreciation Society is a business and a book; both lively, cheerful and devoted to flowers.
The business, say Ellie Jauncey and Anna Day, could only have come into being in the age of social media: “Instagram is our shop”.
Without capital or premises the two friends, who met six years ago while working in a Hackney pub, have successfully set up as florists. Weddings are their mainstay, but they also do bouquets, flowers for events and workshops.
Their style is natural and pretty, with an emphasis on flowers grown as locally as possible.
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The attractively illustrated book, a mixture of “how-to” tips and general information set out alphabetically, reflects their tastes and enthusiasms.
Social media or no social media, florists need somewhere to work. Anna and Ellie are quick to credit the pub where they met, The Scolt Head in Culford Road with giving them room and display space to start up, and a local landowner whom they got to know.
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He has now provided them with workshop space, and may soon have a garden available for them to grow some of their own flowers. Intriguing as this sounds, for the moment it was the workshop in Southgate Road that I visited.
It looked familiar because of illustrations in the book. There, on four shelves on the right hand wall was the moulded glassware and the mass-produced 1920s/30s jugs, vases and urns they have collected at car boot sales. Their “pride and joy” is a fleet of ceramic swans. With so many British potteries and glass factories now shut, these once everyday items can only become less common, so it’s touching to see them being used, and loved.
Anna and Ellie say that arranging flowers with anxious clients looking on can be nerve-wracking, so they prefer to do the arrangements in the workshop, then transport them in their vases/ jugs supported within stable florist’s buckets.
When I was there they had just returned from New Covent Garden … an entry in the book, M for Market, suggests that the stallholders make this a fun part of the job.
Part-time assistant Isabel Crossman, was sorting through the pink and white ranunculus, white snapdragons, tulips, narcissus and roses for the last wedding before Christmas, separating them from gold-sprayed eucalyptus and berries bought for a headdress workshop for the charity, Crisis.
Working in a luxury industry, Anna and Ellie like to do some charitable “spreading out” eg, making Christmas table arrangements with local people. Since they first thought that a shared interest in flowers could lead somewhere, there has been much learning-by-doing, not least in the area of how to run a business. Ellie’s mother is a florist so that was helpful, and Anna did a course at Capel Manor. But their previous backgrounds in illustration and textiles are also important, as is evident in the book, for which Anna did all the drawings. They are florists with a visual education behind them, and it shows.
The Flower Appreciation Society, Sphere, £20. To order bouquets, festive wreaths, theflowerappreciationsociety.co.uk
A Shakespearean Botanical by Margaret Willes, Bodleian Library, £12.99
Here’s another alphabetically arranged book about flowers, but with a Shakespearean rather than a 21st century flavour. Margaret Willes’ last book was The Gardens of the British Working Class. Since then she has published a smaller book exploring the plants mentioned by Shakespeare. She includes around 50 dwelling on their symbolism, medicinal, culinary, narcotic or poisonous uses. The plants start with aconite and finish with wormwood, with a surprising variety in between including broom, carnation, mistletoe and saffron.
Most of the illustrations are from the Bodleian Library’s copy of John Gerard’s Herball, 1597. Printed from woodcut blocks rented at the Frankfurt Book Fair, these were hand coloured. They show many of the plants as though growing within the confines of the rectangular plate, pressing against the edges. Willes also enjoys recounting recent speculation about Shakespeare – how did he come to know so much about plants, was John Gerard a friend, are they both represented on the frontispiece of the Herball? It all makes for an enjoyable read.