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Flower Farm Journal

"More than anything, I must have flowers always, always" Claude Monet

The Farmer and The { Florist } Interview: Susanne Hatwood of The Blue Carrot

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For this week’s interview, I’m thrilled beyond words to have the opportunity to talk with Susanne Hatwood of The Blue Carrot in the UK. I’ve been a big fan of The Blue Carrot for a while now and absolutely adore Susanne’s gorgeous designs, romantic photos and her honest, unpretentious style.

Susanne’s garden and workshop are based in Portscatho, a little fishing village in the southern part of England– the south coast of Cornwall. Susanne grows and designs flowers primarily for weddings and her work has been featured widely in UK-based wedding publications. Susanne and I have quite a few things in common– like the fact that it was a simple row of sweet peas that held us spellbound and propelled our careers as “farmer florists.” It truly is amazing that such a dainty little bloom could have such a profound effect on people. The delicate fragrance of sweet peas gets us every time!

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Erin: You’ve had a few careers prior to becoming a farmer florist, is that right? Was photographer one of them? The images you post of your designs are divine! What path did you take to get to where you are today?

Susanne: I’ve been jobbing around quite a bit. From waitressing, shop assisting, sport teaching, DJing to working as a regular extra in a German hospital soapopera. But my last few jobs became more horticultural. I worked in a plant nursery and as a gardener. But I have never worked as a photographer. I usually take millions of pictures in the hope to have a few good ones amongst them.

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Erin: The bulk of your design work is for weddings, correct? I find that many of the brides I work with simply don’t know much about flowers and they are usually more concerned about adhering to a specific color palette for their bouquets than individual varieties. Are British brides the same, or more knowledgeable about flower varieties and bloom times? What are some of the wedding floral trends that you’re seeing among the brides you work with?

Susanne: So far my brides are all so very different from each other. Generally I try to explain that I can’t really promise any specific flowers as every growing season is different, but if they give me a rough idea about the colours and the look and trust me with the rest, they get the best out of me. I thrive on trust and it’s so much better not to be tied to very detailed descriptions. I’m getting more assertive in this matter, as experience has taught me, that working for a client that doesn’t trust leads to a very unsatisfying experience for both sides.

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Erin: When does your growing season start and end?

Susanne: It usually gets quite in December and January, but I’m using these month to prepare for the next season, as it very rarely gets proper wintery here in Cornwall.

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Erin: As I was preparing for this interview, I was reading through some other articles about you and I just adore how you lovingly describe accent flowers as the “sidekicks that make the leading ladies look good” and the “supporting acts that really make an arrangement dance.” I love it! Your description sounds so poetic. What sidekicks are taking center stage in your garden this season?

Susanne: I’m obsessed with anything trailing at the moment. Vines, clematis, nasturtiums, I love them all. Black Ammi is high up there, but I had a rabbit drama in the winter and they’ve eaten all my Ammi seedlings down to the ground. Heartbreaking, but after shedding a few tears, I just got my self together again and re sowed them.

I think that like in cooking, you need some spice with your carbs. Just blowsy pretty can get a bit boring.

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Erin: You’ve posted a few peeks of your garden on Instagram. It looked like what I envision the quintessential European cutting garden would look like, with big wide swaths of mixed flowers rather than long, straight rows of single varieties that you typically see here. Is a large part of your garden made up of perennials?

Susanne: That’s how my brain works, it looks chaotic but to me it makes total sense. I’m not really growing in bulk, more to produce the exciting bits for my designs, that I can’t buy anywhere or that are so much better homegrown.

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Erin: What are some of the mainstay flowers in your garden?

Susanne: I think my roses are taking over at the moment. I love garden-roses so much, it’s a bit out of control. Unusual hydrangeas, Ammi, cosmos, sweet peas, clematis and of course dahlias.

Erin: Any new varieties you’re trying for the first time this year?

Susanne: I’ve planted a rose called ‘Ginger Syllabub’ and I’m dying to see it flower. I saw pictures on Instagram and I’m very excited. And I’ve grown the cup and saucer plant for the first time. And a great new variety of salmon nasturtium ( a great tip from a very nice lady ; ).

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Erin: The Second Annual #BritishFlowersWeek recently wrapped up. I think it so great that there is an entire campaign aimed at increasing awareness of local, seasonal British-grown flowers. In your opinion, was the campaign successful? For those of us here, “across the pond” how would you describe the local flower movement that’s taking place in the UK?

Susanne: I think it’s probably very similar to the local flower movement in the states. I think its brilliant that small scale growers get growing support and are getting more confident in growing the unusual stuff, that we all so crave.

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Erin: Social media—particularly Instagram—has helped to unite flower farmers and designers from around the world. As you know, I started stalking you online a while back! How have you used social media to promote your business?

Susanne: I was stalking you long before…and it really inspired me to set up my little venture to follow grower and designers like you, Saipua, Studio Choo ( these were my first social media love affairs ). I don’t think my business would work without the internet. And I love the fact, that there is a big shift from competitiveness to a sharing state of mind.

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Erin: You attended the spring Little Flower School workshop in London with an all-star cast of UK designers and farmer florists. I SO wish I could have been there with you! Was your mind totally blown? How has the experience influenced your designs?

Susanne: It was all a bit surreal and still seems like it was just a dream I had. I loved every second of it and was completely bowld over by Sarah and Nicolette’s willingness to support and share. The main thing I took home was to be kind to myself, be confident and if need be assertive. And not to cringe anymore when calling myself an artist.

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Erin: Well, Susanne, I really, really, truly hope to one day meet you and see your incredible designs in person. Until then, I’ll happily drool all over your photos that come across my Instagram feed! Thank you so very much for speaking with me today and for sharing your time and talents with all of us fellow flower fanatics.

Connect with The Blue Carrot:

Website: The Blue Carrot
Instagram: instagram.com/the_blue_carrot#
Facebook: facebook.com/TheBlueCarrot

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Erin - Floret flower trial

{ this moment } A Friday ritual. A single photo – no words – capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. ~Amanda Soule

*inspired by Soule Mama’s beautiful Friday reflections

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The Seasonal Flower Alliance { August 14 }

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The weather in our little corner of Washington has been all over the map this week. Monday was the second hottest day of the year, which left us all lethargic and exhausted. Tuesday brought lightning and thunder followed by torrential downpours persisting throughout the night and on into Wednesday. It has been a while since we’ve harvested in full rain gear! Today we’re back to sunny skies and warmer temperatures heading into the weekend.

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In addition to scrambling to keep up with the gardens abundance, get it harvested, packaged and sent out into the world, we’re also hustling to get ready for next week’s Seasonal Floral Intensive. Some moments I feel like we’re totally on track and others like we’re drowning in a sea of flowers and to-do lists. August is always such an abundant month. One part roller coaster, two parts beauty.

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Inspired by the weedy wildness that has taken over many corners of the garden, for this week’s arrangement I wanted to embrace the messy slide into late summer. Bouquet includes: goldenrod, rudabeckia triloba, ‘Indian Summer’ and ‘Prairie Sun’ and fennel.

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I know it’s hard to find the time, especially during the height summer, but if you can sneak in a little flowering, I’d sure love to see what you create!

If you’d like to join in the fun, simply make up a bouquet using seasonal flowers, snap a photo, post it somewhere on the internet and then leave a link to it in the comments section here. If you’re on Instagram, you can use/search the hashtag #seasonalfloweralliance for even more flowery goodness all over the world.

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The Farmer and the { Florist } interview: Studio Choo

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Today I’m thrilled to share with you an interview I did with Jill Rizzo and Alethea Harampolis of Studio Choo earlier this summer. If you don’t already follow these lovely ladies, then you’re in for a real treat! Theses gals are serious powerhouses and in the last few years have written a killer column for Design Sponge called We Like It Wild, built a super successful flower business in San Francisco, created the wildly popular Flower Recipe Book and have been featured in every magazine under the sun. I was lucky enough to meet them in person last spring when they were touring with their book and can honestly say, they’re the nicest most humble flower ladies out there!

Erin: It seems that your book really helped to demystify the process of arranging flowers for a lot of people. What kind of feedback are you getting from readers?

Jill – “Demystifying” is a good call, it’s a term we hear in feedback often. People respond to the step-by-step photos, and the recipe format feels familiar and accessible. By blocking pieces out with color inspirations and simple terms, readers can emulate and be creative without trapping themselves in the idea that it has to look JUST like the picture.

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Erin: You two have an amazing success story—just a few short years ago you were running your fledgling flower business out of a Honda Element and somebody’s garage, and now you have a bestselling book and a sweet new studio in South San Francisco. Like other great companies that started in garages (Apple, Amazon, Google) we’re eager to learn what new projects are on the horizon for Studio Choo. Anything you can share?

Jill: Always so many projects! We have a new book coming out, “The Wreath and Garlands Recipe Book,” in October. Alethea just launched her fragrance line, Snakeface. There’s currently a huge jar of Honeysuckle Hair Oil marinating on her apothecary counter; we have smack our studio manager’s hand so she doesn’t just dive in. We’re putting in a big cutting garden out back with all our Favorites. There’s always something to do with the studio space; corners and nooks we want to get just right. And we’re lining up logistics for a Community Supported Flower program, (CSF), working with farms and farmers we’ve built amazing relationships with. That’s also giving us the opportunity to teach “in the field,” you’ll start seeing us more often on the road to farms and gardens, creating a full-immersion experience for our students!

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Erin: Jill, you grew up in a family of florists, is that right? So, it’s in your blood! How has the flower industry changed since you were a child? Are there techniques or processes you learned from growing up in that environment that you still use today?

Jill: To be honest, it’s a 180 from where I started in the flower shops of my mother, aunt and uncle. The flowers I used then are very rarely used in the arrangements we do now. Just the learning curve of familiarity with types and varieties was a climb when I moved to northern California. There’s such an incredible amount of diversity and availability out West, and we’re doubly lucky to be located by one of the best Flower Markets in the entire country.

Alethea: I grew up in my mother’s garden in Marin, and I think we both have an idea of intimacy and family when it comes to flowers. We emphasize the closeness of your resources. The planted pot on your back deck, your connections with farmers at the market, the meadow on the way to work. What can add variety, texture and local flavor to your design work without having to buy 50 bunches or whatever. And there’s a thrill to being a “cutter,” a flower hunter with an eye for the beautiful things in seemingly mundane places that end up really making your arrangement sing.

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Erin: As part of your book tour, you did a fair number of flower arranging demos for West Elm and others stores too. One of the features of the book is to demonstrate ways to make great arrangements with easy-to-find supermarket flowers. Another part of the book introduces readers to the idea of utilizing locally grown and gathered materials into the designs. I’m curious, as you interacted with customers at these book events, did you get a sense of the level of interest in local flowers among the general public? In other words, is the local flower movement reaching beyond the foodies, the creative class, sustainable agriculture folks, eco-conscious consumers, etc., to appeal to the average shopper?

Jill: It’s a slow growth, and still feels like it’s only a small group who realize what’s out there. Being in California makes it a bit of a microcosm, so we’re lucky to interact with it more often. When you travel, it’s more obvious that it’s a new concept. We don’t think that’s necessarily something to be concerned with; more an exciting New Frontier with room to shape and cultivate what those methodologies and beliefs can be.

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Erin: Based on your experience, what are ways local flower advocates can we reach more traditional florists and average consumers?

Alethea: Presence in commercial markets is always going to extend the reach. Again, we’re really lucky regionally, but we know it isn’t the case everywhere. It’s easy to vilify bigger commercial entities, but there’s no denying it’s reaching the most people. There’s also the growing awareness of what it is we’re putting in or around our bodies. It’s worth considering that our skin, our largest organ, is our first line of defense and absorbs a large percentage of what it encounters. It’s something we increasingly think about for ourselves and for the people who work in the fields harvesting and processing the flowers that come to market. Ultimately, awareness is key.

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Erin: I’m really interested in your creative process—particularly since you work as a team. Are there bouquets that you work on together, or is there a natural division of labor and recipes that are distinctively Jill’s or distinctively Alethea’s?

Jill: At the beginning we worked together on EVERYTHING. We would talk about each individual arrangement, what we would make and how it would look. As we’ve grown, we’ve had to divide and conquer. Alethea takes on our weekly clients and deliveries, and I run the weddings and events. We both pitch in on each other’s projects, and we finally started bringing in help so we get a chance to sit down and eat lunch every now and then.

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Erin: Your work is has been described as “artfully unruly”, containing a lot of wild and forged elements. Do you do a lot of the foraging yourself, or do you buy from local sources? What are some of your favorite materials to forage?

Alethea: We wish we had more time to forage!

Jill: We always have out eye out when we’re driving around, it’s not uncommon for someone to shriek LUPINE on the way up to a wedding. We do buy a lot of unusual materials from the market from guys who are known foragers, and as we continue to develop intimate relationships with farmers, we get to ask for the “goods.”

Alethea: I also have my spots..enough said.

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Erin: I love how you use so many nontraditional floral materials in your arrangements. I, too, am always on the lookout for new and unusual vines or foliage or fruit to incorporate into my designs. What is the most unusual element you’ve used in a design lately?

Alethea: We tend to strike on something and dub it our “new signature style.” There were a lot of sticks wrapped in embroidery thread over the winter holiday and avian skulls for Valentine’s. Sometimes it really resonates, sometimes it doesn’t, but it keeps it fun for for us.

Jill: We love all the small, fleeting delicates that tend to never be available. Peruvian sage, coral Geum, white Strawberries and pretty much anything from Morning Sun Herb Factory.

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Erin: You two were friends before you started Studio Choo together. Owning a business AND writing a book together is a no small task. I can only imagine there was a lot of pressure dealing with deadlines and brides while staying on top of all the details of running the shop. How did you do it? As someone trying to manage a lot of big flower-related projects at the same time, I’d love to know the secret to your success and get some advice!

Jill: Man, it’s never easy. Owning a small business and trying to keep yourself grounded to stay connected to your family, your partner, your best friend – it can be frustrating. We had a Renaissance for a while where we’d make a date once a month to get out of town or hang out outside of work, (though that isn’t to say we were all that successful at not talking about work during those dates…). If we can gather for a weekend BBQ, mix happy hour drinks when we’re working late or hang in a new town for lunch after an event helps us feel normal.

Alethea: And sometimes you just got to close the doors and leave the damn studio.

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You guys, thank you so much for ALL of the amazing creative inspiration you’ve shared with the world. I know I’m not the only one who’s dying to see what you dream up next!

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Scabiosa Flowered Zinnias

{ this moment } A Friday ritual. A single photo – no words – capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. ~Amanda Soule

*inspired by Soule Mama’s beautiful Friday reflections

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The Seasonal Flower Alliance {August 7 }

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This week I discovered a brand new hobby, snapping the heads off flowers and taking pictures of them. If you’re over on Instagram you’ve likely seen snippets of my latest creative endeavor. Three words: scabiosa flowered zinnias. I thought I’d just keep on with the flower decapitation for my seasonal flower alliance post today.

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I was going to get all crazy and try and find the names for every variety pictured but I’m already a day behind posting, so here ya go. Flower display includes one of every dahlia variety blooming in our patch right now. Pretty crazy, huh!?

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I know it’s hard to find the time, especially during the height summer, but if you can sneak in a little flowering, I’d sure love to see what you create!

If you’d like to join in the fun, simply make up a bouquet or display using seasonal flowers, snap a photo, post it somewhere on the internet and then leave a link to it in the comments section here. If you’re on Instagram, you can use/search the hashtag #seasonalfloweralliance for even more flowery goodness.

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