I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to talk with my inspirational UK flower friend Clare Nolan. Clare approaches her photography and floral design with a finely honed aesthetic, which is no surprise given her background in interior design, styling, and editorial production.
In this interview, Clare takes us through her the journey of leaving behind her corporate career, slowing down, and building a life that works for her young family, while at the same time keeping her passions and creativity alive. I hope you enjoy the conversation as much as I did.
Erin: Clare, thanks so much for taking time to share your story with Floret readers. For those not familiar with your work, can you share an overview of your story?
Clare: I went for a screen test for a TV show a while back and was told by the producer that I was a jack of all trades and needed to specialize. She was trying to be helpful, and she was in a way. Since then I’ve given up trying to define what it is I do anymore. I am part interior designer, part gardener, part coach/mentor/educator, part writer/photographer/author.
The common theme in everything I do is that it is focused on enriching our experience of “home” and helping others create a space that is nourishing, uplifting, and supportive. My book In Bloom showcases my passion for cut flowers and the joy that can bring to every day, but my first love was interior décor, and that’s where my career first took root. For nearly 20 years I worked as a stylist, editor, and art director in London, writing and styling articles to inspire and encourage others to create their best possible version of their home. I wrote my first book, Making a House Your Home, all about this—it’s a modern-day guide to homemaking.
I’ve been a passionate gardener for years, ever since I was a kid, so I suppose it was only natural that I’d end up bringing the garden into my professional life too. As a stylist in the early days of my career, I experienced beautiful flowers at product launches, and I worked with them on photo shoots, but I didn’t have the budget to make them a part of my world at home—so I started growing my own cut flowers, first in giant planters set out on the concrete in the backyard of my first apartment, and then I upscaled things, growing flowers in amongst my veg on my allotment. When we moved to the countryside, where I’ve been able to put my roots down in every sense, I planted a dedicated cutting patch in our cottage garden. It has been a dream come true to have the chance to grow so many flowers.
Erin: Tell us a bit about your gorgeous and incredibly useful book, In Bloom. You wrote, styled, and photographed it yourself. What was that process like?
Clare: It was a true labor of love. It was a project that spanned a few years, but it was all-consuming for the best part of a year before my final deadline—with twin toddlers. That part of it wasn’t easy, but it was such a gift to work on something that brings me so much joy. I had some real pinch-me moments when I couldn’t believe how lucky I was. It really was the dream project. The downside was that it was quite isolating; it was just me, my camera, and my computer in the garden or my studio for a very long time. For this book, it was important to me that the process was as close to the reader’s as possible. I wanted to show how I do things in real life without the usual team involved on a photographic shoot.
Erin: Your photography is breathtakingly beautiful. How do you capture blooms in a way that feels like fine art?
Clare: It was a big leap for me to move from stylist to photographer, despite all the years directing photo shoots, so I’m really proud of pushing myself to take the pictures for my book. My aim was to try to make the book as beautiful as it is informative.
In terms of taking photos, it can be a real struggle when you’re doing all the growing, as well as the styling and arranging, to actually find the time to document things properly with a camera; you are literally doing the job of three people already. I make things easier by keeping a series of textured surfaces ready: weathered floorboards—the top of my old garden table; a sheet of weathered zinc from an old potting table, and a selection of textured papers. These can all be pulled in to be used as tabletops or backgrounds. One wall of my studio is painted in a limewash effect, which shoots really well, so I always have a camera-ready backdrop, and I gave a cotton bed sheet the same treatment so I have a portable version—a bit of duct tape or a few carpenter’s clamps hold it in place. A sturdy tripod with an extendable arm for flatlay shooting is a constant companion; I only ever use daylight, and this allows me to take long exposures without any camera shake.
I get asked a lot about my camera. I’m a Canon girl, these days it’s a 5D mark iv; before that it was 7D, and my two most-used lenses are a 100mm macro and a 50mm. In terms of bringing that little bit of magic to a shot, it’s all about the light. Find the best places you have in terms of light—for me it’s the window of my potting shed that faces southwest—and bring everything there. Don’t force things the other way.
Erin: I loved your post about taking advantage of commute time! In what other ways do you find the time to focus on your work in the midst of this busy season of motherhood?
Clare: It’s taken me a while to come to terms with the changes that motherhood brings and the impact it can have, not only on your energy levels and time frame for work, but on your headspace, your dreams and aspirations too. I’m still figuring things out. I’m learning that things take a little more time with 3-year-olds in tow. Being a mum really puts things into focus; you drop the things that aren’t really important to you. I have definitely lowered my standard of household cleaning, and not so many things get ironed anymore, but I’m still growing flowers and dreaming big!
Erin: How has your approach to gardening changed in the past years as your knowledge has grown?
Clare: Over the past couple of years, I’ve been learning more about biodynamic gardening principles and permaculture. I think gardening in a more sustainable way is the key to all our futures, and I’m keen to learn as much as I can about this and make changes to the way I garden. Even small things like going peat-free and reducing the amount of plastic we use can make a difference. This coming season, I’ll be focusing much more on collecting my own seed and sharing that knowledge—it’s a lost art.
Erin: You recently posted on Instagram that you were happy to “draw a line” under this gardening season, meaning mark it as complete. In what ways are you hoping for a “bigger and better” gardening season next year?
Clare: Between the rats, mice, pigeons, slugs, and snails, and all manner of munching insects, as well as the temperamental weather of a typical British summer, last season wasn’t my best, but I think one of the joys of being a gardener is that there’s always another chance, a clean slate for next season. When we bought our cottage, the garden was a blank canvas, and other than setting out the veg and flower garden, I’ve not done much more. This year I’m really looking forward to creating a garden. So far, my husband is turning a blind eye to the fact that the lawn is shrinking and new flower beds seem to be appearing everywhere.
Erin: In your blog post about your incredible new garden shed, you said “if you get your home right, if you nourish it, then it begins to support you, nourishing you in return—so you’re much more able to make the things you really want to do with your life happen.” How does your home in the countryside nourish and support you, and allow you to live the life you’ve dreamed of?
Clare: We invest so much time, money and emotion into our homes. Family rituals and a lifetime’s memories are centered around them. Getting it right so that it works for you, supports you, reflects who you are and want to be, is absolutely central to your happiness.
Modern life has created a disconnect in so many of us. In the pursuit of “progress” we have lost connection with many of the simple things that are vital to live a happy, fulfilled life. I got off the career treadmill and walked away from my big job in London to raise my boys and forge a healthier work-life balance. I’m trying to live a simpler, more intentional life, one where I get to connect to nature every day. Growing your own flowers amplifies that connection: You start weather-watching, you begin to notice the small things, and it becomes second nature to follow the natural rhythm of the year and live with the seasons. Once you’re connected with nature, you’re much more open to connect with what you really want from life.
Erin: What are you currently working on, dreaming of, excited about in your life and work?
Clare: Over the past 5 years or so I’ve been secretly gathering a new set of skills: learning about biodynamic and permaculture gardening principles, herbalism, natural remedies and alternative healing modalities, and weaving them into my passion for home and garden. I can’t wait to start to share my findings with others. We live in uncertain times, and we need to find a new way of living to navigate through it together. Reconnecting our homes and ourselves with nature, calming the mind and lifting the spirit in the process, seems like a pretty great place to start.
Erin: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us, Clare. You live your life with such beauty and intention, and I know our readers will find your story inspiring.
I’m so excited to give away 3 copies of Clare’s beautiful book In Bloom. For a chance to win, please share your biggest struggle when it comes to growing cut flowers in the comments below. Winners will be announced on Friday, February 28th.
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Learn more and connect with Clare Nolan
Photographs by Clare Nolan.