You may recognise this lady? She recently appeared on the TV programme, The Great British Garden Revival. Her name is Louise Wesley and she’s the in-house florist at Kelmarsh Hall, where the BBC filmed part of the episode on Cut Flowers. And today, for my Florist Friday blog post series, I’m delighted to feature an interview with Louise.
Could you tell us what prompted you to become a florist?
I always loved art and design at school, but didn’t know in what direction these skills would take me. I’d thought about interior design or window dressing, but had a eureka moment about floristry when travelling in Australia. I signed up for a floristry course in St. Albans (Oaklands College) the week I got home. I was 21 years old and considered as a mature student, so was offered the opportunity to knuckle down and cram a two year course into a year, which I did!
How has your floristry career developed?
During my college course, I had a Saturday job in a florist shop learning about the not so glamorous sides of floristry. I scrubbed lots of buckets and made lots of cellophane wraps! After working in a couple more florists locally, gaining more and more experience, I decided to buy a van and offer a mobile floristry service, driving to small villages with fresh flowers, offering a door-to-door service. It was good, but I didn’t have the capital I needed to expand. Eventually after 18 years of dibbing in and out of floristry, my husband and I opened a florist shop in our local village of Kibworth Beauchamp in Leicestershire. I was fulfilling my dream…I absolutely loved having my own shop, but it didn’t come without its pressures. I also hadn’t considered the complications of working 24/7 whilst wanting to spend time with my young family.
When did you start working at Kelmarsh Hall and what’s your current role there?
After leaving our shop in 2010, I panicked that I would be unemployable! I had over 20 years of experience but wondered where that would get me. I started running floristry courses locally and I organised ladies charity shopping events in our village (I like to keep busy!) and enquired about hiring Kelmarsh Hall in Northamptonshire for this event. After a lovely meeting with Estelle, the Events Manager at Kelmarsh, I was basically offered a job as an in-house florist at Kelmarsh Hall. I just couldn’t believe it and I started the following Monday!! I remember the feeling the first time I opened the gates to the walled garden…I could have cried, as it was so beautiful. It took my breath away.
What kind of floristry services do you offer?
Kelmarsh Hall is open to the public from April through to October. During this time, I decorate the hall with fresh cut flower displays from the gardens. As this was something that Nancy Lancaster loved to do, I like to think I’m carrying on in her footsteps as the walled garden and flowers were her passion. Kelmarsh is also a beautiful wedding venue and I offer a wedding flowers service…everything from buttonholes through to large displays for the hall. And I run floristry courses at Kelmarsh Hall. I have a sea of blank faces at the start of the day and by the end, they are all so delighted with their creations and some lovely friendships have been made too.
How would you describe your style?
Over the years, I’ve found my own style, though I think it takes time. When starting out, you’re concentrating so much on the mechanics of each design. However, once this becomes habit-forming, you have the freedom to express yourself more with your conscious choice of flowers and overall design. I would describe my style as rustic, country and natural. This is aided by the amazing selection of seasonal flowers available to me at Kelmarsh. I also love using a mass of one variety of blooms for a slightly more contemporary feel.
Could you tell us about the Flower School?
At the Flower School, the emphasis is on having a fun, relaxed day whilst learning a thing or two in the process! I take a maximum of ten students as I think it’s important to be able to spend time with each person, whenever they need my attention! Up to now, we’ve been running courses for complete beginners, courses for hand-tied arrangements and Christmas door wreaths, etc. Whilst continuing with these courses, we’ve added in a couple of new ideas for people wanting to return and still learn new skills by offering courses in wedding flowers and pedestals, and encouraging people to visit the garden to cut flowers for themselves. I’m always open to suggestions and will endeavour to cover any designs that people wish to learn. I also offer bespoke courses for groups of 6 or more for team building days or girly days out, etc. I was inspired to do this when I got together 6 of my friends last year and gave them a Christmas wreath-making day as their Christmas presents. We had such a great day and they each had their own door wreath for the season that they were very proud of, may I add! The positive feedback from the courses always make it so worthwhile.
What are your plans for 2014?
2014 got off to a great start. On January 6th, I featured on The Great British Garden Revival programme on BBC2 which was filmed at Kelmarsh Hall and hosted by Rachel de Thame. It showcased the amazing cutting flower walled garden. After the programme, I received some lovely comments and enquiries about my work and have since become a huge fan of Twitter as it enables you to communicate with like-minded people all over the country who are interested in flowers and floristry. I never thought I’d hear myself say that, as I’m much more at home with flowers and scissors than I am a computer! The year ahead looks busy with weddings and courses. So I’m meeting with brides and gathering ideas for my courses during January. I’m also very interested in the movement towards British Flowers. Although I have a great supply at Kelmarsh, it would be interesting to work alongside British growers when I need larger quantities.
What is your favourite flowers?
I never tire of the seasons and what they have to offer. My all-time favourites are peonies and sweet peas, which featured in my wedding bouquet. There is a magnificent display of both at Kelmarsh in the summer. I also love using eucalyptus, rosemary and mint. I think cow parsley is the prettiest weed ever! I walk into the garden in September and am faced with an amazing display of dahlias with their magnificent colours. I could go on and on and on…
If you missed the wonderful Great British Garden Revival programme on Cut Flowers, which featured both these ladies, you have until next Tuesday (21st January) to be able to view it on BBC iPlayer. Here’s a link…it’s well worth watching!
(Images : Louise Wesley/Kelmarsh Hall)