Makers Who Inspire Me: Honeysuckle and Hilda's Eco-Friendly Floral Work
Like a lot of people, I quite often find social media exasperating and honestly, frequently depressing. This blog series was inspired by the idea that I might use my business instagram and my blog to celebrate the work of other makers, because doing that makes me happy and because I wanted to tick up the needle on the positivity-meter (if there were such a thing) to the whatever extent that it's possible.
But! I also can't deny that instagram has brought many lovely people into my life and without it I can't imagine that we would have met otherwise. A few of them I'm lucky enough to call friends and Claire Bowen of Honeysuckle and Hilda is one of those. Her work immediately caught my eye for its gorgeous natural forms and lovely use of colour!
I actually can't remember how we started chatting but we finally met in real life over tea in London some years ago and have since spent many lovely hours chatting over various tables and sometimes collaborating with floral workshops and the like.
Claire is focused on eco-friendly floral design based in the UK. What does eco-friendly mean in the context of flowers, I hear you wonder? In H & H's case it's sourcing flowers and branches from local suppliers, foraging around the beautiful Oxfordshire village she calls home and advocating for the use of alternatives to floral foam (which is a highly toxic and polluting design stabilizer used the world over by florists - and there's a fair amount of evidence mounting that it causes cancer).
Here are her answers to my questionnaire - it's the same set of questions going out to each maker and I am so enjoying reading all the different responses! I hope you will too.
S: Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
C: Having lived nearly all my life in London, a few years ago my husband and I moved out to Oxfordshire. We live in a small village in a house that is part 18th Century pub, part 19th Century bakery and, later, post office, with our two small dogs (Honeysuckle and Hilda), a saggy old cloth cat (Cecil) and a tortoise named Hollyhocks, who we adopted earlier this year. I teach sustainable floristry techniques from my studio which is in my garden, and also enjoy writing.
S: How did you get started making beautiful creations in flowers?
C: I have always loved flowers, but having been brought up in a city, and not always earning enough to buy myself flowers as I’d like to, I still pinch myself that I get to do this now. Having been very poorly and off work for a few years, I started to take occasional day or evening classes with florists I admired, just for fun. When I was deemed fit for work, I was made redundant (unsurprisingly, having been away for three and half years my post had been filled) and I used the pay off to do some more classes and go on a couple of floral retreats.
I started posting my flowers on Instagram for my friends to see, but my following grew quite quickly and people started writing to me about events and classes. I resisted at first, but eventually plucked up the courage and gave it a go. I taught 1:1s in our tiny kitchen of the cottage we rented, and group classes in a nearby village hall to start with. I was lucky to be asked by Daylesford to do some guest classes there and when we bought our home, we converted an old workshop and garage into a lovely flower studio that I could teach from.
S: What do you love most about what you do?
C: It’s cliché but working with nature is such a privilege. To be able to take the time to observe the living world around me, and to work with materials that I have either grown myself or are from a farm just a mile away, is a wonderful thing. It definitely informs my practice too: I’m always on the look out for curved stems, dangling tendrils, leaves that are turning an interesting colour… Also, working from my studio means no commute - I don’t miss the early starts on the No 38 from Hackney to the bustle of Central London (although I do miss Hackney a little).
S: What’s the biggest challenge you feel you’re up against (if there are any) with this work?
C: I think this is a very scary time to be a florist - and I don’t use that word lightly. In the U.K. we have a cost of living crisis due to rising inflation and interest rates, and the price of energy soaring way beyond anything that’s affordable. When people are struggling or at the very least have less disposable income than they used to, flowers are inevitably seen as a luxury.
S: What’s one thing you wish people understood about what you do?
C: Something I’m becoming increasingly aware of, is that people don’t always understand the work that goes on behind the scenes for a wedding or even a class. Even if I am teaching at home, before the class I have to get the studio really clean, source any flowers that I don’t grow here myself, and a host of other preparations, As it’s now wreath season, I also spend a lot of time foraging - I like to take only what I need and hunt out the best bits rather than taking a huge bunch of things and then discarding bits - and sourcing beautiful ribbons like yours. And after the class or event, there’s a big tidy up too. So when they see the cost of a class they see it as being for three hours of my time, rather than what is actually at least a day, more likely two.
I was recently asked by a neighbour to do some flowers for an event in our church and whilst I was delighted to help and give her my time; what did come across was that flowers that had been grown either by me or someone locally were viewed as being “free” because they were already there, rather than shipped in from abroad, and it made me realise that people don’t always appreciate the time, cost and effort that goes into growing flowers either.
S: What is your hope or plan or dream for your work going forward?
C: As a city girl, I’m still very much a novice gardener, but am trying to learn about sustainable and regenerative ways of gardening. We already have a lot more nature in our garden here: so many different birds, butterflies, and - lucky for us - lots of toads to keep the slugs at bay. I’d love for my garden to both produce flowers for my classes and give something back to the environment as well, and that’s what I’m working on now.
S: What’s your favourite kind of cake?
C: Hmm. Tricky one as I’m not much of a cake eater. However, I have a new book on Scandinavian, Vegan baking and I’m hoping to up my game for Christmas. My friend and brilliant photographer, Eva Nemeth, is an amazing baker and my husband looks forward to her visits at least as much as I do. This year I might try and make something in return!
S: That sounds so yummy! I'll be right over to help you test the results ;)
S: Is there anything else you’d like to share right now?
C: Oh gosh. So many things. Whilst the current algorithm on Instagram is in many ways frustrating, it has also shown me so many accounts I would never have looked for if left to my own devices, and a few new friends and past times have come about as a result. For example, this winter I am taking up embroidery and have been following different people to pick up tips, and have a stash of embroidery kits to keep me going well into 2023.
S: Oooh! Can't wait to see what you create!
C: But when I attend a gardening class or introduce myself for some other reason, I always tell people that I have a tortoise. I’ve wanted one for over forty years, and getting one feels like one of my greatest achievements. I absolutely love watching her tootle about the garden and/ or the house. I had no idea just how intelligent and affectionate a tortoise could be, and if I was a therapist I’d tell all my clients to get one - they are incredibly calming.
S: Thank you, Claire!
Note: All photos are by the amazing Eva Nemeth, who i also hope to rope into these chats sometime soon.