@hazelgardinerdesign by Eva K. Salvi
Photograph by Dave Bullivant
Food & Garden
Sustainable Gardening & Floral Design with Hazel Gardiner
The aptly named Hazel Gardiner has had a lifelong love and natural intuition for gardening, floristry, and horticulture. She launched her namesake floral design studio shortly after. Today, she directs a skilled team of freelancers to produce boundary-breaking floral experiences for an illustrious roster of clients. We ask her what sustainable gardening and floral design looks like to her and how we can support people doing florals in harmony with the planet!
“The essence of flower farming and global warming means that nothing is certain. What we can guarantee is to consistently create beautiful designs that tell stories, evoke emotions with an acute understanding of colour palette and texture. This is the true essence of being an artisan studio, working in tandem with nature and what’s happening in the fields.”
– Hazel Gardiner
First of all Hazel we would love to hear about what brought you into the world of gardening and where your love of nature was born?
My Grenadian Mum is an instinctive gardener. She immersed herself in this country’s plants but always added in her love of a vivid tropical colours, she created a magnificent garden. I was lucky, from a young age I learnt about the beauty of flowers through watching her garden, family visits to public gardens and trips to nurseries. I’ve always loved flowers and floral prints which played out when I worked in fashion, but it wasn’t until I had my own garden that my own passion was ignited.
We know that gardening helped you quite a bit after a bout with cancer – would you be able to tell us a bit about how this process of immersing yourself in nature helped you process and heal?
The soothing act of gardening and existing in nature was my tonic. My relationship with nature shifted forever. My diagnosis happened at the same time I owned my first garden. Growing gave me a grounding sense of purpose and routine. This was incredibly powerful at a time when I had little control over my future. Facing mortality made me connect with the smallest things. Still to this day I find the tiniest of moments give the greatest joy such as beautiful sunset on a summer’s night.
And when did the idea of really needing to bring sustainability into your gardening first bloom for you?
When I first started, I saw how much waste can be created in the industry, almost unapologetically. Having founded a vintage clothing business previously. sustainability was always going to be an important value in my new career. I quickly learnt that the most beautiful and fragrant flowers are British, grown by dedicated flower farmers. They provide us with varieties that can’t be found on the large wholesale market. Like any artist we seek the unexpected and theatrical in our work which is why we champion using these flowers alongside other practices such as composting or drying surplus flowers, banning floral-foam and the use of single use plastics.
“Creating the iconic RHS letters for the 2022 RHS Chelsea Flower Show was a huge career milestone for the studio. Another highlight was creating a floral exhibit for the Garden Museum’s annual British Flower Week in 2021. We created a life-size wishing tree decorated with British dried and fresh materials.”
– Hazel Gardiner
You now run a “seasonally responsive” floral studio which we love the sound of – can you explain a bit more what that means to you?
We stopped using the word seasonal last year after the punishing heat changed the availability of flowers we had previously relied on. It’s unrealistic for us to promise we can deliver a certain bloom in a particular colour even in its peak season. This ethos must be the way we now work if committed to using British grown flowers whenever we possibly can. The essence of flower farming and global warming means that nothing is certain. What we can guarantee is to consistently create beautiful designs that tell stories, evoke emotions with an acute understanding of colour palette and texture. This is the true essence of being an artisan studio, working in tandem with nature and what’s happening in the fields.
How have you learned to embrace seasonal flowers when we are so accustomed to having any sort of floral we want at any time of the year?
What have been some of the ways you have made sure the flowers you work with are as ethically sourced as possible?
We use the Flowers from the Farm online directory which champions artisan growers of seasonal British cut flowers, it’s a brilliant resource. Due to the extensive and large designs we produce if we do use imported blooms, we work with our Holland wholesalers on sourcing Fairtrade or ethical flowers. It’s important that as a London florist we’re aware of the privilege in being able to buy British flowers from trusted suppliers at New Covent Garden Flower Market too. There are many in the flower industry who can’t access this or travel to independent farms which is important to note.
What has been the installation that meant the most to you and why?
Creating the iconic RHS letters for the 2022 RHS Chelsea Flower Show was a huge career milestone for the studio. Another highlight was creating a floral exhibit for the Garden Museum’s annual British Flower Week in 2021. We created a life-size wishing tree decorated with British dried and fresh materials. Visitors were invited to write their wishes for the future on colourful tags and place them on the tree’s branches. It was at a time when many were venturing out into public spaces for the first time due to lock-down. The response was phenomenal, we had to deliver more tags to the Musuem throughout the week. We still have every single wish, some incredibly poignant and personal. The reaction was amazingly unexpected and boosting for myself and the team.
Do you have a favourite flower to work with?
I’m constantly changing my top choices as I discover new varieties. Roses will always have a place in my hearth due to their fragrance, beauty and the wide range of varieties. The Emily Brontë shrub rose by David Austin is a highlight and was the first rose planted in my garden. I’m also drawn to unfashionable or overlooked varieties. We’ve just worked on creative shoot celebrating snowdrops, although diminutive they are truly breath-taking to me.
And for anyone wanting to bring the natural world into their homes do you have tips on what to look for to do that in the best way possible?
I would look out for Fairtrade flowers in your supermarket of use a florist that uses British blooms. In the deep winter dried flowers bring welcome decoration when most of the garden and flower farms are awaiting the growing season to start. Make sure you look for uncoloured or bleached varieties. If you leave near the country, then fallen branches can look amazing in a vase. Don’t forget houseplants and foliage. We are in touching distance of blossom, magnolia, and lilac season. A few of these stems in a vase can bring fragrance and beauty into the home without having to purchase copious amounts of stems.
You did a feature on growing your own wedding flowers which we love the idea of so much – can you speak a bit about ethical flowers for a big day as we know the wedding industry can be quite harmful when it comes to conventional flower growing?
Thank you! In in the piece, I suggested to work with a florist who is also a grower or has proven links to using British flowers. This is the ultimate dream for couples looking to source their flower ethically. Unless you have the means and more importantly patience, time and experience, growing your own flowers could be difficult. What is realistic is to grow copious amounts of one variety such as cosmos is you’re having a summer wedding. This is easily grown from seed and the more you cut the more they produce. I think one of the biggest hurdles is educating couples on the reality of being a sustainable florist. Pinterest is unrealistic, often images created for one editorial shot won’t be appropriate for a day and evening long wedding. Couples often become fixated on a particular look without realising the seasonal reality it will take to achieve. The biggest tip I would say is to trust your designer, select them for their overall style over specific and individual blooms and research what’s in season ahead of your date if flowers are important to you.
We are coming up to Valentine’s Day and we would love to hear any tips for sourcing sustainable flowers if people are choosing to celebrate with florals?
The demand for imported red roses in winter has environmental, social, and economic issues and puts a huge strain on international growers and importers. We need to move away from the premise that these blooms must be gifted at Valentines or buy Fairtrade. I would embrace the alternatives available online at your local florist. Greenery at this time of year is beautiful as are display of bulbs or hellebores. Why not make a gift to save the planet on behalf of your significant other instead. You could supply a vulnerable family overseas with five fruit tree saplings via charity Cafod or dedicate a tree, area of even bench to your loved one via The Woodland Trust.
And finally what do you have in store for 2023 that is most meaningful to you?
There are exciting things that can’t quite be shared ahead but we are relaunching our newsletter which will be packed full of garden, floral advice and lifestyle inspiration. We’re also back teaching at Daylesford in Gloucestershire. In the workshops we use blooms picked from their organic garden which is special experience for us all. Owning a busy creative business can result in me becoming disconnected from spending meaningful time outdoors. It’s moments in my garden, trowel in hand, that can be the most meaningful.
Words by Hazel Gardiner @hazelgardinerdesign