Garden grown and styled: Aesme UK

I am so incredibly inspired by this business; two sisters growing and styling their own botanicals, a mix of the city / country life and a rambling garden style of sustainable floristry.

Sisters, Jess and Alex run Aesme flower studio in a refurbished Victorian railway arch in Shepherd’s Bush, West London. And they grow most of their own botanicals on a farm in Hampshire.

Thanks to Alex and Jess for giving us an insight into growing and styling your own blooms. Grab a cuppa, enjoy.

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Alex and Jess from Aesme flowers. Pic by @kristenperers

How would you describe your style / philosophy.

At Aesme we specialise in garden-inspired floral design. Our style is organic, naturalistic and a little rambling. We grow flowers on a farm in Hampshire and our West London studio caters for weddings, events and workshops.

“We love bringing the wild, unusual ingredients we grow back into the city.”

What’s your approach to creating an arrangement?

We always take our cues from the season; this dictates the ingredients we use and often the colour palette too – in spring this is often very clean and fresh, indicative of the new buds and fresh leaves emerging in the hedgerows and fields, lots of blossom, spindly branches, many special varieties of tulips, fritillaries, ranunculus and aquilegia.

Moving into summer, our peak wedding season, the garden fills with pastel tones and garden roses in their first flush – our arrangements in summer are often very blowsy and wildly romantic.

Fresh floral arch over doorway
Foraged branches, grasses, roses and smokebush for a wedding in Surrey, by Aesme Flowers.

Autumn we move into a moodier palette- turning leaves, berries, zinnias and dahlias and then into the jewel tones of winter with evergreen foliage, conifer, amaryllis, dried seed heads and narcissus.

If we are creating flowers for a wedding or an event we will know in advance where each arrangement is to be placed and the setting so we will be working with a shape, size, style and colour palette in mind; this is refined with our client during the months before their event. Often a wedding will be held on a Saturday, so we cut from the garden early on a Thursday morning and then all the arrangements, bouquets and personal flowers are created on the Friday at our studio.

Each arrangement is made using flowers and branches we have specifically cut for their shape, colour and scent. Our techniques for creating bouquets and arrangements are those we have honed ourselves over the past four years and all involve a loose way of layering the materials and allowing them space to move and sing.

Often our arrangements are asymmetric and we play with depth and texture so that they can be enjoyed from all angles and appear as little botanical ‘worlds’ in their own right.

“We never make two pieces the same as we allow for instinctive design.”

So even if we are making, for example, a series of spilly bowl arrangements with the same colour palette, the composition will slightly vary from one to the next, but the textures and colours will keep the overall effect consistent.

Floral foam free of course. This arrangement uses beech, hawthorn, foxgloves, clematis and cow parsley at Wimborne House.
Floral foam free of course. This arrangement uses beech, hawthorn, foxgloves, clematis and cow parsley at Wimborne House.

How do you keep finding inspiration?

We try to look outside the world of event and wedding design as much as possible!

We find a tremendous amount of inspiration in horticulture, so we often build in time to visit gardens around the country, and we are very lucky in England that there are so many beautiful old houses and heritage gardens kept up by the National Trust or English Heritage, that we dip into to reignite us if we’re feeling stale.

Seeing how gardeners and garden designers layer plants together gives us lots of fresh ideas and we’ll often discover new varieties that we would like to include in our own cutting garden – roses or shrubs or perennials that we haven’t seen before.

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Travel, fashion, art, architecture and literature are other interests that fuel us creatively and spark ideas.

We both love collecting old books by Constance Spry and Vita Sackville-West who had wonderful ways with both words and flowers. A book I recently loved and found incredibly inspiring was The Thoughtful Gardener by Jinny Blom. The paintings of Milton Avery and Fairfield Porter. The work of fashion designers Dries van Noten and Margaret Howell.

How is the floristry industry changing?

The floristry industry has been dominated for far too long by a lack of artistic imagination, out of date methods and unsustainable, environmentally damaging practices, particularly sourcing, use of plastics and waste management.

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“Fortunately there seems to be a gathering momentum of designers around the world who want to make a difference, 

In the UK there are many instances of artisanal studios and small-scale growers who are spearheading a movement towards a more considered, thoughtful way of working with flowers.”

Floral wreath
Wild grasses, dried seed pods and Daucus Carota (Wild carrot / Queen Anne’s Lace)

The slow food movement has certainly helped to raise awareness about provenance and the clients who come to us are often very keen to have locally grown flowers and make use of what is in season. So there is hope – good things are happening!

Do you source solely from your farm?

We grow and forage flowers and foliage on a farm in Hampshire and during the growing season (in the UK this runs April to late October). We try to use exclusively seasonal, local materials, either own-grown or sourced from other small-scale flower farmers.

In November and December when our climate precludes us sourcing colourful flowers closer to home, we buy flowers grown in Europe which we combine with locally foraged foliage, bulbs and dried elements. The first two or three months of the year are very quiet, which is perfectly reflective of the season, and our studio is closed during this time.

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Autumn in the cutting garden, Hampshire, UK.

We get busy again in April when the first bulbs begin to flower in our poly tunnels so the rhythm of our work schedule and the garden run very much in tandem with one another.

What do you grow?

In spring: narcissus, speciality tulips, hellebore, ranunculus, fritillaria, Solomon’s seal,

snowdrop, anemone, fruiting branches, spiraea, lilac & jasmine.

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Van full from the cutting garden

In summer: garden rose, columbine, mock orange, foxglove, poppy, sweet pea, peony,

honeysuckle, cosmos, nigella, scabious, cornflower, ammi, hollyhock, delphinium, iris,

campanula & nicotiana, lots of foraged foliage, wild rose briars, vines and herbs.

In autumn: Japanese anemone, amaranthus, dahlia, chocolate cosmos,

lisianthus, zinnia, miscanthus, and we forage wild grasses, spindle branches and rosehips.

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White cosmos in the evening sun

In winter: amaryllis, anemone, ranunculus, narcissus, hellebore, cyclamen, branches of

pine, spruce, cedar, viburnum, skimmia, rosemary and old man’s beard.

Thoughts on sustainable floristry

We are not ‘eco-warriors’, but we do want our business to be as sustainable as possible and to limit our impact on the environment as much as we can. At the beginning of 2018 we made a resolution to stop using Oasis floral foam and I am confident that we never will again.

We wash and re-use plastic containers, we recycle as much as possible and we compost all our green waste back in Hampshire where it will nourish our soil for future growth.

We do not use chemicals or pesticides at our cutting garden.

Is it tricky NOT using floral foam?

Not at all. But it does involve more forward planning and a ‘can-do’ attitude.

“This instantly means that you become a better designer, because you can no longer rely on that rectangular brick, which is ultimately a lazy convenience that is horrifyingly toxic, damaging to the environment and may never biodegrade.”

You have to fashion alternative water-sources for your flowers and you have to chose what you are using – whether it be branches, flowers or plants, and learn to manipulate them into the shapes you want.

We always use flower frogs / pin holders for small arrangements and chicken wire for large urns and installations. Where there is a will, there is a way!

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Tips to brides who are in the planning stages?

I recommend to every client we have that they prioritise and isolate where they want their impact-points to be – will it be the dinner tables, the rood screen at the back of the church, the staircase? Which areas will be the most used by guests throughout the day, or the most photographed? Focussing in will be far more impactful than trying to do too many small ‘bits’.

Bride with urn of flowers
Pic by @cinziabruscini and styled by @honeyandcinnamonwed

Compile a folder of inspiration images. Try to keep these consistent and imagine them in the space, whether it be an old house or a marquee.

Ask your florist what is in season and whether they can include locally grown flowers in their designs.

Remember that wedding florists are providing a bespoke service, not a product (we spend on average six days in total on one wedding, including meeting, planning, cutting, conditioning, arranging, installing and collecting) so it is important that you find someone who you feel speaks your language in terms of style and ethos so that you can collaborate to bring your vision to life.

Was it always flowers for you?

No! We grew up between London and Wiltshire, where our father had a lovely garden, but we never considered working with flowers until our late twenties, after we’d tried various other career paths that were far more sedentary and office-based.

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Aesme came about because I started flower-arranging as an artistic ‘hobby’ and reading into it I discovered a designer named Sarah Ryhanen who ran a flower studio in Brooklyn, New York called Saipua and a flower farm upstate, World’s End. Her flowers were the most beautiful flowers I’d ever seen and on a whim I wrote to her to ask if she’d consider me for an internship.

This was in October 2014 and very unexpectedly she wrote back and said yes – come over in the Spring. I spent a couple of weeks working at her studio in Red Hook and that was an important pivot-point in my life because I not only came back to the UK wanting to work with flowers but I also knew I had to find ingredients that were equally magical and wild and intricate – and that was where my sister came in, because we decided to grow down in Hampshire and set up a business together.

Most memorable gig?

There have been so many wonderful projects that we’ve been lucky enough to work on with so many amazing clients; we couldn’t possibly choose between them!

Some of our happiest days of flowering have been during workshops we’ve hosted at our studio; we’ve had visitors from all over the world this year and it’s such a special, collaborative atmosphere.

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Everything is thought about – the flowers, the plants, the candlelight, the music, and its just really great fun to be making beautiful things and learning with other flower lovers.

Working with family!

Jess and I are lucky that we complement each other well, but we each have our own strengths which helps reduce the overlap, which could be problematic in a small business! It wasn’t always easy – we have had to find our way, and find our own voices.

But we are best friends so we have a very unique, very close bond that means at the end of the day we know we are there for eachother, no matter what.

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Jess in her element on the farm

We are also both workaholics and that ethic has stood us in good stead in an industry that can be quite hard to break into. To anyone considering working with a sibling I’d say that it’s important to be patient until you find your natural roles but then to establish a professionalism for when you’re at work that will help to reduce the sibling tendency to bicker and compete! The upside is priceless – I get to spend every day with my favourite girl in the world, we know we’ll always have eachother’s backs. And we have a lot of fun in the process!!

More articles on sustainable floristry…

On a mission: sustainable floral design

Growth spurt – Irish flower farmers on the increase

THE GOOD LIFE – Farming and designing home grown blooms

A Royal Forage – wedding flowers to make a statement

A labour of love – growing flowers chemical free

From the farm gate: artisan flower farmers

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