Muddy meets The Botanical Alchemist
We catch up with Cambridgeshire's The Botanical Alchemist, Imogen Hall, about her magical touch with flowers, plans for the business post-lockdown and her range of 'girl power' wreaths.
Apart from having the coolest name of any florist we’ve come across, Imogen Hall from The Botanical Alchemist, based just outside Newmarket on the Suffolk/ Cambs border also has a thoroughly modern and magical approach to floristry. Imogen, along with her mother Diana, own a flower farm, where they grow many of the flowers they use in the stunning arrangements. It’s a really sustainable approach to floristry and means the flowers are always seasonal, free from pesticides and at their very best because they’re picked minutes before they are arranged.
Imogen also sets a lot of store on the meaning of flowers and arrangements are always full of symbology and special meanings. We caught up with Imogen to discuss all things flowers, including how her business has changed post-lockdown and all about her new line of dried wreaths inspired by powerful women.
How did you get into floristry?
“I used to work in London as a trader at an advertising agency, and while I had a great career and enjoyed my life, I couldn’t help but think how amazing being a florist would be. At the time it was very unrealistic to quit my job and move into floristry, but I had saved enough to allow me to start a Diploma in Floral Design at The Covent Garden Academy of Flowers in London. My company allowed me to freelance for them, meaning I was able to do both. Once I started the course I knew that was it, no regrets. Around the same time my Grandpa passed away and I remember taking out the flowers from his funeral spray tribute after the funeral and adding them into vases and it was so peaceful and just reinforced that this is what I wanted to do. I wanted to be creative, work with my hands and show everyone the potential of flowers.”
What are your favourite arrangements to put together?
“I love having input from customers about what their favourite flowers and styles are, but my favourite arrangements to make are when I’m given free rein to create something seasonal and unique. I specialise in the language of flowers, which involves me getting an idea about the recipient and using my interpretation of flowers to relay the message. By having total freedom I use a combination of seasonal flowers I’ve grown, along with interesting imported flowers to create some lovely arrangements. This will often take the customers away from what they might expect and introduce them to flowers they might not have seen before, and it keeps the flowers interesting as you never know what you’re going to get!”
Tell us a bit more about the flower farm and why you decided to set it up?
“When I first moved home to set up my business I asked my mum if I could have a small area of the garden to grow a few flowers. I didn’t really know what I was doing and she soon took over! Quite quickly we realised we had a lot of growing space and immediately began ordering seeds and bulbs and creating our own wooden raised beds. Within a few months we had ordered a 43” Polytunnel which allowed us to grow more flowers away from the colder weather. Growing can be slightly unpredictable, so it took us a few years to work out the best way to grow certain flowers, inside or outside and which were our favourites. We are now thriving with hundreds of varieties of seasonal flowers.
We provided many florists with our homegrown British Flowers during the coronavirus lockdown and developed some continuing relationships, which has encouraged us to install a second Polytunnel next month to double our efforts. We have over 3000 spring tulips and ranunculus coming next year – watch this space!”
If you had to pick a favourite flower or two, what would you choose?
“I work with so many beautiful flowers, it’s almost impossible to have a favourite, but I do think that our homegrown tulips come in the most stunning varieties and I really enjoy using them. I also love lilac because it brings the most amazing texture into arrangements packing them with abundance and charm.”
What’s the best thing about being a florist? And the worst…?
“I love working in such a creative space filled with possibilities and ever changing trends. It’s impossible not to feel inspired everyday and working for myself allows me to explore whatever I want. Working with my hands, being creative and using such beautiful natural flowers brings a kind of peace I could never have got working elsewhere. Speaking to customers and creating arrangements that take their breath away is extremely emotional and rewarding.”
“Unfortunately being a florist is also extremely hard work! The hours are long, the conditions are usually very cold and wet, and there is a lot of setting up, bucket cleaning, organisation and general maintenance that needs to be done daily before you even begin working with flowers. Floristry is also a very competitive field and it’s often a bit disheartening to either have customers wanting the world for nothing or to have so many other florists’ daunting, beautiful work as a benchmark!”
Tell us more about your new line of dried wreaths and their symbolism…
“I love using dried flowers in lots of different ways, but I was recently inspired to create a range of wreaths, which included some meaning and highlighted the power of women. A lot of wreaths are given to mothers or best friends and I thought it would be lovely to have something powerful and full of strength. Some of these were designed with specific characters from my life in mind and it made me smile to think of them being summed up in flowers. There is:
Joan – Offering an appreciation to those with loved relatives of the same name. Power, strength and courage.
Margo – Fierce, Determined, Warmth, Spark of Life, Curiosity, Intelligence and Independence.
Gaia – Mother if all, Strength, Fire and Creativity.
Astrid – Beautiful Goddess, Divine Strength and Viking Ferocity.”
Any exciting news or plans post-lockdown for the business?
“I have met a lot of new virtual customers over the lockdown period who were looking for local businesses and I am continuing to fulfil orders and develop my relationships with them. I am going to continue offering them new and exciting arrangements and well developing plans for our flower farm expansion.”
“Our latest new venture will be the Pop Up Florist at Sparrows End Farm Shop, Sparrows End, Saffron Walden, CB11 3TU. We will be there offering our beautiful flowers, arrangements, plants, pots, sundries, cards, and much more! We are keen to learn as much as we can about the local customer requirements and develop our offering from there. We will also be running wreath making workshops over the festive period with much more to come!”
Click here for more information about The Botanical Alchemist and to order flowers and wreaths.