Evermore Guest: Wetherly

Meet Olivia Wilson, founder of Wetherly - a seasonal and sustainable British flower studio based just outside of London. Olivia shares her practical advice on growing chemical-free flowers, plus her top tips for arranging them once they're cut.
Olivia Wilson, Wetherly founder
British grown flowers by Wetherly

“I always felt drawn to flowers as a child and feel very lucky that I have been working with them for all of my adult life. After university, I went to Horticulture College to study floristry before I went to learn more on the job freelancing for different florists in London. I became increasingly interested in the growing process during this time. I had long felt concerned by the environmental and ethical impacts of the global floriculture industry – the flowers on the stands were always beautiful, the ways in which they were grown on a mass scale were often ugly. By pure serendipity, a small flower farm had started production near my hometown and I managed to convince them to let me volunteer. This was a fundamental turning point in my floristry career and what started as a subconscious preference for using truly seasonal flowers, became a conscious decision. I now only use British grown flowers, mostly those I have grown myself having since taking over the running of those very same fields in my hometown.”

Growing British Flowers - Wetherly

Seasonal floristry:

“Last year I co-founded SSAW collective in order to be more vocal about the importance of provenance in seasonal produce. Prioritising seasonality in flowers is important, not only because when a particular bloom is in season, it looks its best, but is also when it has the least negative impact on the environment. Flowers have one of the highest carbon footprints of any supermarket product and with the effects of climate change becoming more and more apparent, considering the impacts of the choices we make is paramount.

From tulips in April, ranunculus in May, peonies in June, roses in July, dahlias in August and hydrangeas in September, there are so many beautiful British grown blooms to be had throughout the growing season. So much so that there really is no need to ever buy imported blooms. Always ask your florist where the flowers have come from or support local flower farmers. (Flowers from the farm is a great resource for finding one nearby.) You could even go one step further and grow your own.”

A British flower farm - Wetherly

Getting started:

“There is often a misconception that you need a lot of space to grow flowers for cutting, but you really can grow in a small garden, in containers or even a window box. The main things you need to think about are the soil, the sun and the shade. Most flowers like lots of sun and nutrient-rich, well draining soil.

If you have the space to create a new bed, the less you disturb your soil the better, so starting with no-dig beds if you’re wanting to expand is really important. (There are lots of great videos on You Tube if you want to find out more)”

British cut flowers - Wetherly

What to grow:

“Once you have considered your soil type and worked out the levels of sunshine and shade, here are some great flowers to get you started:

  • Narcissi are so much more than the common daffodil, in all shapes and sizes and shades from yellow to peach they are the first and most welcome signs of spring. Planted deep as bulbs in the autumn they will come back year after year.
  • Cosmos is a perfect summer flower for beginner gardeners, coming in a wonderful array of whites and pinks. They are hardy, continuous bloomers that love full sun conditions.
  • I have always grown dahlias from tubers but you can also try directly from seed. They aren’t the longest lasting cut flower but they are also ‘cut and come again’ so the more you pick, the more you’ll have to play with.
  • Violas and Pansies might be short but there is nothing happier than their little faces – if you plant them closely together, it encourages stem length to grow longer.
British poppies - Wetherly

Top tips for growing pesticide-free:

Tamar Organics have a small range of flower and herb seeds and is a great place to look. I also highly recommend Klasmann organic peat free compost for starting off seeds. Sea Chem is a wonderful organic seaweed feed made in Shropshire. Slugs have been prolific this year and I have been trying all sorts of natural techniques to put them off from egg shells, to copper wire and sheep’s wool. I spray aphids with a weak solution of eco washing up liquid and encourage the presence of predators such as ladybirds by ensuring there are plenty of areas left uncultivated as habitat for wildlife.

When choosing what to grow, aim for a majority of perennial plants (such as Aquilegia and Geum) and good self-seeding annuals (such as Nigella and Poppies) as an effective way of building an established and productive plot.”

Flower arranging - British Flowers - Wetherly

Arranging seasonal flowers:

“I increasingly prefer a much more pared back aesthetic, showcasing a few choice stems just as they are, so you can appreciate the beauty of the flowers themselves.

  • Larger blooms like Peonies and Dahlias often look better by themselves to create a statement arrangement.
  • Mixing smaller delicate flowers like Cornflower, Scabious or Poppies with grasses creates loose, airy wild looking arrangements.
  • Using vases with a narrower neck makes it easier to arrange. Bud vases are a great way to start using mixed heights and clustering together with a few stems in each.
  • Don’t put too many stems in each. Think about different heights and textures to create visual interest. Grouping in odd numbers works better than even.
  • Keep your cut flowers out of direct sunlight, in deep, fresh water. Strip all foliage below the neck of the vase so none goes into the water and refresh the water often.”
Evermore Guest: Wetherly 15

“I am very much still learning about growing, I still feel grateful to every self-seeded annual and every reliable perennial that has covered the gaps when succession sows have failed. There is a real sense of nurturing, tending to plants –  it really is a labour of love, so seeing them fail at any stage in their growth is disheartening but I am coming to realise that there will always be losses and lessons to learn. It is acceptance of this and the not giving up that is the true testament to having begun to understand and to really be able to grow in harmony with nature.”

You can buy Friday Flowers by Wetherly via ssawcollective.com

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Photography by Liz Seabrook