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Blossoming with chat, the creative duo behind Kitten Grayson Flowers talk biodynamic gardening, favourite blooms and keeping houseplants alive.
Kitten Grayson, the eponymous founder, and creative director Harriette Tebbutt are plant ladies with a refined yet wild studio style – shrinking violets they are not.
An afternoon spent with the pair discussing favourite stems, steely houseplants (suitable for even the most absent of plant owners) and flower-filled memories highlights the transformative powers of nature.
In conversation with Kitten Grayson and Harriette Tebbutt
Where are you from and how has that shaped or inspired you?
Kitten Grayson (KG): I grew up in the countryside in Somerset. I’ve always been drawn to the extraordinary healing and calming powers of plants. As soon as I left school I started to train in floristry; it’s all I ever wanted to do.
Tell us about Kitten Grayson and how it came to be…
KG: I trained as a florist, then came to London and cut my teeth with big-name florists, such as Nikki Tibbles Wild at Heart and Scarlet & Violet. I wanted to learn more about growing from seed to plant, so I went back to Somerset and worked with the truly inspirational flower and vegetable grower, Nicola Morter, who taught me how to propagate seeds. After working on several projects, set up in London on my own about 10 years ago, designing flowers mainly for events and weddings.
HT: I transitioned into the world of flowers from interior styling and art direction. After training at Camberwell College of Art, I sold hand printed textiles to high-end fashion designers – including DVF and Prada – and directed the window design of shops along Westbourne Grove. My work as an art director led me through TV and into luxury events, where my path crossed with Kitten’s. Working together, she drew me deeper into the world of botany. We have loads in common but also different strengths, so we make a good team. We set up Kitten Grayson Flowers in 2016. Together we have developed the studio’s unique signature style – refined yet wild blooms paired according to habitat and season.
What is your first flower memory?
KG: One of my earliest memories is of playing with my sisters in a beautiful walled garden while my grandmother painted. The scent of the flowers, the vivid colours, the opera music blasting – it was a captivating, magical world to explore.
HT: I grew up in a family of keen gardeners – my dad used to fill the house with chrysanthemums cut from the garden; there were always flowers inside and out and that’s something that has really influenced me. I always think of flowers as a complementary feature of a room, like a piece of art or furniture.
Do you have a favourite flower?
KG: I love roses – I hate to be a cliché but for me they are so romantic, regal, timeless and elegant. Sweet peas are another favourite; they’re like a gaggle of flirty girls having a riot down at the bottom of the garden with the runner beans. It’s fun to use them together in arrangements – the pastel colours and velvety petals of the flowers, with that incredible scent, alongside the delicate curling coils and tendrils of the bean plants.
HT: I love the folky colours and patterns of sunflowers, rudbeckia and chrysanthemums. I also love the serendipity of hollyhocks – they pop up joyfully in the street where you least expect them.
Have you a favourite garden? Where in the world can it be found?
KG: My favourite garden is actually a farm called Fern Verrow in at the foot of the Black Mountains in Wales. Owner and gardner Jane Scotter is one of the most inspiring women. She’s a biodynamic grower and each one of her vegetables, fruits and flowers is like a work of art.
HT: Charleston in East Sussex is beautifully surprising – it was the home of the Bloomsbury Group.
What destinations inspire your creativity?
KG: So many places. The Scottish Highlands; the forests there are incredible. Paxos in Greece, in the spring the olive groves are full of wildflowers, it’s another world. So many other places, I could be here for hours…
HT: Travelling anywhere is inspiring, whether it’s in the UK, Europe or further afield. I love exploring somewhere new.
Where should we go for a schooling in floristry?
KG: We run occasional workshops both in London and at Heckfield Place, and it’s a joy to work with people who share our passion. We are firm believers in the restorative powers of plants, the calming effects of being surrounded by nature. It’s wonderful to see how transformative an afternoon in the garden or working with flowers can be for people.
Tell us about some creative references you return to time and time again…
KG: Jane Scotter is a source of endless inspiration – she has alchemy in her fingertips. Also Tom Petherick – I’m loving his book Trees that Shape the World. The Garden Museum in London is a treasure, Cape Town’s Babylonstoren for its dreamy fruit and vegetable garden.
HT: I’m inspired by beautiful architecture, prints and paintings. The William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow is a local gem along with the Wetlands for seasonal inspiration.
What have been some of your favourite projects to date?
KG: The Chelsea Flower Show 2018 was an amazing week – we designed a living garden to celebrate the Royal Wedding. There were some hairy moments with 6m-tall trees on a lorry being reversed through ornate gates… it was utterly exhausting but a great honour and such fun.
HT: We’ve also worked on some stunning parties. For one romantic wedding, we created wild hedgerows outside the church and filled the venue with antique china vases overflowing with creamy roses, scented jasmine, sweet peas and vibrant kumquats.
Tell us about your work with Heckfield Place…
KG: We’ve been working as floral consultants there for a couple of years now. Along with Jane Scotter and Heckfield’s wonderful gardening team, we’ve designed and cultivated a cutting garden that supplies all the flowers for the house. We select a small set of seasonal hero flowers for each month which are home-grown, hand-picked and used simply, en masse, in arrangements throughout the hotel, connecting the inside with the landscape outside.
We have also designed living indoor arrangements to reflect the outdoor planting by the Rich Brothers. It has been the most extraordinary experience; a constantly growing and evolving collaboration with an inspiring group of craftspeople. We’re there for a couple of days each week, and every time we come away with more plans and ideas.
Heckfield Place aside, where would you most like to spend a weekend in the country?
KG: I love exploring the English countryside. My husband and I enjoy mini trips and tree houses – we recently stayed in a beautiful, cosy place called Settle in Norfolk.
HT: The South of France; La Colombe d’Or in Provence is top of my list of places I’d love to visit. Artists who travelled there were offered free accommodation in exchange for their artwork, so it has the most incredible collection of Matisse, Picasso, Calder and many more. I love how their art is part of the natural environment there. I would combine it with a visit to the Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence built after plans by Matisse.
For those who travel a lot, what advice do you have for keeping houseplants alive?
KG: Pick your plants wisely. You need ones that don’t require regular watering – think of plants that come from hot countries such as monstera and palms. They still do need watering so if you can, get a friend to come and give them a drink and have a little chat to make sure they’re happy.
What guides your holiday selections – is it food, hotel, culture…?
KG: The scenery, nature, music, food and wildlife.
HT: Culture, landscape, food, weather and environment.
Your fondest holiday memory…
KG: My uncle’s windmill on the Norfolk Broads grows abundant with lilac buddleia. I have vivid childhood memories of watching the blooms, heavy with golden-yellow swallowtail butterflies, dipping up and down in the sun.
HT: We drove to the north of Spain one summer, singing along to Music to Watch Girls By and stopping for picnics along the way. It was an amazing trip.
What are you reading at the moment?
KG: I listen to lots of audiobooks, I had about 10 on the go but haven’t listened to one since little Meadow came into the world.
HT: I am currently reading To Throw Away Unopened by Viv Albertine, her latest memoir.
Your favourite apps…
KG: Gardens Illustrated – always a useful and interesting resource.
One piece of travel advice…
KG: Ask friends for recommendations, but don’t be scared of exploring.
And finally, what’s in your SUITCASE?
KG: I’m in love with Pearl Lowe dresses; they are beautifully cut and so comfortable. Aesop’s Damascan Rose Facial Treatment. A notebook for jotting down new ideas and inspirations. Flowers for my hair – very important!
HT: A film camera, a patterned scarf to wear in my hair or around my neck, and some speakers – you should always have music wherever you are.
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