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Cover image credit: Andrea Gilpin, @wild_meadow, www.andreagilpinphotography.com 

Meet the tastemaker – Hazel Gardiner

To kickstart Cool Blue’s ‘Meet the tastemaker series’, we caught up with Hazel Gardiner, the Founder and Owner of Hazel Gardiner Design, to delve into her involvement at RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

Having started her company back in 2016, Hazel has a wealth of knowledge and experience. She has sat down with the Cool Blue team to discuss her love of floristry and provides her top tips on how to create the perfect floral arrangement, discusses tablescapes and what’s next for her in the world of floral design.

Tell us a bit about yourself and how your journey began. Where did your love of gardening begin?

I inherited my love of gardening from my mum, who is an amazing gardener. She is from Grenada and my dad is British, so I’ve grown up with two different cultures. We used to go to nurseries and watch Gardeners’ World and it was just astonishing watching my mum bring plants home and transform a border. 

My love affair for gardening really began when I was diagnosed with a rare cancer in 2007 and during my long treatment, the only thing that I could really do for relaxation was garden. It coincided with the time when I bought my first flat, which had a really small, but perfectly formed, urban garden. This was when I started gardening. It was a process of healing and grounding and having a sense of achievement at a time that was very traumatic. I wasn’t working, but gardening really gave me a lot of joy – that’s where my love affair with gardening began.


What made you want to retrain as a florist?

Thankfully, I got a lot better and I set up a vintage clothing business, but about six or seven years later, I just became a bit despondent with the industry. My personal style had changed, and I mainly worked with seventies, eighties and nineties vintage pieces, but it was getting harder and harder to source these, so I just wanted to pivot and do something completely different. I kept on coming back to flowers, so I just took the plunge and decided to retrain and do a four week course at McQueen’s Flower School. That was the turning point and my decision to become a florist was made. I knew I didn’t want to have a retail space, I wanted to work in events floristry, and I started to make that happen as soon as I trained.

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What were your biggest challenges when starting your own business?

Before I launched my business, I worked in TV as a production manager, then when I became ill, I launched my own vintage clothing company, but although I’d owned a business before, I’d never been the person that I needed to promote, because I was a service provider.

There was distinct shift from having a brand that sold a product to a business where I was at the heart of the company. I found it really challenging at first to be so front-facing.

I think like everybody who starts a business, you’re just trying to find your own style. How do you raise awareness of your brand? How do you find clients? Although the pandemic was challenging, I was thankful that the company had started in 2016, so the business was well established. That was a pivotal point for the business as we started creating educational content for social media, which is how I started broadcasting as a horticulturist.  

At the very beginning, it was very much about discovering my style, making sure the business was earning money (let’s be honest), launching and building whilst not losing faith in what I was trying to achieve. My top tips are to not compare yourself to others and keep your focus on your specific goals which will be rightfully different to everyone around you.

What advice can you give to others who are looking to start on their own path and build a business?

I would always suggest that before you even start your business, you need to make sure it’s really what you want to do.

Many people see the end results of floristry and have a romantic view of days surrounded by beautiful flowers. This is a small part of the job. Days are long, with unsocial hours, and it’s very physically demanding with lots of engineering conundrums and project managing. I now have a brilliant team who make it possible for the studio to create incredible work, whilst I focus on creative direction.

In terms of the industry, there are so many ways you could go about having a flower business. You could have a retail space selling direct to consumers, create an online-only platform, or like us, own an event studio that set designs for renowned brands. You might want to work for another florist as a freelancer and not have the pressures of owning your own business. It’s figuring it out once you know the industry, how you want to fit within it. For me, values are also important. You will want your career to be sustainable and flexible within your capacity.

What do you want your work to give you, what’s the intention? We ideally want to be fulfilled in our work and be financially secure. I’m always conscious of delegating and hiring support. Because of my previous illness, I need to make sure my energy and time are balanced. I’m big on boundaries and always relooking at goals and strategies.

What advice can you give to others who are looking to start on their own path and build a business?

I would always suggest that before you even start your business, you need to make sure it’s really what you want to do.

Many people see the end results of floristry and have a romantic view of days surrounded by beautiful flowers. This is a small part of the job. Days are long, with unsocial hours, and it’s very physically demanding with lots of engineering conundrums and project managing. I now have a brilliant team who make it possible for the studio to create incredible work, whilst I focus on creative direction.

In terms of the industry, there are so many ways you could go about having a flower business. You could have a retail space selling direct to consumers, create an online-only platform, or like us, own an event studio that set designs for renowned brands. You might want to work for another florist as a freelancer and not have the pressures of owning your own business. It’s figuring it out once you know the industry, how you want to fit within it. For me, values are also important. You will want your career to be sustainable and flexible within your capacity.

What do you want your work to give you, what’s the intention? We ideally want to be fulfilled in our work and be financially secure. I’m always conscious of delegating and hiring support. Because of my previous illness, I need to make sure my energy and time are balanced. I’m big on boundaries and always relooking at goals and strategies.

When it comes to flower design for tablescapes, what would you say are your top tips to follow?

I would always advise investing in a good linen or cotton tablecloth. You may have an aesthetically unpleasing table, but a good tablecloth can be transformative. I find white quite harsh and instead opt for a cream or ivory to ground a table in a space. It is then about building the table with placemats, crockery, cutlery, napkins and vases. In recent years we’ve had the pleasure of working with OKA and Morris & Co. We have a wonderful collection of homewares and linens although we also source from car boot sales and vintage markets. When it comes to tablescapes, a lot of people think you have to have a huge quantity and assortment of homeware. This isn’t the case. I would recommend a beautiful off-white crockery set and then add accessories that are more jubilant in design, napkins from the remnants of fabric are another great hack. These products can be found at an accessible price point and can elevate and change a table. It's about having a good foundation and then adding little things on top that are more accessible and suit your personal style.

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Credit: Caro Hutchings Photography, www.instagram.com/carohutchingsphoto

What are the key elements to remember when you create a beautiful bouquet/ flower arrangement? Do you recommend starting with colour, or size?

There are four things that you really need to look out for that make a balanced and textural display.

  1. Structure – that’s your foliage. You always want to have a really good foliage foundation unless you’re creating a one variety arrangement, this is key.
  2. Hero or your focal flower – the biggest stem. This would be a rose or peony for example, a large headed bloom that the eye is drawn to.
  3. Smaller headed flowers – varieties such as cosmos and ranunculus which are slightly more diminutive than the hero flower, you want to make sure there is balance and the stems are harmonious.
  4. Filler flowers – these are super light and airy flowers that fill negative space such as astrantia, or cow parsley as these fill the space and complete the piece.

With this combination, you’ll always have a balanced, textural and beautiful display. We are often provided with a colour palette by clients. As we’re a sustainable studio, we use seasonal and British flowers where possible and are also reactive to what's available in the field.

What gets you most excited with flower designs, is there a particular element of a scheme that you enjoy most?

Working with incredible clients, brands and individuals always gets me most excited. We work with interior, lifestyle, beauty, fragrance and a lot of fashion brands. We adore the process of collaborating to bring the narrative and inspiration behind a product or collection to life through flowers. If we’re working with a fragrance brand, we start exploring the different notes. We always start with research; we are experts in translating and telling stories with the elements of the natural world. This is the process that I’m passionate about, translating a brief into conceptional and immersive flowers – as well as of course working with nature’s gifts.

This year for RHS Chelsea Flower Show you worked alongside Crocus and She Grows Veg. Where do you get your inspiration from when creating installations?

This year, we worked on two stands which was very exciting. It was our 3rd year involved with the globally renowned show. For things like installations, I always work collaboratively with the client. I was the creative director behind the Crocus and She Grows Veg trade stand this year, which was such an honour. Since Crocus was founded in 2000 it has built 36 judged show gardens, 12 of these have won Best Show Garden and 33 are gold medal winning. This year, Crocus sponsored Ula Maria’s and Tom Stuart-Smith, show gardens. It was very much a collaborative process, bringing the stand to life, working closely with the team on both the stand and floral set design – it has been such an honour.

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The same goes with She Grows Veg, a new Suffolk-based, female-founded, heirloom seed business. They teamed up with legendary chef Raymond Blanc to bring an ‘edimental experience’ to the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. The studio brought its large-scale stand inside the Great Pavilions to life using its heirloom edibles. We pulled on our vast skills and experience as floral architects to collaborate on a spectacular design. It’s been hugely rewarding working with different mediums. We have worked with edibles, but not to this extent – it’s hugely exciting and so creative – these two projects have been a dream to work on.

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What’s next for you? Do you have any exciting projects coming up that you’re most excited for?

We’re excited to be running a floral masterclass on the 6th of June, at The Orchard Barn, part of The Serge Hill Project for Gardening, Creativity, and Health in Hertfordshire. This initiative is a not-for-profit dedicated to fostering community inclusion through gardening and creativity founded by Tom and Sue Stuart-Smith. We will be using flowers from the site which is such a unique offering.

We’re also expanding our work with Mind, Body and Soil, by curating its May wellness subscription box in celebration of Chelsea worth £61 available from £20. Subscribers will receive a highly decorative Phlebodium plant, our dried flowers with a design tutorial, luxurious Verden hand cream in uplifting D’Orangerie scent and delicious chocolate by Lucocoa. This is a female, black-owned brand, who make its chocolate by hand in London.

All the items we contributed and selected were chosen for their soothing and restoring properties. We love creating incredible installations but also love the mindfulness of the process and how working with nature and your hands can quiet the mind. It’s an honour to offer a slice of our botanical life to others! Get 30% off your box subscription using code hazel30.

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