It may be the tail end of summer but Hazel Gardiner and her responsive gardening technique is seasonless. Stepping into her green and floral oasis in North London our September YOLKE Girl shares with us what its like behind the scenes at RHS Chelsea Flower Show, her journey from media to floral designer and the projects and causes she champions.
Photography by Joanna Theodorou.
Are we right in in thinking that you started out in the fashion field, graduated from London College of Fashion and then pursued a career in the FASHION industry after?
Yes, I’ve always been completely transfixed by the fashion. I studied Fashion Promotion that combined journalism, PR and broadcast. We had incredible guest tutors such as photgraoher Paolo Roversi, I interned at The Independent for Melanie Rickey and worked at shows such as Alexander McQueen. It was the late 90s which was such a conceptual and important time for the British Fashion. I specialised in journalism but went on to work in music TV production on events such as the MTV awards. I also worked directly for the late, great, Keith Flint for two years. It was incredible moment to work in these industries, but it was highly pressured environment. Fortunately, many skills from these days have been transferred to our work today creating set and event design for clients such as Elemis, Levi’s, Disney and Sony Music.
How did switching pathways and you getting into floristry come about?
I was diagnosed with a rare cancer back in 2007. This was the moment I was forced to stop due to the lengthy treatment. This time of my life was traumatising and pushed my resilience. I was incredibly lucky to survive and vowed if I get through it, fear would no longer stop any decisions I made. Previously I had internally struggled with anxiety. The diagnosis forced me to be tackle my mental health. This was such a life-changing moment as I discovered how soothing gardening and the outdoors are. Growing to me was grounding, humbly and regenerated my body and mind.
You’ve now worked with prestigious organisations such as the RHS Chelsea Flower Show and are a Trustee of The Garden Museum in Lambeth, can you tell us a bit more about your role within those projects and other charities?
I’d visited the Museum many times with my Dad, an academic with a passion for learning and creativity. I took part in the 2021 British Flowers Week creating a life-sized wishing tree installation. When the role was announced for a Trustee that could help with the engagement of their young, diverse and digitally aware audience, I felt compelled to apply. A part of my values as an individual and business owner is that I’m passionate about accessible horticultural education, gardening and green spaces for all and the problematic issues surrounding diversity within the industry. I also work with Future Gardeners which is a free training initiative, life-changing for many. I have a long-standing relationship with the RHS whose audience is also evolving. We created the iconic RHS letters for Chelsea Flower Show 2022 and this year I gave a talk at RHS Chelsea with Alice Vincent within Polly Wilkinson’s “Heroines of Horticulture” garden in the Great Pavilion.
What advise or resources can you share for any young person trying to get into floristry?
I would suggest firstly doing lots of research to discover the style your drawn to and the specific area of floristry you want to get into. There are so many options from working in a large event company, setting up an online or retail shop to freelancing with studio florists such as us. Local colleges have more affordable options for formal training and there are fantastic private schools, but these can be cost prohibited. I know many designers who are self-taught, have come from a second or third career or who have learned from firsthand experience. Free learning can be found on YouTube and TikTok. These are great places to see different floristry techniques and styles, especially foam free! I would read, listen to podcasts such as Botanical Brouhaha and Girl Flower and my RHS website career profile offers up advice. Our Instagram is a great hub for learning too. We share both floral and gardening tutorials and take you behind daily life in the studio and our varied adventures. We also like to reveal our inspirations and my personal recommendations from beauty, interiors to fashion.
Considering how ephemeral the life of fresh flowers is, how does the work that you do remain sustainable?
This is a topic that we have had to delve into, we use lots of planting in our designs such as within the garden we created for Tobermory at this year’s Hampton Court Festival. We also dry as much as possible to re-use in future designs. We are precise and exacting when buying to prevent wastage. We don’t use floral foam or single use plastics and support the #grownnotflown ethos. This means, where possible, we use British flowers, including those grown by my sister on her farm in Wales. We stopped calling ourselves seasonal florists last year updating this to responsive. It could be peony season but if it’s a bad season we have to adapt and offer up alternatives in-keeping to what’s growing in the field.
Creativity just flows through your veins, so it feel slacking to just call you a “florist”, do tell us more about your other projects and how those tie into the causes and projects you champion?
Thank you! I’m also a TV and radio broadcaster, writer and digital creator. Having the business split between the floral studio, with our incredible freelance teams, allows me to a have additional creative outlets that take me back to the media that I originally trained in. Everything is based around education and accessibility. I also love meeting people, interviewing a Head Gardener for English Heritage for example is my happy place as is filming for Steph’s Packed Lunch, Gardener’s World or BBC’s Chelsea Flower Show. I love demonstrating sustainable floristry and promoting indoor and outdoor gardening as a tonic, however limited by space you may be. I’m in love with the natural world which needs protecting, this is what fuels me. I’ve had many privileges and can’t represent or speak for all marginalised groups at all. What I can do is show people that there are Black people in this industry, representation is so important.
With Black History Month approaching, who are some people or projects you wanted to shout out?
We continue to work with the hugely talented performance artist and composer Damsel Elysium supporting their creative endeavours. Most recently creating floral set design for their collaborative performance at the V&A Museum. I also feature in ‘A Year of Black Joy’ an uplifting and empowering children’s, illustrated, book celebrating the talent and contributions of 52 Black experts by award-winning author Jamia Wilson. To be featured alongside celebrated individuals such as chef Andi Oliver, and British cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason, who I’ve seen perform many times is such an honour. Finally, keep an eye on The Garden Museum events page as they some engaging happenings planned.
What other projects do you have coming up as we approach the end of the year?
We are scarily planning Christmas where we hope to bring collaborative wreath and seasonal workshops, both in-person and online. If you join our newsletter you’ll be the first to know when our dates are released. We also have a big project lined up for next year, sadly we are sworn to secrecy until then. You can join us at Daylesford for a winter table and floral styling workshop on the 30th of Nov and I’ll also be back on your TV screens in early October. Stay tuned on socials to see where, when and with who!