A Fine Medley - In Studio
Jessica's floral designs speak of freedom, captivating the eye and the heart. Their beauty is only magnified by the ethical choices Jessica makes in purchasing local, sustainably farmed blooms for her boutique floral design business A Fine Medley. She speaks passionately on the topic, mixed with an inspiring eloquence that leaves you feeling like you'd like to meet Jessica for tea and talk about this more thoroughly. Her attitude is infectious and the images capturing her work are masterfully beautiful, captured by Lauren Kolyn.
Interview continues from Part One, Afield, so if you haven't read it do so first.
SWITCHING GEARS A LITTLE... HOW DO YOU APPROACH FLORAL DESIGN? WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU BRING TO THE TRADE STYLISTICALLY THAT IS UNIQUE?
Floral design doesn’t start at the stem for me. It’s often about texture, colour and structure. A painting or garment or walk through the woods can influence my next design or palette. The way flowers grow in a field, their nuance in the garden or striking persistence shooting up through cracks in pavement, all guide my designs. They can grow in groups and blend together with moving colour or they can stand alone, juxtaposed against cement. I think about this when I’m clustering blooms. In the summer I was hugely inspired by the impressionist work of Van Gogh after visiting the museum in Amsterdam in May. It’s why I used blues and yellows and oranges so often in 2016. His writing was getting inside me then, blending into my psyche and that came out in my work, gave me permission to change things up from my darker melancholic 16th-century mood.
Recently, though, I’m thinking more about what I can leave out, rather than add. I like to see the shape of a flower, the funny little stems, study the leaves and the lines. It’s become more of a meditation. This is all a part of adding depth and composition. The consistent aspect of the way I design is that I’m often inspired by nature’s imperfect beauty and will consider the space in which the piece will be displayed, keeping it naturally wild yet artfully composed.
WHAT ROLE DO YOU THINK FLOWERS PLAY IN OTHERS' DAILY LIVES? HOW DO YOU TRY AND ADD TO THAT MEANING?
I think flowers bring out emotion—they can convey sympathy, contrition, romance and celebration. Whether it’s a true smile at the life they bring to a room or a moment of closure at a passing or a, ‘I’m sorry’ or ‘I’m madly in love with you,’ they are conduits of emotion.
They are also a time capsule for memory, improving episodic recognition. To this day when I smell lilacs I am brought close to my mother - her favourite flower and the bushes that grew along the fence-line of our first home. Lilacs now hold belonging and nurturing for me. Flowers are mood boosters, often eliciting positive responses. It’s part of their evolutionary psychology. For thousands of years humans have cultivated flowers and although there’s no known reward for this costly behaviour, we do it. They remind us that life is fleeting and to cherish it.
For me I want to unlock pleasure in people, intoxicate them with beauty and, if lucky enough, give to them, the transcendental power that I believe flowers carry.
DO YOU HAVE ANY THOUGHTS ON THE FUTURE OF THE FLOWER INDUSTRU? HOW ABOUT ITS RELATIONSHIP TO THE ENVIRONMENT? DO YOU FORESEE ANY EFFORTS OR NECESSARY CHANGES TO BRING THE INDUSTRY AS A WHOLE ON BOARD WITH PROTECTING THE ENVIRONMENT?
Yes I want to see a flower revolution! The flower industry is so closely tied to the wedding industry and they both produce vast amounts of waste as well as emit a cumbersome carbon footprint. Thankfully, when I started out it seemed the few micro flower growers and farmer florists in Ontario were just beginning to expand. The slow flower movement is becoming more common in Canada with studio florists popping up and seeking out nearby farms or endeavouring to grow their own. More designers are foraging now and using potted shrubs, plants, trees and flora rather than all cut flowers in their designs. There’s an ongoing dialogue and I think that it’s inevitable for great designers to go in this direction because the product is better. More of the industry is choosing to use our social media platforms like blogs, Instagram and Facebook to educate and encourage people to support local; with that comes accountability, responsibility and a healthy competition to exert excellence in both craft and conscience purchasing across the industry.
I believe it will be important for smaller growers and boutique designers to start collectives to support one another while attempting to compete with imports and large-scale farms growing mono-crops. For years flowers have been bred for stem length, longevity and disease resistance. But this also takes away from diversity, reducing our choices to only the strongest crops. I can already see a design renaissance happening and because we are such a visual culture, it’s important that we begin to source unique floral varieties while cultivating native plants at the same time. This offers something different from the larger markets but most importantly it protects our habitat.
There’s nothing quite like nurturing a seed from germination to arrangement. It’s an incredibly personal and powerful process. The best part is, anyone can learn to garden by starting. My goal is constantly to use an otherworldly beauty to spark a passion in people for the environment, for growing their own flowers, reconnecting to the land and consider their own power to change the direction of our future.
SPEAKING OF WHICH, FLOWERS ARE A WAY TO BRING THE BEAUTY OF NATURE INDOORS, AND YET SOMEHOW I THINK THAT THE PERFECTION OF THE BOUQUET AND THE DISCONNECT BETWEEN THE FLOWER GROWER AND THE CONSUMER HAS REMOVED COMMERCIAL FLOWERS AS A WHOLE AS BEING 'FROM NATURE'. HOWEVER A LOVE OF FLOWERS BEGS PROTECTION OF THE ENVIRONMENT IN WHICH THEY GROW IN ORDER TO BE ABLE TO CONTINUE TO ENJOY THEM IN YEARS TO COME. IT'S EXCITING TO THINK THAT DESIGNERS LIKE YOU ARE CONTRIBUTING POSITIVELY TO THIS CHANGE. WHAT DO YOU HOPE YOUR MAIN MESSAGE CAN BE AND HOW DO YOU TRY AND COMMUNICATE IT? ANY IDEAS FOR OTHERS NOT IN YOUR AREA WHO WANT TO SUPPORT ETHICAL FLOWERS?
I guess my main message is to spread happiness through nature. Flowers transform a room and they elicit joy to the viewer. They nourish the soul. My hope is that I can give this gift to more people through local flowers. I believe that when people see, touch, smell and experience a bouquet of seasonal blooms they are moved in a positive way. It’s my wish that this would help change perceptions and behaviours to support more ethical lifestyle practices as well as sustainable farming.
Ideals to change your community would be to start your own cutting garden if you don’t have one in the area, especially on a front lawn. Make a section for people walking by to cut from, with a sign that says, “snip for enjoyment and support local.”
HOW CAN WE KNOW WHERE OUR FLOWERS ARE ACTUALLY COMING FROM?
Ask. Ask your local florist and if they aren’t carrying a local product inquire about whether they’d be interested in doing so. Slow Flowers just expanded to Canada last year after the push of some designer friends and I, urging Debra to help us get connected to local growers. If you go to slowflowers.com there’s a “NOW IN CANADA” button on the top right directing you to a list of designers and growers in Canada offering local product. There’s even a map to help you find who is closest to you.
ANY SIMPLE TIPS OR ADVICE FOR READERS LOOKING TO ARRANGE A BASIC WILDFLOWER BOUQUET AT HOME?
For sure. First select a vessel. The larger the opening the more flowers you will need to fill it so keep that in mind. Give the vase a thorough clean with soap and water. Fill with clean water to just below the brim.
Choose your selection of flowers from your garden, side of the road and/or forage through the woods. Follow your instinct and select what you feel drawn too. Make sure to gather a few focal blooms (generally larger, heartier flowers like roses, peonies, ranunculus, narcissus, tulips, hyacinths, irises, etc), some accent blooms (lighter airier bits or line flowers like delphiniums, yarrow, flowering herbs, berries, lily of the valley, columbines, stock, sweet peas, lilacs, etc) and then some filler foliage and greens.
Before arranging clean the stems, taking leaves off from about the mid-point. To gauge the height that you want the flower to be placed measure from the base of the vase and snip the stem at an angle at the height you want. Then start with your greens and filler to create a grid to hold the more delicate stems in place (or you can use chicken wire in a low bowl shaped vessel). I often add in my focal blooms next to get the idea of shape and follow that with accents. I find that this really comes down to preference. You may want to leave the focal blooms until last. Make sure that no leaves are in the water, just stems. This will eliminate the build-up of bacteria.
Feel it out. Follow your intuition, breathe and don’t be too hard on yourself. Allow yourself to create something for you, not what others expect of it to become. To keep the arrangement fresh, flush out the water daily by placing the piece under a running tap to allow for the water to overflow.
WHAT ARE YOUR HOPES AND DREAMS FOR YOUR BUSINESS?
To make more botanical and environmental art.
To be hired for mostly avant-garde work and design large-scale installations, creating a dialogue around sustainable agriculture but also simply for beauty’s sake. I would love it if AFM became a teaching hub and incubator for other aspiring artists and makers, broadening to include new lines of ethical goods. I’d like to teach more workshops locally as well as travel for freelance design. I enjoy studying under like-minded designers who have been in the field longer. I’d also like to move towards a storefront style studio where I am open to the public a few times per week with a rooftop vegetable and herb garden, back flower cutting garden and small greenhouse. I want a place to grow in, to plant my seedlings and sell cut flowers weekly. I’d like my space to be an oasis in the city, a place of serenity and somewhere people can come and be inspired to create a greener lifestyle.
WHAT'S HAPPENING CURRENTLY AT AFM?
Sweet Gale Gardens and I have launched our Farmer and The Florist series of workshops, our summer session will focus on garden to vase floral design where students will pick out a bountiful seasonal selection of blooms from the farm and I will teach on design. Also, I am still booking 2017 weddings, small and large, but with a focus on intimate, non-traditional ceremonies. Get in touch for a consultation.
CONTRIBUTORS & CREDITS:
LAUREN KOLYN, Photography: Lauren is a lifestyle and editorial photographer based in Montréal and Toronto, Canada. With a documentary approach to her photography, Lauren is a visual storyteller with a unique ability to capture the essence of the moment. Drawing much of her artistic inspiration from the natural environment, Lauren's photographic work explores the modest yet powerful beauty of her surroundings. She is also currently part of the Pure Green editorial team. View her work, follow her on Instagram.