Scottish-based botanical studio and flower garden Pyrus was founded by florists and artists Natalya Ayers and Fiona Inglis. With backgrounds in fine and applied art they discovered a shared passion for seasonal, British grown heritage blooms and established their own cutting garden in a Victorian walled garden outside Edinburgh in 2011.
Flowers used in the arrangement
- Honeysuckle vine
- Bronze fennel
- Marigold Tagetes Scotch Pride
So the pair of you met in a florist shop in Edinburgh. Did you both set out to be florists?
Working with flowers has been a natural (and slightly unexpected) career for both us. We are surprisingly similar in that, having studied art, we found ourselves working in the same flower shop part time with no grand plan to pursue floristry as a career initially. It was a creative environment filled with fellow creatives and we both quickly became passionate about working with botanical material.
When and why did you decide to join forces and work together?
We joined forces and established Pyrus in 2011; we both wanted to grow and use local flowers for our work and shared a similar approach and ethos having completed art degrees and trained in the same flower shop. We were working as individuals but felt that taking on such a big project like a flower garden would benefit from two heads and pairs of hands. We haven’t looked back, it can be creatively challenging working together but we have found the extra dialogue has more successful and interesting results. We are also much braver as a duo; taking on far more ambitious projects than we would on our own and pushing our boundaries.
You grow a large amount of the flowers that you use. How does this inspire your work?
You can’t help but be inspired by the imperfect beauty of nature; there is nothing we enjoy more than cutting in the flower garden as the sun comes up or foraging in the woods and hedgerows searching for treasure. We are always drawn to the funny little stems that have grown with particular movement or a distorted shape; they represent everything we love about flowers. They are a world away from the straight, uniform, scentless varieties that are imported from Holland.
Can you tell us a bit about the flower scene in Edinburgh? Have you seen much of a change since you started working?
When we established Pyrus there were very, very few florist/farmers and micro growers in Scotland, let alone Edinburgh. Thankfully for the British flower industry, our business model is becoming more common and we have seen lots of studio florists popping up seeking out local flowers or growing their own. Networks such as the British Flower Collective and Flowers from the Farm are invaluable in supporting and connecting flower growers and florists across the UK; we have said from the beginning that we want nothing less than a flower revolution and we think this is just the beginning of a renaissance in the British flower scene.
How long have you been growing your own flowers and what lessons have you learned from growing?
Natalya: This is our fourth growing season and we have learnt so much along the way, every year is completely different so you can’t take anything for granted. Our first season it rained all summer until August when everything flowered at once, the second season was so hot and dry that we had to water the garden most days, unheard of in Scotland! We have a big list of new plants we would like to try for 2016; the biggest challenges are successive crops without gaps, growing in volume as our business grows and thinking ahead to colour palettes and future trends.
Fiona: It’s incredible when we think about how much we have learnt over the last four years. Neither of us were particularly experienced in growing when we started but that is one of the wonderful things about gardening is that you learn through doing, there are so many different paths. Our hot sunny days are limited in Scotland so it forces us to be more creative with our garden. We use everything and anything that we see beauty in, including the odd weed!
Is there an extra sense of satisfaction knowing that you have seen the flower from seed to bloom and its end use?
Natalya: Absolutely, we are very proud plant ‘Mothers’. Growing flowers from seed and nurturing plants from germination to arrangement is an incredibly special and personal process. To stand back and look at an installation that you literally brought to life is so different to buying flowers from market.
Fiona: So much so, we literally love our flowers, they are our babies. So when we come to use them we want them all to have their moment to shine, each one is used to show off the best of it.
Do you think the commercialisation of flower growing has had a negative impact on the choice of flowers we have? Has the standardisation and ‘perfection’ of the flowers reduced their beauty?
In short, yes. For decades now we have been conditioned as consumers to the Dutch ideal of perfection which has bred flowers for longevity, stem length and disease resistance. Scent and what we would consider to be natural beauty has been forgotten in place of these sterile ‘Barbie’ blooms. Variety and choice was reduced to the strongest crops and over time that became our norm. It seems to be largely centered in the European flower industry, in America for example, there are hundreds of specialist flower farms sending their crops all over the country. We would love to see the British flower industry come alive again and start to cater for the growing trend of florists that want specialist blooms, competing with Holland is just not possible.
Do you think the current swing towards foraging and using more specialist growers is a backlash to the homogenisation of the flower markets and commercial growers?
We think that the increasing interest in this way of working is a combination of changing social consciousness and the rise of blogs and social media. Consumers (and florists) seem to be appreciating flowers now in the same way the slow and organic food movements became popular, looking for alternative and better ways of living and appreciating the simple things. At the same time, we were exposed to thousands of beautiful blogs and social media feeds showcasing the work of American florists, this ‘new style’ was far removed from European floristry and was actually a return to old fashioned methods and ways of using materials.
It is quite a brave decision to start growing your own flowers for sale when you dont have that gardening background. Did you worry about quantities or quality?
Natalya: Our backgrounds are in fine/applied art rather than horticultural; the decision to grow our own flowers was a result of working with imported blooms in flower shops but preferring the incredible scented garden roses that a local market gardener supplied. We both took courses at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and Fiona spent time working on an organic farm learning to grow cut flowers. However, nothing could prepare us for taking on our first flower garden! Some would call us brave, some would say naïve but from the beginning the pleasure overcame our fear and it has always felt right to do it this way. We practice organic methods and, for all growers, there is a constant battle with pests, disease and the weather. It has been a massive learning curve but we have learnt to relax over the years; gaining as much knowledge from the failures as the successes.
Fiona: Yes, for the first year we weren’t sure if we were brave or stupid! It is very hard work and we have had to learn a lot along the way but it has been so worth it. It is the only way we can get the kinds of flowers that we want to work with. Quantities and quality is always a gamble. We depend so much on mother nature. A crop of roses can be easily ruined by a down pour or a bed of lupins infested by lupin aphid but that’s just what happens and we let nature do her thing. Disasters are always counter balanced by a three faced sun flower or a poppy seed head with a crazy curly stem.
What impact has growing your own flowers had on your style? Do you ever feel limited, particularly in the more barren months or does this just inspire you to be more creative with what you have and stay closer to the seasons?
Natalya: We are completely at the mercy of Mother Nature and we love it that way. It feels right to be working our way through the seasons, from the delicate buds and woodland bells in spring through the profusion of summer and textures of autumn, finally ending the year with the austerity of winter. Working in this way definitely impacts on our style, we often have to be more thoughtful and work a little harder to achieve a brief but we embrace that challenge and feel it is the essence of what Pyrus represents. There is always beauty to be found if you look for it; in the depths of winter there are branches covered with lichen, emerald mosses and berries clinging to the bushes which hold just as much joy for us as a garden rose in the height of summer.
Fiona: It’s amazing what nature actually has on offer in those barren months, you just have to look a little harder. The times we feel limited are the times we have to push our creativity and more often than not produce our best work.
You are drawn to beauty in many floral forms – things such as ‘imperfections’ and decay interest you. Do you find your customers appreciate this too or do you keep these interests for personal projects?
We are incredibly lucky with our clients; they put a great deal of faith into our vision and often our brief is simply to be ‘as creative as possible’. Fuel to the fire! Largely we find that our customers come to us because they are seeking something different, or feel a connection with our approach to botanicals. Event work aside, we are overflowing with ideas and processes we want to explore; working on creative projects allow us to create pieces for ourselves without constraint. Having said that, there are opportunities to work on exciting creative projects with commercial clients, for example the fashion industry can be a fantastic platform for boundary pushing, avant garde work.
You are very much interested in flower installations can you tell us more about this style and what draws you to it?
Natalya: Botanical installations are sculptural, three dimensional works that are either designed to be site specific or to transform the space they inhabit. It is this idea of using flowers and natural objects to explore an idea as art rather than floristry (which is perceived as a service) that interests us. To work in this way is challenging, exciting and sometimes surprising, the botanical material itself often dictates a piece or takes you in an unexpected direction.
Fiona: The beauty of flower installations is you are asking the viewer to look at the botanical elements in a different way from what they expect or are used to. You can present it in a way that allows the viewer to look at it and experience it differently. As a society we have become quite detached from nature and it’s so important to start paying attention.
What is the main difference between these installation pieces and more typical flower arrangements ?
Natalya: Classic arrangements of flowers are beautiful and have their place but are not the only way of presenting our medium. We actually approach them in exactly the same way but the end result is very different. Regardless of whether the piece is an opulent urn arrangement for a wedding or a sculptural suspended piece the same amount of time and love tend to go into it.
Fiona: People have so many associations with flowers and they play various roles in our lives. Classical arrangements will always be arrangements to bring us happiness, comfort or memories. Installations serve the purpose of giving us experience or a new point of view.
What exciting things are on the horizon for Pyrus?
Natalya: We always have lots of projects in the pipeline, including exciting creative collaborations for 2016. However the most important project on the horizon is our move this autumn to a new and bigger (much bigger) flower garden in East Lothian. We have taken on a 2.5 acre Victorian walled garden which has been unused for years and are currently in the process of beginning groundworks and renovating our new studio space. It’s the most ambitious and exciting project we have taken on so far and our plan is to fill the space with cut flowers to sell commercially in addition to our own crops. We are incredibly excited to move in and document the progress of our beautiful new space.
Fiona: We are expanding! We have always said we want to make local flowers accessible, which was virtually impossible when we started on our journey. Other people have a hunger for the kinds of blooms we want and we hope to be able to provide that to the market. 2.5 acres has so much potential; we plan to keep bees, collaborate with other creative projects and voluntary schemes and restore the garden to its former glory.