Wild instincts

Felicity Jones doesn’t see herself as a florist as such — she’s a creative following her intuition.

Felicity Jones’s mum was a passionate gardener who always had beautiful seasonal arrangements in their Auckland home. As a child, Felicity enjoyed picking and placing flowers too, but she didn’t really start gardening until she moved to London and into her first home with her designer husband Chris Pitts. Its small patch and her current garden in Auckland’s Grey Lynn were both inspired by the traditional English style of orchestrated chaos within a formal structure.

So, Felicity, tell us more about this garden of yours… We’ve been cultivating it for 20 years now. Five years ago, I decided a dedicated cut-flower area was needed, so the lawn — the sunniest part — was dug up to make room for four raised beds. Needless to say, the kids [Oliver (now 19) and Juliette (17)] were unimpressed.
I can’t imagine working with flowers without also growing them. I source extra blooms from the incredible local growers around Auckland, but I never buy imported product. I’m uncomfortable with the air miles, the methyl bromide fumigation and the growing conditions of flowers overseas — plus I like to support our local industry. Sustainability is an essential part of my gardening and floristry practice and I’m continually learning better ways. Helping out at our local community gardens, Kelmarna Gardens, has taught me so much about permaculture. It really is the future — and the past, actually.

ABOVE Despite taking what Felicity calls “its last unruly gasp” before the end of the growing season, her bee-friendly garden is an effervescent burst of tall cosmos, trailing amaranthus, and bright dahlias and zinnias.

What’s the trick to growing fantastic flowers? The most important aspect would have to be caring for the soil. A good pile of homemade compost excites me almost as much as the blooms it helps produce. When planning a cutting garden, I tend to choose more delicate ‘cottage’ flowers as I think they have more personality than their commercially grown counterparts, which suits my natural floristry style.

Do you have a favourite flower? It’s so hard to choose! There’s something to look forward to every season. My spring favourites include tulips, ranunculus and anemones. In early summer I love roses and foxgloves, in late summer and into autumn it’s dahlias and zinnias, and then in winter I’m all about hellebores and magnolias. And that’s just the flowers. I love working with all kinds of botanical material, from grasses and seed heads, to vines, branches and edibles.

How would you describe your floral design aesthetic? My approach to arranging flowers is instinctive and inspired by my garden, the season and the environment. Having little formal training, I actually don’t really consider myself a florist — I’m just someone who likes to create with nature as my medium. I love big, complex installations and small, minimal arrangements, and never use floral foam — it’s poisonous to the earth, water and humans. 

What informs your designs and inspires you in your work? As well as the natural world, I’m hugely inspired by other art forms, including photography, architecture and music. I love reading, and the physicality of books and magazines. Inspiration also comes from other makers — craftspeople working with natural materials.
Like any job, mine has its hard parts. Floristry involves lots of heavy lifting, climbing up ladders, cleaning buckets, early starts, long days and working under pressure, which is why I think it’s important to make time to create for me. Whenever I get the chance, I like to put on some music, gather whatever’s looking good in the garden and make something just to please myself. I also find playing the piano and singing are great ways to unwind.

ABOVE Felicity’s workbench is located on her home’s back verandah. She works both solo and with other florists. “I’m lucky to be part of a really supportive group here in Auckland — we help out on each other’s big weddings and other events,” she says. “I tend to go into a meditative, zen-like mode when I’m arranging flowers — and I hum, which drives my fellow florists crazy!”

How does the average workday play out for you? I wish I could say I have a regular workday, but I have so many different projects on the go at any one time that I don’t. As well as my gardening and floristry, I run a choir and teach singing. I also collaborate with other artists and am currently working on some film-set design.
My biggest focus over the past year, though, has been a photographic project with Mark Smith that explores the history of botanical travel with a focus on Aotearoa. We’re very excited about our upcoming exhibition, Case Studies, at Allpress Studio in Auckland [from October 14 to 25], coinciding with the 250th anniversary of Captain Cook’s arrival in New Zealand.

What tools would you not be without? I have a favourite old trowel, but other than that I’m not too fussy. As long as I have my camera, a pair of sharp secateurs and flower snips — plus a spare pair in my glovebox — I’m good to go.

TOP “I enjoy matching arrangements to the right vase and vice versa,” says Felicity, who collects vessels in styles from ornate vintage to modern minimal. ABOVE Overhead are flowers and foliage she hangs up to dry. “I dry all sorts of botanical material from my garden that I don’t need to be fresh,” she says. “It’s great for texture and useful for hanging installations as you don’t have to worry about a water source.”

Do you have any tips for wannabe green thumbs? My advice for budding flower growers is to start small, look at what grows well in your area and talk to gardeners. They tend to be very generous with their knowledge — and cuttings. Summer annuals are an easy place to start; things like cosmos and zinnias are prolific. Look out for courses on compost making, too — councils often offer them free.

Interview Alice Lines
Photography Neeve Woodward

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