I catch up with Caroline Ball, co-founder of one of London’s leading florists, Hybrid Flowers, who created the florals for the St Paul’s Cathedral wedding of TV presenter Ade Adepitan and singer-songwriter ‘Elle Exxe’ last year. In this exclusive interview, Caroline reveals her favourite seasons for flowers, the latest floral trends and more here:
Tell me a bit about yourself and the team?
After studying Communication and Animation at Goldsmiths College, I was unsure of my next step. I thought it very unlikely that I would be paid to stand in gardens all day painting flowers. So I took a job working for a florist on Fulham Road. It didn’t take me long to realise that this was true happiness.
I could never wait to see the results of my work. However, in floristry, impatience is a perfect attribute as the flowers will not wait for you! You must make something beautiful quickly, before they die.
Whilst working in London, I kept bumping into this extravagant mad guy, Alan Simpson. He then become my best friend and business partner. Together, we started Hybrid and now employ 14 people from around the globe.
How and when did you set up Hybrid?
Call it “youthful optimism” but in my 20’s I decided I only needed few pounds a week to live on. So, with little to lose, I began my own corporate contracts for offices. Back then, I didn’t even have a driving license!
At the same time, Alan was asked by a gorgeous Anglo-Italian couple if he could create their wedding flowers. In fact, they were struggling to find someone who would work between Christmas and New Year. He conscripted me and together we worked non-stop over Christmas. So we created the most amazing Art Deco-inspired glamorous ‘Italian meets East End’ wedding in the Park Lane Hotel.
Following on from this success, I somehow convinced Alan that he didn’t need much money to live on either and he should come and work with me! He agreed (phew!) and, in 2004, Hybrid was launched. We have never looked back.
How would you summarise the work you do?
Alan and I are proud to be one of London’s top flower companies. In addition, it’s a great privilege to create beautiful arrangements for an astounding array of events, parties, weddings, hotels and offices.
Our team is magnificent; their knowledge, training and unique perspectives challenge and inspire us every day. Our work is custom-designed to the client; one day, we may create wedding flowers in Holland Park. Then the next day, a huge reception piece for a large bank in Canary Wharf.
Where are you based?
Nestled in the railway arches of London’s Vauxhall, our flower studio is the florist’s nirvana: space for props, vases and work benches; a cool temperature that flowers love and a creative office space for client meetings and team brainstorming. What’s more, it’s just a stone’s throw from our favourite suppliers at the Flower Market.
What types of floral arrangements do you make?
We turn our hands to making anything. Once, a client called to ask if we could create a laurel chaplet (like Olympians are given on the podium). They had been calling florists all over, but none knew how to make one. However, we knew exactly what to do owing to our training in traditional floristry techniques.
Can you tell us about some of your recent commissions?
This year, our florists created the florals for Ade Adepitan and Elle Exxe’s wedding at St Paul’s Cathedral and Queens House, Greenwich which was covered in Hello! Magazine. It was a wonderful brief covering Ade’s background from Nigeria and Elle’s Scottish roots. We could use any flowers as long as they clashed!
Earlier this month, we created the table centres for Brockman’s Gin. These featured beautiful deep coloured black branches strung with candlelight, decorated with rich red foliages and our current favourite: beautifully patterned begonia leaves.
We also design and install Christmas décor for hotels and work with the most amazing festive colour schemes. This year’s favourites were nude colours with caramel, apricot and silver.
How does a commission for a wedding or event vary from a corporate commission?
For weddings, most people have poured a lot of time and thought into planning this once in a lifetime event. We keep this understanding at the forefront of our minds and help our clients find the best way to achieve their dreams whilst keeping within their budget. Our aim is to be realistic and creative in equal measures.
For a corporate commission, the idea is for florists to use flowers to represent a brand or identity. But, more and more, an amazing corporate event is all about creating truly memorable experiences for the guest in which they may be transported to another world.
Do you have a favourite type of project to work on?
We love working on events which have a quirky element. Often our clients spend hours planning a major annual event and conjure up the most amazing brief. We love discussing their and our ideas and creating sample designs for them to view. It helps when the event is held at a amazing venue as we are then given access to view the most amazing spaces from behind the scenes.
Tell me about some of the buildings you have dressed?
As London florists, we have dressed many iconic buildings: from Parliament, The London Eye, The Gherkin, Tower Bridge, The Shard, Shakespeare’s’ Globe, Canary Wharf and anywhere in between. Our work has included dressing strip clubs in Soho, hotels on Park Lane, Castles in the country side and boats on the Thames. We are also on the suppliers list for The British Museum, the Museum of London, Queen’s House, Cutty Sark, Merchant Taylor’s Hall, The Royal Observatory. We will always be proud to be a floral supplier to St Paul’s Cathedral which, for us, is the most iconic building in London.
What are your favourite flowers to work with?
Honestly, we do not have favourites. Each flower has natural qualities that can be used to create something amazing. Some flowers are easier to work with than others. Some are perfect for long lasting installations whilst others are wonderful for an instant ‘wow’ factor.
Roses, if opened to perfection, will always look stunning. However, our studio will particularly appreciate any flower which appears delicate whilst having longevity!
How many different types of flowers do you work with?
On any given day, our suppliers have access to thousands of varieties of flowers from all over the world. Ecuadorian roses are stunning, Italian agapanthus are massive and British sweet peas are divine. As leading florists, we are constantly on the lookout for new varieties in unique colour combinations or shapes. Last year, we worked with the cymbidium growers Cy More Flavour and Marrewijk Amaryllis growers in Holland. It was so fascinating to hear all about the passion these family businesses put into creating new breeds of flowers.
What is your favourite season for flowers?
We love either early or late summer. Early summer brings the most beautiful fresh foliage and seeing fresh buds gives us the feeling of anticipation and joy – there is a reason that Chelsea Flower Show is in May.
The colour of flowers becomes more intense in late summer: dahlias and chrysanthemums look like they’ve stored up the warmth of the summer sun in their petals, which are deep and rich. It is possible to source most flowers all year round. But, if they’re out of season, they can be expensive and never seem as vibrant and flavoursome (strawberries in February anyone?).
What are your preferred colour combinations?
Some flowers look great on their own in a vase. For example, a big bundle of blue iris in bright, daylight-filled room can look stunning. However, sometimes you can create the most amazing combinations of colours by spotting a tiny fleck of colour in the throat of, say, an orchid, and placing a colour matched flower or leaf next to it that will really bring that out.
Which projects do you have in 2019?
We have some really exciting projects on the horizon. One in particular is a ‘Sustainability’ event showcasing planted elements, recycled containers and locally grown flowers combined with a fantastically kitsch leaf motif.
Any floral trends we should look out for this year?
People are becoming more and more aware that flowers, plants and foliages can be used to create a vibe, feeling or atmosphere – think more ‘installation’ than flowers in a vase.
Be on the lookout for dried flowers, quirky grasses, funky plants; there is nothing off limits and there never will be!
Where do you get your inspiration?
Often our aim is to recreate the great outdoors, inside. Perhaps a client’s childhood memory of a calm woodland filled with bluebells. It is so often about nostalgia.
We also get our inspiration from other creative industries such as architecture, interior and graphic design and other iconic eras from history.
Do you have any top tips for wannabe florists?
We recommend finding out what being a florist is really like and being open to hearing the bad stuff. Floristry College is one option as is work experience: both training and experience are essential to getting a foot in the door. Many people only want to be events florists but you can’t only be a party florist without knowing how to do the less glamorous things.
Search the internet for blogs and articles on floristry or speak to local florists. When people say it is hard work, it is really, really hard work. Back-breaking, hand-ruining sleep-depriving and stress-inducing. There are no short-cuts, but if you’ve still not been put off, enroll in a floristry course that will give you work experience too. Choose a good course that will teach you the boring bits too. You need to know it.