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Harriet Slaughter, Florist

December 2, 2017
by the gentle author

Harriet Slaughter

Last week, I braved the frost to visit the workshop of florist Harriet Slaughter and photograph her at work making festive wreaths for St Nicholas Eve celebrations at Leila’s Shop on Tuesday.

I found Harriet and her assistants Rowan Lewis and Camille Lambert surrounded by copious amounts of sweet-smelling greenery, including olive branches from Covent Garden Market and Scots Pine from her father’s garden. They had been awake since before dawn, and were trimming the pine and olive in sprigs and weaving them onto the moss bases. One held the twigs in place while the other wound the wire around to secure the wreath. Harriet’s hands soon became coated in sticky pine sap and she showed me the old florists’ trick of rubbing her hands with moss to absorb the surplus oil.

It was time-consuming, fiddly, repetitive work, yet it was compelling to observe how the diverse elements resolved into elegant finished wreaths set for front doors across the capital this Christmas. Beneath the bench sat buckets of white narcissi and anemones with some lush dark scabious nearby, all ready for arrangements to be delivered to the Garden Museum in Lambeth that evening. So, once I had taken my pictures and Harriet had told me her story, I left them to their day’s work.

My dad’s a gardener, he spends every day in the garden and that is how I learnt about plants. My family are all gardeners. We are bonkers about it.

A couple of years ago, I got married and the florist who did our flowers was very inspiring to me. So I asked he if she would train me and in return I did office work for her. I realised that I really liked the work and it has now become a huge part of my life.

I am a studio florist, which means I do not have a shop, instead I do deliveries for restaurants, events including weddings, and photoshoots. It can be quite brutal getting up at three thirty if you have to run a shop as well!

When you get to the wholesale flower market in the middle of the night, you have to go in brave. Ninety-five per cent of those who work there are men and they see a lot of florists starting out but as soon as they realise you are serious then you win their respect. At four in the morning, there is quite a lot of banter and it is quite hard if you have feeling faint-hearted. The flowers do not look good under fluorescent light and it is cold, hard environment. Yet I have developed a good relationship with several traders and I usually bump into a couple of friends. You become really aware of the seasons. I always get excited when the first daffodils arrive and the first day that the English dahlias come into the market is something I look forward to.

It is nice to develop your own style in a saturated market. I love it when I get a sympathetic client and we can design what we are going to do together.

My work is very influenced by the garden, drawing the viewer’s attention to the natural quality of plants and flowers rather than dressing them up too much. I like to create an arrangement that looks like something which might have grown in the garden, but with an urban element too. I am not a country cottage florist. I like my work to communicate a sense of composure without being regimented.

Harriet Slaughter operates her floristry studio under the name Bold Oxlip

Rowan Lewis

Camille Lambert

Harriet Slaughter’s wreaths will on sale as part of ST NICHOLAS EVE celebrations on Tuesday 5th December 6-9pm at Leila’s Shop, 15-17 Calvert Avenue, E2 7JP. Gimlet Bar will be serving cocktails and Rosie Sykes of The Sunday Night Book will be serving seasonal delicacies.

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8 Responses leave one →
  1. Robin Call permalink
    December 2, 2017

    ‘Tis the season to dress Lovely London in her prettiest Christmas attire ! 🙂

  2. December 2, 2017

    Dear GA. I loved this little blog. Describing a traditional method of making Christmas wreaths
    in a studio environment. By coincidence I was also making Christmas wreaths with my granddaughter yesterday through my involvement with the National Trust. In this case using entirely nature’s bounty from the countryside. The base a woven ring of intertwined willow.

  3. Catherine Morris permalink
    December 2, 2017

    I love your pieces and you write beautifully.

  4. Laura Sewell permalink
    December 2, 2017

    My grandmother was a florist, and my grandparents had a popular shop on Seven Sisters Road in Tottenham for decades. The images of the wreaths being made brought me back to my childhood and watching as my grandfather, George, “did the mossing” in the cellar before my grandmother, Hetty, performed her magic with the wreaths. I sometimes went with them at 3am to pick out the flowers at the old Covent Garden, an incredible nighttime world full of unforgettable sounds, smells, and characters.

  5. Helen Breen permalink
    December 2, 2017

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, what a nice story about Harriet Slaughter and her crew preparing Christmas wreaths as the big day approaches. It is not an easy job, but one from which they gain a great deal of satisfaction.

    Shortly I will be leaving for our town’s annual “Country Store” held in our 1714 New England Meeting House on the Town Common. The biggest draw is the greenery, principally fresh pine wreaths “decorated” by members of the Historical Society. Basically they attach large red velvet bows and local pine cones – a labor of love.

    Love Christmas wreaths…

  6. Kitanz permalink
    December 4, 2017

    Very Nice, Thank You!

  7. December 4, 2017

    wreath wonder lust !

    beautiful will be along to purchase our wreath !

  8. Annie S permalink
    December 4, 2017

    Nice to see some florists make wreaths the proper traditional way with moss instead of on foam!

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