As this month is both our Valentine’s issue and bridal special, what better than to include a feature on a florist in the pages of SO magazine? Recently I had the pleasure of meeting a very special one after discovering her beautiful creations online. Katherine Craft – AKA the Florist in the Forest – has wisely chosen her business’s name as she, quite literally, is a florist living in a forest. She works from a gorgeous timber-frame, purpose-built studio located in the serene surroundings of Broadwater Forest, just a few steps away from the family home she shares with her husband and four-year-old son.
On the day I visit along with our shoot team, some much needed winter sunshine is streaming down, casting shadows on the tall trees that surround Katherine’s floristry HQ, and on meeting her she certainly looks to be in her element as she prepares pretty seasonal bouquets for a client’s celebration dinner that weekend.
As I step inside her welcoming studio I immediately fall in love with the space as it’s a veritable treasure trove filled not only with delightfully scented fresh floral blooms including hydrangeas, hyacinths, tulips and ranunculus all over the place but also lots of vintage vases, piles of pampas grasses and eye-catching decorative curios all neatly displayed on open shelving, accessories which Katherine says come in very handy for styling up her flowers for different occasions. In addition to this there are lots of thank you cards pinned to linen noteboards and a collection of industry awards. Business therefore seems to be booming for Katherine.
Call of the wild
“I have a love of nature and the great outdoors and enjoy gardening, which is where my love for floristry started,” explains Katherine as she busies herself with her bouquets.
The mother of one grew up in Tunbridge Wells but moved to Manchester for a spell, where she met her husband. The couple returned in 2006 as Katherine decided it was the ‘perfect time’ for a career change. “I’ve heard the call of the wild since childhood and so I returned to the area to study floristry at Hadlow College,” continues Katherine. “From there I worked in a lovely village florist shop before setting up my own business back in 2011.
“I have always loved gardening and nature, having been brought up living in a forest with very green fingered parents! Looking back, it is no surprise that I finally found my calling as a florist. However, for a while I thought of it more as a dream job and then one day I took the leap and I haven’t looked back.”
Katherine had actually studied Textile Design at university, so says she always had a leaning towards a more creative path. On graduating she went travelling, then started working as a visual merchandiser for Hobbs planning store layouts and window displays. However, that call of the wild was still niggling away at Katherine so she decided it was time for a change and enrolled on the course at Hadlow.
After retraining as a florist Katherine is now seeing her dream become a reality, working full-time creating incredible floral displays for weddings, parties, and special occasions for a variety of clients – not just nationwide but globally too.
“My clients are from all over the place. However, whether they are living in London, Manchester, Hong Kong or the States they usually have a connection to this area and come through word of mouth. Often the bride or groom’s family are still living in the area but then some couples just fall in love with a particular venue around here and that is their deciding factor.
“I’m finding more and more couples are finding me through Instagram and they love being able to follow along, seeing what I am creating for my other clients and being inspired by what I could therefore create for their own wedding. In the wedding industry we are always sharing images and tagging other suppliers that have helped create the beautiful weddings we have been lucky enough to work on together.
“I am a recommended supplier for a number of fabulous local wedding venues, ranging from The Bell in Ticehurst to Penshurst Place, Sprivers Mansion in Horsmonden, Chiddingstone Castle, Buckhurst Park in Withyham and Wadhurst Castle.”
Although Katherine’s main business is predominantly weddings she also takes on commissions for private parties and events, as well as bouquets for Valentine’s and Mother’s day, sympathy flowers and special occasions like Christmas.
Rather charmingly if you find yourself driving through Broadwater Forest you can drop in and pick up whatever takes your fancy from Katherine’s ready-to-buy collection, which sits outside her studio. Of course seasonality is key for Katherine’s floral creations so when we pay a visit in late January she is selling everything from little crocuses to hand tied hellebore rose posies and delicate potted paperwhites narcissus.
“I have a very abundant and romantic natural style, allowing the flowers to do the talking,” says Katherine. “I love combining seasonal ingredients with lots of texture, scent and interest, and I love to include a few flowers from my own cutting garden to add that personal touch.
“In recent years many couples have been requesting substantial and eye-catching installation pieces to give their weddings a real sense of personality and uniqueness.”
A blossoming business
It all sounds rather perfect but surely there must be the odd challenge now and again? “Finding enough hours in the day is one!” laughs Katherine. “There is always so much to do with creating the flowers in the first instance and then finding the time for all the admin and emails. I have a fantastic team of freelance florists on hand for weddings and an extremely supportive family but behind the scenes it is just me running the business!”
Katherine says she is also still trying to find ‘a true balance’ but that being able to work her business around her four-year-old son is a huge bonus. “I am getting better at saying no and realising that I can’t and don’t have to do it all. I can decide which weekends I want to work and which weddings I want to take on.”
Another key positive is the sheer variety of Katherine’s work: “No two weddings are the same and I get to work in some stunning venues, with lovely couples and their families on one of the happiest days of their lives and create arrangements with beautiful flowers and foliage throughout the year.” Now if that isn’t job satisfaction I don’t know what is…
What are your personal favourites and why?
That’s such a difficult question to answer! I am a fickle florist, as my favourites change with the seasons. It could be fritillaries and ranunculus in the spring, garden roses and sweet peas in the summer or grasses and berries in the autumn.
Which varieties tend to be the most popular for your clients?
It depends on the time of year but roses are always a favourite, particularly the more natural scented garden style. Peonies are also very popular in early summer, as well as sweet peas for their scent and often nostalgic connotations.
Do you always encourage clients to go with the seasons?
Yes, it is always better to work with them. It just doesn’t feel right working with peonies in December! Foliage, twigs and a mass of candlelight can look wonderful in the winter.
And as it’s Valentine’s month, which are your favourite flowers to offer?
I generally tend to avoid red roses and prefer to offer beautiful seasonal bouquets including tulips, hellebores, ranunculus and anemones.
Give us your top tip for preserving flowers in a vase…
Re-cut the stems once you have taken the flowers out of their packaging and then place in a clean vase of water. Refresh the water in the vase every few days to prolong the life of your flowers and avoid draughty or sunny window sills and central heating!
And for displaying them effectively?
Give your flowers space, whether that be the vase or the space around them.
Why I love Tunbridge Wells: Katherine Craft
Where’s your favourite place to shop?
My family and I are loving the new Zero Waste shop on The Pantiles, which sells an amazing range of dried ingredients without all the plastic packaging! And whilst I am in that part of town I can’t resist popping into Le Petit Jardin and Anthropologie. We also have a great range of farm shops on our doorstep, particularly Fuller’s and Groombridge farm shops.
And to eat out?
We have so many lovely country pubs to choose from, and personal favourites include The Vineyard in Lamberhurst and The Hare in Langton Green. And for special occasions I love the food and atmosphere at The Ivy.
And for coffee or cocktails?
I can’t resist the cakes or lunches at Juliet’s and we also like to pop to The Deer Park Café near Eridge.
Finally, where’s the best place to go locally in order to get away from it all?
We are extremely lucky to have The Warren RSPB nature reserve on our doorstep. We can step out of the front door, straight into the reserve for walks, pony spotting and puddle jumping!