Photographs: Charles Francis
December 2013: In winter, the cutting garden is a blank canvas, waiting to be transformed into a living work of art. But first, there is work to be done. “To start with,” says florist Susanne Hatwood, “I rip out a lot of stuff which I don’t like anymore. Then I order loads of new seeds. I also start trying to grow some things in the polytunnel, like a few rows of sweet peas. Winter is always the time of year when you think you’re in control of the garden.” She adds with a smile: “But for the rest of the year, the garden shows you that nature is in control.”
And Susanne is happy to let nature run the show. Her company, The Blue Carrot, specialises in bouquets and floral arrangements created from organic, seasonal materials. “There are so many rules in floristry,” she says. “But you should trust your instincts and do what you like. Floristry should be artistry. I like a bouquet to have curves and movement: you should be able turn it round and discover things.”
German-born Susanne became interested in gardening when she and her English husband Mark moved from the centre of Berlin to a suburb, where for the first time, she had a small front garden. After they moved to Cornwall, she studied horticulture at Duchy College Rosewarne, and went on to work in the on-site nursery.
When the chance came to take on a long-abandoned kitchen garden at a farm close to her home in Portscatho, on the Roseland Peninsula, she knew it was the right place to start her own market garden. “It was full of brambles and nettles, and nobody had done anything with it for ten years,” she recalls. “But I thought it was absolutely perfect. It has good soil and it’s south facing, so it’s a proper suntrap.
“We got a rotovator and cleared it, and bought a second-hand polytunnel. I started off growing and selling mixed herbs, salad bags, and things like Tuscan kale, borlotti beans and pea shoots, and varieties of pumpkins, tomatoes and cucumbers which you never get in supermarkets.”
At that time, Susanne had no interest in cut flowers, which she associated with boring bouquets sold at petrol stations. But she grew a row of daffodils and a few sweet peas, and found they sold well. Then she discovered some American florists online who were using natural materials. “I was completely smitten. From then on, there was no going back to veg.”
Choosing which flowers to grow was largely a process of trial and error. Her initial love of vibrant purples and lime greens evolved into a passion for pastels. “I’m a bit obsessed with peach,” she says.
“I started selling cut flowers at the gate, and also supplied holiday lets, which I didn’t find very satisfying, as you have to choose things which will last, but don’t necessarily look good together. I decided I had to jump in at the deep end and go for weddings. I like the idea that the flowers look good just for a day. It’s the nature of beauty that it fades.”
The beauty in Susanne’s creations comes not just from brilliant blooms, but fruit such as unripe strawberries, weeds and herbs.
“I love cinnamon basil — it smells absolutely fantastic — and lemon verbena: every time the bride moves her bouquet, she gets a whoosh of fresh scent. There’s always something at its best at each time of year. I really like April and May, because you have tulips and fritillaria, and everything’s really fresh and in your face, and then there are roses in the early summer.
August is a fantastic month, too, because I really love dahlias and they are at their best then.
Dahlia ‘Waltzing Matilda’
“But my favourite dahlia is ‘Café au Lait’, which is at its best in October and still produces the odd flower in November. It survives until the first frost. ‘Café au Lait’ dahlias work well with chocolate cosmos in the autumn, or I might use purples and plum colours, with berries and mimosa foliage.
Susanne with a bridal bouquet featuring Dahlia ‘Café au Lait’
“At Christmas, I go for amaryllis. In Germany, to have amaryllis with fir is very traditional. They are so beautiful, and you can get them in all kinds of odd colours. Last Christmas, I also did an arrangement of rosehips and moss.”
Throughout the year, Susanne uses old lace and quirky accessories in her arrangements, like little plastic animals — a deer, a penguin or a rabbit. And she has an ever-growing collection of containers, from teapots to old medicine bottles.
There were 25 weddings in her diary this year. “It’s absolutely humbling when the bride sees her bouquet for the first time. You’re usually both in tears. It’s the best feeling ever.”