Spring Settings: Gain Some Insider Floristry Knowledge With Shane Connolly

PENNY McCORMICK talks to SHANE CONNOLLY about his eponymous FLORISTRY BUSINESS where his clients include PRINCE WILLIAM and the DUCHESS OF CAMBRIDGE, Vogue, and the V&A Museum …

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“Sixty per cent of the success is in the container”, says florist Shane Connolly modestly. “Etsy is a great source. Look at this jug: it was only £4. I think our ‘junky’ finds that have character give us a bit of an edge; looking for them is an addiction,” he admits adding, “I always try to find unusual things”. At his HQ in an industrial estate near Westfield, London you’ll find an exquisite mix of ink bottles, chandeliers, antiques, framed drawings of meadow flowers and glass containers of every size, shape and colour.

On my visit the team is prepping bottles in different shades of green to hold single-stemmed tulips. The client wanted a funky vibe and the overall effect gives the sort of “undone done” finish of which Connolly is a master. A royal warrant holder, the Northern Irish-born Connolly famously did the wedding flowers of Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge. Of the latter he says, “Everything had to be significant rather than opulent and wasteful. Seasonal, British and meaningful was the brief”.

It could be also a mantra for Connolly’s eponymous business; other clients include Vogue, the V&A Museum, Benedict Cumberbatch … He has a predisposition for using “growing things” and flowers that are “beautiful for their own sake”, rather than say the maximalist concepts of Jeff Leatham or Rob Van Helden. “I once shared a stage with my friend Ben Pentreath whose talk for the Financial Times was called ‘Bankers’ Style and How To Avoid It’. He stole my title,” laughs Connolly. “I love flowers that look as is they have come from the garden; I never use florist foam. The worst thing you can do is have a dinner party and then put flowers in a square tank”, he says.

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A psychology graduate from Belfast, his degree has obviously been useful when planning events. “There’s nothing worse if people are overdressed or underdressed for an event and the same is true of flowers. I want flowers to be memorable but unobtrusive. When I have a bridal consult, I like to see the way the bride lives before deciding on the appropriate flower. It’s important to match flowers to the space and room in which they are placed.”

For an all-white marquee, he suggests a simple white and green colour scheme. Currently he’s planning a summer wedding at a castle in Cork and is keen to get local flower growers and helpers involved. “I don’t fly in with a massive team, or order flowers from Colombia which arrive via Holland. I try to use as much local produce as possible, which means I’m not always in complete control of what’s available”. Trust is implicit between the client and Connolly.

He is also proud to be a trustee of Floral Angels – who donate flowers to be used in hospices or womens’ centres. “Flowers always make people feel special and the gesture of giving them is so simple,” he says of a passion that started as a young child, and was honed via work experience at Pulbrook & Gould, with Lady Pulbrook and Michael Goulding OBE, before setting up his business 26 years ago. What would he suggest for a supper with friends – “wild anemones. Three in a line on a table with candles looks stunning …” Noted.

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Shane Connolly’s latest book The Meaning of Flowers, Love found, Love Lost, Love Restored is out now (Clearview Books £20 stg): www.shaneconnolly.co.uk.

Penny McCormick

This article appeared in a previous issue, for more features like this don’t miss our next issue, out Thursday May 4.

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