Florist Shane Connolly Talks Flowers, Famous Clients and The Ballintubbert Garden Festival - The Gloss Magazine

Florist Shane Connolly Talks Flowers, Famous Clients and The Ballintubbert Garden Festival

From Belfast to Buckingham Palace and Ballintubbert, sustainable royal florist Shane Connolly, known for his eco credentials and as a floral alchemist, talks exclusively to THE GLOSS about flowers, faux pas and famous clients ahead of his visit to the Ballintubbert Garden Festival this weekend…

A royal warrant holder and psychology graduate, the Northern Irish-born Shane Connolly famously did the wedding flowers for Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge in 2011. “Everything had to be significant rather than opulent and wasteful. Seasonal, British and meaningful was the brief.” It could also be the mantra of Connolly’s eponymous business, founded in 1989. Other prestigious clients include Vogue, the V&A Museum and The Royal Academy of Arts. He has a predisposition for using “growing things” and flowers that are beautiful for their own sake rather than maximalist concepts. Connolly is proud to be the trustee of Floral Angels which donates flowers to be used in hospices or women’s refuges. He has written five books, the most recent being Discovering The Meaning of Flowers, Love Found, Love Lost, Love Restored.

Ahead of his visit to Ballintubbert Garden Festival this weekend, Connolly talks exclusively to THE GLOSS and gives his tips for wedding flowers, tablescaping at home and why he loves to incorporate symbolism into his designs.

A lecture-demonstration at St Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral, Seattle.

My love of flowers was nurtured from a love for growing things and gardens. Flowers were a by-product of that. Growing up in Belfast, my mother was always cutting things in the garden for the house. And I knew the best way to her heart was flowers! She also did flowers in the church, so I suppose that was the initial thing.

I have had several key mentors, who I met through family friends, including the great floral decorators (as flower designers were called then) Michael Goulding and Elizabeth Barker. They let me carry buckets for them at several events they flowered, and that ignited the thought that I might do this too. Then they managed to get me a job at the world famous company, Pulbrook & Gould on London’s Sloane Street. There have been many more mentors and kind clients along the way, who have believed in me and trusted me too. David Austin, the rose breeder, particularly stands out.

King Charles III Coronation in Westminster Abbey.

It’s almost a year now since designing the flowers for King Charles III’s’ coronation. I was so proud to be asked to do those flowers. An Irishman adding flowers to a coronation, who would have have thought? Although Constance Spry, who did the flowers for Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in 1953, also considered herself somewhat Irish, having spent much of her youth and early adulthood in Ireland.

A spring wedding in London.

Wedding season is beginning, although it’s so much more fun to do a wedding in a less expected time of year like winter. My advice to any bride would be to find a florist whose work you admire; set a budget and a look; and then leave them to get on with it! Trust, rather than micro-managing, is the way to get the best results. And don’t be too reliant on images – they can lead to disappointment!

I love to incorporate symbolic flowers into arrangements, especially when it’s a wedding or funeral. But it can add so much to the special-ness of a day. The Prince and Princess of Wales’s wedding in 2011 was all about the symbolism and meaning of the flowers and that leaves an extraordinary memory. Sometimes it’s only one particular flower that’s needed. Or a leaf … A single ivy leaf symbolises friendship, while a strand of ivy symbolises a happy marriage … and continued friendship. (Read Shane’s book, The Language of Flowers, published by Conran to find out more).

The Royal Academy of Arts.

Sustainable floristry is a big topic. To me the simplest thing one can do is to avoid single-use plastics, and floral foam is a pernicious single-use plastic. So we haven’t used it since about 2012. Substitutes appear, but they all carry sustainability issues, so we use that old fashioned mechanic … water! This means we use containers that are waterproof, or find a way to have water using tubes/buckets/vases inside structures; and chicken wire or twigs hold it all in place. The flowers for the coronation were all arranged in florists’ buckets full of water. The other side of sustainable floristry is of course the flowers themselves. Sourcing them as locally and seasonally as possible is the way forward.

Green flowers – with a low carbon footprint – are currently trending. Just as we have begun to think seasonal and local with food, so we need to do with flowers for the home. It makes such sense and stitches us back into the cycle of the year. With flowers coming and going and looking forward to favourites. Just as our ancestors did with all of life by necessity.

I never spend as much time as I want and need in my own garden. When I started my own garden, 30 odd years ago, I didn’t plant roses. As they’d always be in flower when I was busiest in the summer, and I thought I wouldn’t get to enjoy them. But now that I am older, I am planting roses for my retirement! All of them are old varieties and species roses. No modern ones. Apart from one Constance Spry. I had to didn’t I?

Foraging is a contentious issue. If it’s from your own land/garden (or a friendly neighbours) then it’s ok. But if it’s stopping your car in the countryside and filling it up for your wedding, then I have to frown and be discouraging! Having said that, if you ask permission, people seldom refuse. And it’s almost cow-parsley season, when country lanes are filled with its frothy white flowers; that is a joy to use in flower arrangements.

The Royal Academy of Arts’ Annual Dinner.

My advice to hostesses who want to tablescape at home is to keep it simple, for god’s sake! I recommend plants if you’re very busy. Little spring bulbs for example, in old pots, or china or even painted pots. If you have a garden, get a collection of small vases or bottles, and make a tablescape with flowers cut in the garden. Or bowls of fruit if you want to be clever. A bowl of blackberries in autumn, or blackcurrants in summer, cannot be more beautiful. And re-cyclable too!

At Ballintubbert Festival of Gardens and Nature I will be chatting with Emily Thompson (@emilythompsonflowers), who is in my opinion one of the most inspirational floral artists in the world today. We will talk about what inspires us and keeps us going (apart from gin!) and with Fionnuala Fallon (@theirishflowerfarmer), the Irish flower farmer, we will be talking specifically about sustainability in the flower industry.

Need to know: See Shane Connolly at Ballintubbert Garden Festival, on Saturday April 20 in discussion with Emily Thompson on Bringing Gardens and Nature Inside, from 11am – 12pm and on Sunday April 21 from 1.30-2.30pm when he will discuss Floral Design Sustainability with Fionnuala Fallon. Tickets for Saturday including booking fee cost €105; a weekend ticket is €160; Follow Shane on Instagram @shaneconnollyandco.


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