Felicity Jones, Urban Flower Farmer
Most people have milk and vegetables in their fridge. Not Felicity Jones. Most people who have a garden in the city don’t turn it into a flower farm. Not Felicity Jones. Felicity, a gardener and florist from Auckland, New Zealand, has a fridge full of tulip bulbs and a flower farm in her backyard, and she wouldn’t have it any other way.
We visit Felicity in early April. Her garden, on a quiet street in Grey Lynn, has its autumn coat on. Dahlias, zinnias and paper daisies stand tall, waving their heads high above the long, raised timber beds running the length of the space. A tall hedge divides the flower farm from a utility area at the back, where her tools, seedlings and other garden bits are stored. The dense canopy of an oak tree frames the space.
Felicity, after surviving a curious incident involving having her hair stroked by a semi-delirious Daniel Shipp, takes us on a wander around her small patch before setting us down at her dining table and sharing her garden story. She, like many, names her grandmother and mother as strong influences. Her grandmother, who lived on a farm, “worked from five am in the morning until she dropped at night”. As well as her primary practical task of vegetable growing, she grew a huge flower garden full of fuchsias roses and petunias.
The fact that beauty was still so important to her, even if it meant more work, stuck with me. I realised the importance of doing something that nurtures the soul.”
About six years ago, Felicity decided that whilst she loved having flowers in the house, and giving them to friends and family, she didn’t want to buy them. She wanted to grow them instead. And so, she did. “This gradually grew into what I do today.” Three years ago, she got serious and built the long, raised timber beds in her backyard – turning it into a small suburban flower farm. “My kids were horrified,” she tells me. She was in seventh heaven.
Whilst Felicity began growing flowers and creating arrangements as gifts for family and friends, the word about her home-grown floristry soon spread. Nowadays, she’s busy with weddings, funerals, art projects and film work. She’s just finished up working as a ‘botanical specialist’ on the set of a BBC adaptation of Eleanor Catton’s Booker winning novel The Luminaries; and is currently working on an art project exploring issues around the transportation of European plants to New Zealand and the collection of native species to take back to England. Somehow, she finds time to garden. She has to. For reasons both practical and profound.
“Being a gardener provides a sense of connection to the world around me. It connects me to the past in a very personal way, and also the wider context of Earth’s changing landscape. It connects me to the future too – gardeners are always looking ahead. I feel so lucky, and often wonder how seemingly sane people manage without it!”
I can’t imagine being a florist without growing my own flowers. For me the two are completely linked. The joy of floristry is in using flowers I have grown.”
It runs deeper –gardening for Felicity is about self-care, too. “I have had depression in the past. My mother had post-natal depression. She always used to say; ‘go and get your hands in the dirt’. It’s about being grounded.”
I’m not sure there’s such a thing as mindful floristry, but if there is, Felicity Jones is practicing it. Her work is about valuing connections between people and valuing the materials she uses. “I struggle with people spending huge amounts of money on flowers and binning them the next day,” says Felicity. “I think there’s ways of challenging the throw-away flower culture. Things like composting organic waste and not using floral foam are a good start.” Felicity often dries bouquets for her brides, and at the end of our visit takes us to the basement of her neighbour’s house across the street – it’s full of bunches of dried and drying flowers, branches and foliage. They’ll be used again and again, Felicity tells us. She values them, because she grows them. “It’s so hard to grow flowers. People don’t often think about it.”
“My floristry is about relationships”, Felicity tells me. “All the brides I work with come to the garden. We walk around it and I introduce plants to them. We look at what will be growing in the week of the wedding. If it’s far enough ahead, I plant things that they love so I can use them in the arrangements.” She tells me how she often helps mothers of brides to grow flowers in their own gardens, for their daughter’s bouquets, and soon is running a workshop teaching people how to grow their own wedding bouquet.
Seeing the way Felicity Jones cares for and nurtures her tiny flower farm, and listening to the way she speaks about her work as a gardener and florist I can only imagine how it feels to be a recipient of her botanical gifts. “Gardening is a joyful act of creating beauty and providing sustenance,” she suggests when I called her a few days ago to get some more information for this story. She’s right. It’s an act of sustenance not only for the stomach, but also the soul. And beauty, cultivated in the garden, is truly a matter of the heart.
Felicity Jones’ tips for novice backyard flower growers
It sounds boring but it’s not, it involves looking at what grows well in your neighbourhood; reading books, magazines, anything that provides inspiration and practical information (bearing in mind your own location); and most importantly, asking. Gardeners are generous and love sharing their knowledge (and cuttings)
Annuals are a good starting place. Even though I grow much from seed now, I still love going to the garden centre for seedlings. If some ‘potted colour’ lifts your spirits, go for it! Most annuals like sun but there are shade options, do your research.
This should probably be first on the list but no-one starts out being inspired by soil. Nowdays, I get pretty excited by worm filled loam! Compost as much as you can and if you don’t know how, there are often free courses run by councils, or read a book, or google it! Worm farms are great in small urban plots. Nourish your soil.
JUST TRY IT! Start small, enjoy, and learn as you go along.