We have only been open in the UK for a year and a half, but in that time, we've been extra lucky in making great friends with fantastic local businesses that we relate to and truly admire. It's not the best of times for shops right now, so this week, we'd like to show our support by introducing you to a few creators that we think you will love too: Laura Montgomery of Xyris Botanicals, JC of Queenie Organics and Miguel Ángel of Elm Rd.
Laura Montgomery on Natural Floral Beauty
Laura Montgomery's floral bouquets and arrangements are simply breathtaking. Sourced from her garden and farm, the flowers are often unusual and her styling natural yet incredibly artistic. What we especially love, though, is Xryis Botanicals' dedication to the environment, sourcing everything locally and even botanically dyeing ribbons.
Xyris is a beautiful name, why did you choose that genus of flowers and what inspired your business?
I chose the name because I loved the visuals of the lettering: the X next to the Y, how it was only 5 letters and it was Latin.
The Xyris plant is a yellow flowering grass from the Guineas, though I use British flowers as part of my aesthetic and I’m dedicated to sustainable floristry. I used the word “Botanicals” because my business is more than just floral design. I grow the flowers myself and make my own natural dyes to colour silk ribbons to finish my bouquets and boutonnières, having completed a workshop with the fabulous Ros of The Natural Dyeworks. My studio is a converted stable on our farm. I had been making Christmas wreaths on our kitchen table for years when our agronomist saw me making them one December and suggested that I started growing cut flowers in the New Year. It was his suggestion and my love of wreath making that sowed the seeds of Xyris Botanicals.
Why is eco-floristry so important?
Ninety percent of cut flowers in the UK are imported, which comes at a cost to the environment when you consider the carbon footprint, the use of chemicals required to cultivate flowers en masse and the waste from plastic wrapping used to transport the goods.
Eco-floristry is an umbrella term to cover lots of different ways that florists can work in order to adhere to more sustainable practices. These include not using floral foam to support flowers (it is not wholly biodegradable and contributes towards microplastics in the oceans); using British flowers, whether grown locally or nationally; using Fair Trade flowers if British ones are not available; using sustainable packaging (including the wraps and ribbons); and educating customers about the realities of the cut-flower trade.
How many brides consider the carbon footprint of their Colombian garden roses? That they would be flown over from Colombia? Very few and far between I imagine. I believe we need to give customers choices. If they aren’t aware that British flowers are available and where they can source them from, they will not consider purchasing them. My advice would be to visit the Flowers From The Farm website. All you need to do is to put your postcode into the map and all of your local flower growers will appear.
What types of plants do you grow in your garden and farm?
My materials are seasonal, so I only use what I have available at the time. I grow specifically for weddings, so I tend to grow according to colour palettes. For example, I have a September wedding with a blush pink and powder blue palette, so I am growing “Café au Lait” Dahlias and “Miss Jekyll” Nigella.
I like to mix fresh flowers with dried foliage and seed heads, too. My favourite ingredient, which I seem to sneak into everything, is Lunaria Annua, also known as Honesty. It takes hours to remove all of the seed shells, but once they have been taken off, you are left with the most beautiful pearlescent discs. I use the longer stems for installation pieces such as aisle meadows and suspended clouds, and I save the smaller stems for creating delicate boutonnieres.
Can you give us some tips on how to make an arrangement from foraged flowers and how to make flowers last in the home?
When I’m walking the dogs I can’t stop looking for shapes in the trees and hedgerows; that perfect curved branch that I know will transform a bouquet, or that tiny teasel, which can add whimsy without looking incongruous like a larger one may do.
I have also just released an e-book about how to grow your own cut flowers on a very small scale called “The Miniature Cutting Garden.” It is essentially a prescriptive plan with diagrams illustrating what to put in your growing space, how many plants you will need to fill it and how, out of a choice of only 10 plants. I wrote it for people who would like to grow some of their own flowers but weren’t sure where to start.
My top tip for making flowers last in the home is to keep them in the coolest room in the house, or even outside on a garden table! Flowers fade so fast in our heated homes. I would love to have flowers in my kitchen, but the Aga cooker-heater makes the room so unbearable for them, so I only put them in the hallway out of direct sunlight.
Can we still order flowers from you during lockdown?
I decided not to do any deliveries during lockdown as I have a toddler and no childcare at present. I have been trialling letterbox flowers, however. If these prove to be a success, I’ll make an announcement on my Instagram page and put them on my webshop. I would genuinely love to share my flowers nationwide, so I really hope that I can make this happen.
You usually make stunning bouquets, but if you were to pick a just a few blooms, what would you choose to go with a NiMi vase?
During tulip season, I would have chosen a handful of Salmon Van Eijk tulips, as they fade to the most exquisite vanilla and blush shade. Tulips are also both phototropic and geotropic, which means that they create the most incredible shapes as they dance between light and gravity. The Salmon Van Eijk is also quite a large tulip, so you don’t need many of them to make an impactful arrangement.
I would go for the Okada round vase in pink with 3 holes, pick 3 beautiful stems and cut them at different heights and that vase would really set them off.
We first came across Queenie Organics at the Ally Pally Farmers Market in London where JC was handing out samples of his handmade organic moisturiser. Now he has a whole range for different skin types and recently launched a Hand & Body cream — all of which are not only 100 percent certified organic, but also palm oil free.
We love the fact that you first started making your own moisturizer in the kitchen. What brought that about and then the Queenie brand?
I think it was a culmination of things. I’ve always liked to cook, I’ve always lived environmentally conscious and my dry skin became an issue a number of years ago — enough to want to solve my own problems. Skin absorbs cream and part of its ingredients so effectively that you are “consuming” them, so using organic ingredients made sense and was my natural tendency — it was the surest way I knew it would have less chance of aggravating skin or triggering allergic reactions from chemical or gmo elements.
The Queenie range came about through a few things, though the final impetus was to help raise some funds for refugees after I worked with some charities through a documentary I shot as a cinematographer (10% of Queenie profits go to charities).
You’re a cinematographer! Did that influence Queenie’s aesthetic?
Yes, I didn’t come from a skincare background. I had very little knowledge of packaging design trends or aesthetics in that market, I wanted to express something different, clean and eye catching. I designed matte black jars (bespoke sprayed with organic paint) with pastel labels. The pastel colours help customers identify which cream they are using without searching for the name of it on the label. I also chose to “bookend” the information on the label rather than centralising the name of the cream.
I chose not to include a box to reduce unnecessary waste, so I had to find a way to fit all the information needed on the label. That was quite a challenge due to the label size and the fact I wanted to keep a functional, urban chic aesthetic. The ingredients are also right below the name of the cream as it’s the ingredients that are key to what’s important about the creams. Usually ingredients are printed at the back or on the box so you have to look for them. The jars themselves are beautiful and feel metallic, so I encourage people to soak off the labels overnight and reuse them.
Self-care is especially important right now — which product of your lineup would you most recommend as a treat?
I guess we are all washing our hands a lot now, so the obvious good place to start would be our Cocoa & Olive hand cream. It’s on sale now too! I am also in the process of making a samples set for our moisturisers, so people can try out the different formulas.
Do you have any tips on staying sane during lockdown?
I think taking simple pleasures in simple things everyday. We have to remember that many are dealing with far worse conditions — people who are homeless, escaping wars, living in third-world countries. I think it’s healthy to be mindful of our existence, and take stock of the things we have, not the things we don’t (i.e. the freedom to go where we want).
As friends in business, which of our NiMi products would you personally like to own?
I like the Asemi Hasami cups. I love the simplicity and the colours are well chosen.
Miguel Ángel on Memories and the Power of Scents
Miguel Ángel's personal story of leaving a corporate life to start Elm Rd. inspires you to really think about how aromas can evoke emotions and change your outlook on life. What makes Elm Rd.'s room fragrances extra-special to us, though, is that they're often inspired by personal experiences. A sublime scent, can, he proves, bring back memories or transport you to another world.
We’ve heard that a walk in a San Francisco park was the life-changing inspiration that led to Elm Rd. What happened that day?
That’s right. The idea behind Elm Rd. was born during a walk in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco on a Saturday morning, just before catching a flight back to London. It was the first time I visited the city and I was there for business. At the time I was a Global Operations Director at a large global advertising agency and I was there for a series of meetings with one of our largest clients.
It was quite an intense week of back-to-back meetings to discuss a very large project and, by the end of the week, I was drained and exhausted. Not just physically, but also mentally. After 15 years in the corporate world I was craving for a change but I just didn’t know what would be “it”. I just knew it had to be something creative. I remember very vividly how the stress caused by these large project combined with jet lag, kept me awake all night. So I decided, that if I can’t sleep I might as well just pack my bags, check out of my hotel in Cupertino and at least see a bit of San Francisco before catching that long haul flight back. Little did I know that this decision would change my life.
By 7:30 a.m. I found myself in the middle of Golden Gate Park, with not a clue of where the hell I was. It was a beautiful sunny “Autumn” morning (if there is such a thing as Autumn in California) and the park was practically empty. So I proceeded to get lost in the park. I was amazed by the huge towering eucalyptus trees and the beautiful distincitive aroma that came from them. And there it started, suddenly very specific memories came to mind. I recognised the scent, it was the same scent of the eucalyptus tree in my grandfather’s town square in the Spanish countryside. The same thing happened when my nose picked up the lavender scent coming from the Botanical Gardens, and so on. I just allowed all the aromas and thoughts they triggered come in to me and give my brain a much needed respite from that big project.
On my way back to the airport I realised how I was feeling rejuvenated and refreshed thanks to the aromas of Golden Gate Park. That’s how I started my quest to study aromatherapy in order to bottle up the aromas of the Golden Gate Park, and our Freedom scent was the result.
All your scents have a story behind their recipes — what others are inspired by personal memories?
The most personal memory after Freedom is Happiness. Happiness is inspired by my childhood in Valencia, Spain. It encapsulates the scents of three key places: my grandmother’s courtyard, my uncle’s orange fields and the Mediterranean Sea. The result is a magical clean scent that is just pure Mediterranean bliss. In fact it is one of our best selling scents.
Mindfulness is clearly important to you and Elm Rd. Can you give us a few tips on simple meditation and staying calm?
This is an area that I am continuously working on. But my best tip for staying calm is to be mindful of our emotions and feelings and not let them take over. When I am feeling nervous or anxious I try to acknowledge and accept the emotion, take a deep breath and think how I am going to act on the emotion. I try to ask questions such as: Can I do something to avoid it or is it beyond my control? What is the worst thing that can happen? What can I learn from this?
With regards to meditation, I started with guided meditations and I found them very helpful. I then moved on to candle gazing meditation with our wooden wick candles, I find the crackling sound of the wood wicks helps clear the mind. My advice is not to get frustrated if your mind wanders; just acknowledge it and bring your focus back to the present every time. I know, easier said than done.
For a pick-me-up in the home, which of your lineup would you recommend?
I would recommend our Happiness and Summer Days Mists. I find that mists are most effective when you need an uplifting boost as they fill the air with botanical goodness.
We think Elm Rd. candles are a great match to our aesthetic, too. If you were to pick a NiMi item to go alongside an Elm Rd product, which would you choose?
Wow, that is a hard question. All of your items are beautifully curated and crafted. Having said that, the Asemi Bizen Cup would go beautifully with our Courage candle. The Asemi Bizen cup is fired an entire week and it is made with clay, soil and rice paddies. And Courage is a scent inspired by fire and the earthy South African velds. There is a connection in the story of both these items. In fact, I think Courage would go beautifully alongside it or inside it.