January Styling Ideas

Guest post, Vanessa Birley

Guest post, Vanessa Birley

You might be thinking… January… British flowers? Isn’t that an oxymoron? Not at all! We are fortunate enough to have some beautiful flowers & a plentiful supply of gorgeous foliage at this time of year. It’s helpful to keep in mind when planning flower designs, that you will not have the same choice from the bounty of summer flowers, however, you do have choice.

The following are a few ideas on working with January’s finest:

1.     It may sound obvious, but work with what you have. You can’t force a square peg into a round hole. You may not have flowers with large heads, or bright colours, but look at what you do have & use that to its fullest advantage.

2.     Green & white: always a classic & a timeless combination, so work it. Use different tones, textures & shades of green to add interest, for example, fern, variegated pittosporum, sarcoccoa.

3.     Consider adding twigs/branches, such as catkin, to your designs for interest, movement & additional shape.

4.     Creating designs with one colour will give a sense of harmony & aesthetic unity.

5.     Make a focal point of one flower using containers that add appeal. We used anemone & hellebore under a cloche.

6.     Repetition in design is an easy way of making a statement. Either by using the same flower, or same container, you can create a visually interesting display.

7.     If you’d like your tulips to retain their straighter stems, wrap them in newspaper after you have conditioned them whilst letting them drink water. Otherwise, embrace the tulips natural curvy stem & allow them to weave & wind their way with your design. Also, keep in mind that tulips will continue to grow even after they’ve been cut.

8.     Succulents such as echeveria, add a focal point, as well as texture, pattern & colour to a bouquet or arrangement.

9.     Alstromeria have a vase life of up to 3 weeks. Keep this in mind when buying – once they are fully open they are at their most beautiful, so use in designs accordingly.

10. One of the huge advantages of using locally sourced rather than imported flowers is scent. Incorporate rosemary & viburnum for a fresh & invigorating fragrance.

Personally, I love the limitations of designing with January’s British grown flowers: having a small colour palette, or smaller variety of botanical ingredients to work with. It means my creative juices have to get flowing & I might stumble on an otherwise intriguing creation that wouldn’t otherwise have materialised. Enjoy delving into working with the possibilities of some distinctive flowers & foliage & you might just surprise yourself.


With the 2017 Pantone colour of the year being "greenery" it's appropriate that as well as the flowers for each of our month's themes, we've got plenty about fillers and foliage. One of the main foliages that we included in our January theme was Pittosporum.

Pittosporum is a shrub that is hardy in most parts of the UK, and a lot of the varieties are fast growing. This one featured above is Pittosporum Tenuifolium, and can grow tree like if not pruned regularly, which is handy for growers and florists. It's best used in mid winter, when it is very hardy, and needs little conditioning. By March in most of the British Isles, it will be trying to grow new shoots, and so will flop when cut.

There are also variegated forms and purple leaved forms which are excellent for foliage backgrounds. This variety is Garnettii:

January shoot behind the scenes

For most of our 2016 photo shoots, there was a lot of planning for what flowers our florists would like to use and what would fit in with our colour themes. Then a last minute change of plans when something wasn't available, or something amazing flowered on the field that we had to use.

My job was to cut and condition the flowers and present our florists with amazing seasonal flowers to use. Emma and Vanessa were in charge of taking them to our chosen venue, helping the florist to make and set up their displays and then making, styling and shooting our themes. 

They kept in touch with me by WhatsApp and sent me photos of what they were up to. Some of the behind the scenes shots, were just as good as the shoot scenes, so I thought Ii'd post some here, to show you what lengths they went too, to get the best shots of our British Flowers each month.

There wasn't a whole room in that beautiful wallpaper, but just enough to show off this display. Being January more light was actually needed than there was, so Vanessa was here working as Photographer's assistant 

They spent ages making a wonderful fishing line background pattern, but then needed to lift the display up to include it in the background

and then they decided they didn't like the effect with the lights anyway, so it was removed

here's the end effect

The Colour Palette through the year

When I first started selling flowers to florists 4 years ago, I discovered very quickly that more often than not, they wanted a colour or a flower that wasn't available at the time they wanted it. Because of the wholesale markets being able to buy from all over the world, the natural colours of the year have been lost.

We know that the burnt oranges, purples and maroons are signs of Autumn

We know that a yellow daffodil is a sign of spring


But when's the best time of year to get peach coloured flowers? Or for true blue blooms?.

Throughout the year, we'll give you the colour palettes that work well each month with British Flowers. If there are plenty of varieties available in those shades at your event season, it will be easier to find them, and you are less likely to need to use several different suppliers or growers.

January florists profile Vanessa Birley of Vanessa Birley Florals

Throughout last season we worked with some talented and inspired florists who use British Flowers. Vanessa was the reason I started writing this book, and she, Emma and I worked very hard last year creating our floral palettes (more about these tomorrow). But she was also the first of our florists to be given a "bucket or 2" of flowers to produce some wonderful seasonal displays. Here in her own words is why she enjoys working with British Flowers. 


Vanessa Birley: As a child I immersed myself in our family garden & you would often find me with my nose plunged into a posy of lavender or roses. For me, flowers that lack scent are missing the vital & important component that sets fresh flowers apart from other beautiful objects. I am absolutely guaranteed fragrance from British flowers, whether it’s from flowering mint, heady dill or sweet narcissus.

I began using locally grown flowers & foliage initially picking from my gardenin a search of adding movement & vibrancy to my bouquets. A trailing stem of jasmine or wispy movement of honeysuckle to a bridal bouquet, gave the je ne sais quoi that I had been looking for.

Not quite knowing what I’m going to get in terms of stem length, flower head size, precise colour & shape, adds to the charm & excitement of picking up a bucket or two of locally sourced British flowers. 


The January shoot

Throughout the year in 2016, I gave a selection of talented florists a theme, and a bucket or 2 of British flowers, foliage and filler, and got them to "do their thing". The results were a wonderful collection of displays, bouquets, and arrangements using all British flowers that were available naturally in the month of the year. January was a green and white theme, which is even more apt this year, with the Pantone colour of the year being "Greenery" 

The displays that were created were then styled by Vanessa Birley, and photos taken by Emma Davies, but the actual displays are no trickery, These are all January flowers available from Artisan farms, or from commercial growers in the middle of January.

Who are the growers of British Flowers?

The British flower growing industry used to be fantastic and supplied 90% of the flowers and pot plants used in this country, but in the 1970’s the price of fuel rising and Dutch government subsidies changed things radically and all of a sudden the pendulum swung the other way. 

Up to a few years ago, the percentage of flowers sold in this country being British grown was less than 15% of the 2.2 Billion pound market, with 90% of those grown going to the supermarkets. Now however things are starting to change. 

Alstroemerias growing at Crosslands Nursery

Alstroemerias growing at Crosslands Nursery

There are 2 types of growers in the UK. The commercial growers are often those that have been around for generations. They are based in the traditional farming communities, with the vast majority of them being centred around Spalding in Lincolnshire, and in Cornwall. Commercial growers had to withstand the falling of retail prices, and the rising fuel costs at the end of the 20th Century, so they specialised in just a few varieties and grew them in vast quantities. Most of them grow 1 - 6 species of flower which they sell en masse to the supermarkets or wholesalers with often the majority of their crops being preordered before they are grown. Few species are suited to mass growing, with large amounts of automation, so these commercial growers concentrate on the flowers that sell well at supermarkets. These are very price conscious. The biggest crops are daffodils, Tulips, stocks, alstroemerias, lilies and asters.  

July flowers growing at Hill Top Farm in Surrey

July flowers growing at Hill Top Farm in Surrey

Artisan growers, are alternatively usually growing on a lot smaller scale. The numbers growing for florists, instead of just their own use, has risen in number steeply over the last couple of years. The main reason for their rise being that they are able to reach their end user, via the internet, and no longer need to use pack houses and wholesale markets to reach the retail and event florists that prize premium quality, locally grown and scented flowers. Artisan growers grow larger numbers of varieties so that they have flowers, foliage and fillers available to use in bouquets and displays throughout the season. Rather than just large numbers of stems of just a few varieties of the same species.

So how do Florists get hold of the flowers from our homeland growers?

Well it's a question we'll be answering in a lot more details over the coming months....

We'll introduce you to the wholesalers, commercial growers and artisan farmers who want to sell you their produce.

For the moment we're going to start you off with 3 of our favourite places to find British flowers all year round. You probably already know of them, but if you don't, sign up to get their information, check out their websites, follow them on social media, and make sure that they know you found them here.

The Flowers from the Farm network  

This wonderful support network for Artisan growers now has almost 350 members, so find out from their map if there is anyone growing for florists near you. @flowersfromthefarm on Instagram, and also on Facebook (where they are currently putting up a daily profile of growers). I'm a proud member of Flowers from the Farm.

Flowers by Clowance

James and his team at Flowers by Clowance in Cornwall send out pallets of the best Cornish (and Lincolnshire)  flowers all over the country, and will except any size of order. Sign up to find out what's available all year round @flowersbyclowance on Instagram, and also on Facebook 

Alstroemeria Ben

Ben and the team at Crosslands Nurseries are based in Sussex. They sell Alstroemerias in most colours under the sun all year round. You need to text or phone Ben with an order, although if lots of florists follow him on his Instagram account, maybe we can persuade him to post some pictures of their blooms. Here's another one Emma took last summer.