Grace Alexander Flowers

On creativity, inspiration and originality

Grace Alexander

There is a garden not a million miles away from here. In that valley on the way towards Dorset where the hills start to round and the horizon to stretch and you can sort of feel that the sea is close, even if you can't see it. We stumbled across it when we were on a Boxing Day walk when I was protesting at the big sky trying to snow. I was not well enough dressed, I admit. We came through a footpath through a little orchard and then I saw the topiary and a big gate. I knew that garden could only be an Arne Maynard. Even in the depths of winter, I knew it. Like all the best gardens, South Wood Farm is open for NGS once a year, and I put the date in the diary and counted the days.

It was everything I'd hoped for and more. I have a scrap of paper from one of my trips to Allt y Bela with scribbles on the back. Topiary, structure, short and long sight, seamless transitions between here and there, the wild moving predictably and yet inexorably to the formally domestic. South Wood Farm is a masterclass in all of the principles of compelling garden design. Did I mention the kitchen garden? Exquisite. It left me feeling elated and inspired and yet so incredibly at home.

We've done a lot of redesigning this year, and I can't pretend it is my forte. I am not creative or particularly original. But I know what I like. When we dug out the back lawn and built a Kitchen Garden, I spent hours looking at other people's ideas, other people's originality, other people's designs. Danny and I have discussed this without resolution; is there any such thing as real originality? This house is unique, should it not have a unique setting? Actually, in the end, my Kitchen Garden is based on a design by Kristy Ramage that she did for me last Summer. Fittingly, she was a big part of the building of South Wood Farm which just happens to be my favourite garden ever. Even if my own bit of land doesn't look like this one, I want to feel the same happiness and visceral, tangible beauty when I'm at home. I might not try to copy the landscaping, but I'll definitely try and copy the bliss.

Growing happiness

Grace Alexander
 Photo @painterlyandblooms

Photo @painterlyandblooms

On a busy, rainy, slightly too busy Tuesday, someone said this.

Today could have been only about an irate baby who refused to nap and me not getting any lunch. But instead it has been magical. Thank you Grace Alexander Flowers – to new seeds and beautiful futures…

Yes I thought. This. This... Growing happiness. Warmth and joy in a tricky world.

When I started the seed business, people made all sorts of practical suggestions. Can we have a picture? How many seeds are there in a packet? My mother (still) insists that they should have a sow by date on them. It isn’t about that I said. If you want that sort of seed, I can recommend you at least ten really quite good suppliers.

This is not what this is about.

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There were days when I had been so busy at work, I’d be pulled and pushed and emailed and phoned and people wanted something from me all of the time. I’d give and give and give. I’d get home and know I had a wedding that weekend and I just didn’t know how I was going to pull it off. I’d walk into my flower field and there it would all be. Whilst I was busy being busy, she was there, just doing her thing. Roses, always just at the right moment. Nigella that I’d been willing to burst for weeks, cracking open with that Friday feeling. Buckets and buckets of dahlias. Even my tulips come back year after year. And I’d get this feeling in my chest and behind my eyes. Like gratitude was coming up my throat and trying to come out in tears. I have a doctorate in feelings. I should know this one. The closest I got was joy, but even that didn’t fit quite right. So in my head, I call it heart-rise. Because that’s what it feels like. An overwhelming gratitude and pleasure in the beauty and generosity of a thing.

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Then I noticed that other things gave me the same feeling, often with a tingling in my fingers. Local Milk’s Instagram feed. Hans Blomquist’s interiors. Bauwerk paint. Khadi paper and almost anything by Bureau design. Rough things with elegance. Patina, texture, and quite often wonkiness.

 In Detail by Hans Blomquist

In Detail by Hans Blomquist

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My seeds aren’t a thought through thing. I never did any market research. I never beta tested a design. I have absolutely no interest in appealing to the masses. I did what felt right and what made me happy. And maybe they’ll make you happy too.

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Equinox & an introduction

Grace Alexander
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If you have a garden, you will know that each patch of ground is unique. The textbooks will tell you you should find out what your soil pH is; whether it is loam or clay, aspect, shade, sun, drainage. It's not really like that here. We're a team, and I accept that my field knows best. I know that she likes pink (irritatingly, because I don't), she is a grafter, she is forgiving, she produces nettles better than any other field around, which is fine because it means fertility and copious amounts of nettle tea and I'll never get arthritis.

 
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The equinox is the one time of the season that we are out of step. The magic of the equal days and nights gives her a little boost and there is a spring like rush of growth. I'm winding down and she's raging against the dying of the light. Funny things happen at this time. I have an iris that has sent up a flower spike. The orchard is covered in baby frogs. There's a sprinkling of blossom on one of the apple trees. I can't keep up with the deadheading...