Meet Carolyn Dunster, an all-round-talent that has a faible for flowers, especially when they are grown in her small urban plot. Passionate about plants and their horticultural place in a garden as well as their aesthetic effect it brings an interesting flavour to her multi-layered career:
Living in the harsh cityscape of London she confined to the small city spaces and has managed to convert her inner city garden into a green rural atmosphere inviting in plants and cut-flowers.
Besides being a floral-stylist Carolyn has won several medals for her award-winning planting design at shows such as the RHS Shows such as Hampton Court Palace Flower Show where her planting also won the people´s choice award.
Carolyn´s book “Urban Flowers” reveals the perfect plants for any urban scenario alongside practical tips and knowledgeable garden writing. It is filled with tips and as she says in the interview she “practices what she preaches” gardening and experiencing her urban space.
One of her passion revolves all around dried flowers that she grows on her small London plot as she is focussed on honouring the plants from their raw states as seedlings through to british abundant blooms and prolonging their life long after they have faded.
I had the pleasure of talking to her about her passion, her ideas and her book “Urban Flowers”.
Jason Ingram, 2018
Have you always had a connection with Horticulture?
I have always had a deep connection with the natural world and I think that instinctively brought me to working with plants and flowers although it took me a while to get there. I love having my hands in the soil and working outdoors makes me feel good. Even as a small child I would always rather be playing outside or tending my own tiny patch of garden (within my parents larger garden) than sitting inside in front of the TV.
Did you always want to be a floral designer?
After several years working on glossy magazine I was itching to do something hands-on and creative and I wanted to start my own business to fit around my young family. Floristry offered me the chance to that although a lot of people thought I was mad: unsociable hours, low pay, basic working conditions – it’s not glamorous but it has become my life and I can’t now imagine doing anything else – I am obsessed with flowers and never bored.
What inspires you most when it comes to designing gardens?
I like to design spaces that provide city dwellers the opportunity to connect with nature. Filling a grotty urban space with flowering plants completely changes the environment. Pollinating insects are attracted to the flowers and in turn they bring in the birds and other wildlife. We need to create greater biodiversity in our cities one tiny garden at a time. I also like to see how people react once they have a garden and get to grips with looking after it. They recognise the rewards and become hooked. It can be a life-changing experience and I like being part of that.
How did you choose to specialise in small urban going areas?
I practise what I preach as I only have a tiny inner-city garden myself. For a long time it was laid to a square of patchy brown lawn with traditional narrow borders around the edges filled with uninspiring shrubs. Once I had taken the lawn up I created a gravel garden that is now filled with annuals and perennials that self-seed everywhere providing me with masses of flowers that I can pick and use in my floristry work.
How is your floristry influencing you're planting design?
One informs the other - I choose the flowers I grow as plants in a way that I would put together a bunch of cut flowers – lots of fillers and a few signature flowers in complementary colour tones and contrasting shapes and textures. My floristry is dictated by the seasons. I try to buy in as few cut flowers as possible so the challenge is to work with what I can grow. I think there is a huge disconnect between growing flowers and the cut flower industry in this country and that needs to be addressed to make floristry more eco-friendly.
What was the process of creating and publishing your book “Urban Flowers” which focuses on urban growing spaces?
My book demonstrates how easy it is to grow flowers in small city spaces and shows what you can do with them - all based on personal experience. My planting design work mostly comes from people seeing my garden and asking me to help them achieve something similar. The book came about because my publisher thought that it would strike a chord with city dwellers everywhere. I purposely selected flowers that are easy to grow in pots and containers that I have trialed myself and the projects are all very accessible particularly for first-time gardeners.
You mentioned that you like to prolong the life and beauty of each flower.
Can you tell me more about the process and the idea behind it?
I am currently experimenting with harvesting and drying the flowers I grow as the next step in sustainable floristry. I want to design arrangements that will last for more than a few days when you bring them indoors. It is about seeing flowers in a new way – appreciating their beauty even as they slowly fade and decay. I love the idea of bringing pieces of tree bark, seed heads, mosses and pebbles indoors to display with a few dried flowers to create a natural ‘still life’ especially during the winter months when it is unrealistic to have huge vases of blooms everywhere unless they have been grown on the other side of the world and imported.
Is there a common misconception when it comes to growing in urban areas?
People tend to think that in order to grow lots of flowers you need lots of space and that city gardens are too small. I like to show that by choosing the right flowers – particularly by growing annuals from seed - you can really pack them in even in a tiny space. Because annuals flower and set seed within one season they don’t require a huge amount of room for their roots and they are the gift that keeps on giving if you save their seed for the following year. Equally with perennials once you learn that you can lift and divide them so they don’t outgrow their space it is hugely satisfying to create your own new plants for free.
What has been the greatest highlight in your career so far besides publishing your book?
In 2016 I co-designed a small cut flower garden at RHS Hampton Court on behalf of Katie’s Lymphoedema Fund a charity affiliated to the Royal Marsden Hospital. The garden did two things – firstly it showed visitors how you can fill a small 6m x 6m space with flowers for cutting and secondly it drew public attention to the charity and increased their number of supporters. Creating a show garden is expensive, time-consuming and extremely stressful but this was definitely worth it.
What advice would you give a young Horticulturist?
Plough your own furrow! There are many strands within the horticultural industry but identify the thing you enjoy most and find a way of doing it so that going to work every day is a pleasure. Devote your time to becoming an expert in one aspect of your work and others will eventually seek you out for information and advice. Above all be patient – remember it takes time and a lot of hard work to build a successful career but if you love what you do then it doesn’t feel like an effort.
Carolyn is sharing a few of her tricks that she has proudly gathered in her book right here:
You can find Carolyn´s book “Urban Flowers” through her webpage: http://www.urban-flowers.co.uk
And have a closer look at the award winning garden she created at the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show: https://www.rhs.org.uk/shows-events/rhs-hampton-court-palace-garden-festival/gardens/2016/Katie-s-Lymphoedema-Fund-Katie-s-Garden
Follow her stories and designs via Instagram: @flowersthatlast
or on Twitter: @dunstercarolyn
If you want to grow a few cut flowers for yourself this year then head over to Flowerona where Carolyn talks all about the right cut flower for your right place:
Follow Jason Ingram for incredible garden shots:
As well as Nick Hodgson: