Anna Potter, Behind Swallows & Damsons | Living North

Anna Potter, the Florist Behind Swallows & Damsons

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We sit down with Anna Potter, the florist behind Swallows and Damsons in Sheffield, to discuss her new book, the floristry industry, and why she loves garden roses
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Can you tell us a bit about your background?

I grew up in a small village in Cheshire. We lived with my Nana, and often when people ask me where my interest in flowers began, that’s my answer – she was a keen gardener with a lovely big garden, and she was specifically interested in roses. I would often ‘help out’, and I’ve since realised how gracious and patient she was with me because I would go around cutting the heads off roses to make perfume – just destroying everything really. 

 

I studied Fine Art at Sheffield University and I’ve been here since 2001. I did mainly photography, painting and print-making at university, floristry was never something that had crossed my mind until after graduation, my friend was working at a florist and encouraged me to apply for a part-time job. I loved it and opened Swallows and Damsons in 2008. 

 

How have you seen the floristry industry change over the years?

It’s changed loads. And it’s not just floristry – lots of old-school crafts have changed since the rise of social media as the world has become more digital, and more people are wanting to get back to making things with natural materials. Floristry, weaving, basket-making and pottery have all increased in popularity.

 

Speaking of social media, your Instagram account has more than 180,000 followers – how do you find ‘Instagram fame’?

It was never something that was planned. When we joined six or seven years ago it wasn’t what it is now – it was just a new platform where you could put your work out there and post beautiful photos, almost like a visual journal. I still try to see it like that, but the account slowly started to take off. But even though the epic weddings and events we post about are fantastic, I still find that the most popular posts we put up are the ones documenting the everyday life of the flower shop. 

 

Do you have such a thing as a typical day?

Not anymore. But with us having the shop, that still does have to run on a day-to-day basis, so waking up early, getting the flowers from the market, setting up the shop… But then there are the weddings, events, fashion editorials and design projects that we do.

 

Can you pick a favourite moment so far from your career? 

I feel like I say this a lot, but we made a bouquet for the Queen when she visited Sheffield. It was about five years ago now, but I still remember the nerves, it was one of the most nerve-wracking things I’ve ever done, and I don’t get that feeling very often. 

 

Which part of your job do you love the most?

I love the hands-on, creative angle of working with nature, and I don’t think I’d ever get sick of that. We’re working in a more and more natural way, being led by the flowers themselves, and as every single stem is unique, you’re never churning out the same thing. I also love the people side of it. I don’t know what it is about flowers, but people always seem to have a story, either a reason why they’re buying that flower or a memory associated with a particular scent, and I love hearing those stories. 

 

Are there any more challenging aspects to being a florist? 

It’s a really physically demanding job! A lot of it is carrying things, emptying things and a lot of cleaning. The logistical side of it can also be a nightmare, especially with weddings and events, because obviously flowers are perishable so there’s only a certain amount of time you have beforehand. 

 

What flower would you say is your favourite? 

Harking back to growing up, I still love garden roses. Not your average, shop-bought rose that’s all straight, but a proper scruffy garden rose where the petals are a bit tatty and it smells amazing, maybe with a bug or two in it – that would be my very favourite. 

 

You’ve recently published your first book, The Flower Fix – how are you feeling about it?

I’m absolutely over the moon with it. India, the photographer, and I are good friends and have worked together for a long time. We’ve shot similar set ups for blogs and design websites and the book just felt like a natural progression. It’s been a real dream. 

 

Do you have any tips for aspiring florists?

Keep on experimenting and playing. I talk quite a bit about this in my book, but don’t be afraid of failing or have too many expectations of what something should look like. The playful element and creativity are really important with flowers – looking at the natural curves and bends of a stem, it’s really difficult to fit those into rules and regulations. There is something to be said for training, but there’s a quote I just love from the Dalai Lama: ‘Know the rules well so you can break them effectively.’

 

The Flower Fix is published by White Lion Publishing, and you can follow Anna’s work on Instagram @swallowsanddamsons or on her website www.swallowsanddamsons.com

 

Published in: August 2019

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