This month, Ultimate Library had the pleasure of interviewing the wonderfully talented Shane Connolly – the real expert of everything flower related. To celebrate Shane’s blog, we’re working in partnership with Phaidon to offer the chance to win a free copy of FLOWER. All you need to do is follow this link.

Shane Connolly set up his eponymous company in 1989 after training with some of London’s leading flower designers. Born and raised in Northern Ireland, Shane read Psychology at university but a lifelong passion for plants and gardening eventually led to a complete career change. Subsequently, he has built an enviable reputation as a floral designer with a small, dedicated and talented team of florists, artists and craftsmen working from offices and a large light-filled studio in North Kensington.

His company Shane Connolly & Co is very proud to hold Royal Warrants of Appointment to both HM The Queen and HRH The Prince of Wales.

1. What was it that first inspired you to make the leap into floral design and what is your favourite thing about the industry now?

I was always passionate about growing things and gardening; in fact, Nature in general. But didn’t ever think of it as a career until I met some floral designers, Michael Goulding and Elizabeth Baker, who were trained at Constance Spry and did the most amazing events and weddings in London. I felt suddenly that I’d found the thing I really wanted to do.

Now, 30 years later, I still love the whole process of design and nature meeting in the world of flowers. I particularly love that we’re at last beginning to be more aware of the environment and our role in both portraying it AND protecting it….something that has always been intrinsic in my work.

2. Your designs are all about the importance of creating something unique and bespoke – how do you go about choosing flowers for clients? What are the questions you ask them?

I try NOT to talk too much about flowers! Other than finding out if there are flowers they do not like (how could that ever be?) I’d prefer to find out the type of person they are and how they envisage their event to look; to smell; to feel. And get some guidance about the type of person they are….sophisticated, playful, elegant etc. It all has to sit well in the location too so that’s a vitally important factor. Then I’ll buy the flowers, foliage and plants to suit all of the above. And I’m always guided by the season and my wonderful British growers.

3. You place an emphasis on the importance of environmentalism when choosing flowers – how do you make sure your flowers are eco-friendly and why do you think this is important?

Cut flowers are often a city dweller’s main contact with nature, apart from the food they eat (and often they don’t see that as part of nature anyway). So it is our duty as floral designers to represent nature well by portraying it in its most beautiful and pure state. We need to protect it by sourcing with care….preferably using local products that are organically grown…and designing with respect for the intrinsic qualities of the flowers themselves. Sustainable thinking isn’t just important, it is essential.

4. What are you top three flower design books and why?

  1. I always find Constance Spry speaks with great wisdom and clarity on all matters floral…from growing to arranging. I love ALL her books, so it’s quite difficult to choose just one. If I had to, it would be her first: FLOWER DECORATION, published in 1934 and still inspirational and educational today.
  2. Second would be a book by Danish designer, Tage Anderson, simply called ‘Tage Anderson’! All his books are exquisite celebrations of flowers and nature and show how mankind can take natural things and celebrate them by making designs that flatter rather than subdue and allow freedom rather than imposing supression. Like Spry, Anderson is a designer who is also an excellent, knowledgeable gardener. An essential combination in my opinion.
  3. My third choice would be a very new book, just released this year: FLOWER: Exploring the World in Bloom, by Phaidon Books. It is an exquisite book celebrating flowers in art and showing how artists have interpreted flowers in every medium….including floral designers. There is so much inspiration in this book and it helps us all see flowers with a real artists eye. A chapter on Floral Symbolism from yours truly makes me like it even more!

5. What are your favourite flowers and plants to decorate with during festive period and why?

I am ONLY interested in seasonal ingredients. No red roses from Ecuador for me thank you, even if it does add the “pop” (how I hate that word) of seasonal red; give me berries and fruits to do that any day! So I go for every type of evergreen, from the warming scents of rosemary and sage, to the fresh tang of pine and juniper. Add mistletoe and growing helleborus niger, or white hyacinth plants in full flower (all to be replanted in the garden post festivities) and I quite honestly could not ask for anything more!

Ultimate Library would like to offer their gratitude to Shane for being our expert this month. If you would like more information on Shane and his work please visit his website here.

To be entered for the chance to win a free copy of FLOWER, visit this link.