Early Riser: Nik Southern, Grace and Thorn

“I like the flowers to dance and sing. I like to look at a bouquet and see the flowers as if they’ve got their hands in the air, twirling round and dancing.” Nik Southern, founder of Grace and Thorn, talks early trips to the flower market and a gothic Giles Deacon fashion show…

Traditionally florists are up in the small hours of the morning, haggling in the markets for the freshest blooms to make up into bouquets that brighten tables and houses. Nik Southern, founder of Grace and Thorn tells the Early Hour how she fuels her day and why flowers are like works of art.

What’s your average working day like?
Nowadays, I never sleep after bloody half five ever. But it’s become my favourite time of day. I spend all day talking and organising so I like this quiet time when I can get up and plan the day. Overnight we get orders, and we aim to get everything out the doors by ten in the morning, so we have to get to market early to get everything out. I must annoy everyone because I Whatsapp them about what we need from the market and place my orders. My girls get to market around 6am and we aim to be back at the shop by 9am. Times have changed. You do still get people going to Covent Garden Flower Market at two in the morning but it’s more the old school who can’t break the habit.

If we’ve got a big event we’ll start setting up for that early and because it’s hard to judge when you’ll be done, you have to be prepared to work into the night. It’s hardcore. It’s very fast, and you need a lot of energy. It’s not an easy job, you need gumption and grit but it’s very rewarding, because you’re on the go all the time. You’re doing something beautiful but it’s a lot of lugging, a lot of cleaning, clearing up.

How do you fuel yourself through the morning?
I have to have coffee. I’m never hungry when I wake up. Ever. I’ve started doing juices, but really it’s just coffee until about midday when I get some lunch.

How did you start as a florist?
I worked for 13 years in IT recruitment for the public sector, but I’ve always loved gardening and interior design. I got to the point where I thought: I’m sick of this and need to do something with my life. I enrolled on a month-long floristry course about four years ago and it took off from there. I couldn’t get work in a florist because either they weren’t busy enough or they wanted someone with experience. So I decided to do it on my own and started in my front room. Two years after that I opened my first shop.

 

What was your big break?
I was very lucky. It snowballed and got big really quickly. I’ve got a few mates who work in fashion. I’d hang out with them in the pub and ask them every time ‘Do you need flowers? Do you know anyone who needs flowers?’ Eventually one of them gave me a job doing flowers for Whistles. In fashion when someone starts using you word spreads.

What makes you different from other florists?
I think because I was really into gardening I bring lots of foliage into my arrangements. A lot of people go for the big roses or blooms, but what makes it for me are the little bits inbetween, the grass and the foliage and the tiny flowers. That’s what makes it, and it’s so much more interesting than rows and rows of roses.

In a supermarket or at the garage they’re all the same and there’s no thought. The flowers are extra small and they look like they’re on death’s door most of the time

When I got my shop I filled it with house plants which nobody else was doing at the time. I love plants, and thought maybe instead of spending loads of money making sure my shop is always full of flowers, I could put a load of plants in there and make it look beautiful. I don’t have a big wastage of flowers, I can buy what I need and the shop still looks beautiful.

What piece of work are you most proud of?
Our work is very bespoke and I like to do a lot of research and give people a different way of looking at flowers. The year before last we did flowers for a Giles Deacon fashion show, where the theme was dark gothic fairy tale. The set designer wanted us to create an arch so we built it out of air plants and others that looked, not scary, but creepy. It was really dark and beautiful. In the end that arch was where every model had her photo taken with all the outfits and the pictures were everywhere. I was amazed. That was really fulfilling.

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Why should we buy flowers from a florist and not our local garage?
I try to be objective. In a supermarket or at the garage they’re all the same and there’s no thought. The flowers are extra small and they look like they’re on death’s door most of the time. So if you want something more considered and designed with love and care, you want a florist. But if you want to stick a few stems in a vase at home, go for it.

We don’t churn out the same bouquets. Everyone sends me a picture of their work before it goes out so I can make sure it all looks like a piece of art rather than just loads of flowers bundled together. I like the flowers to dance and sing. I like to look at a bouquet and see the flowers as if they’ve got their hands in the air, twirling round and dancing.

Grace and Thorn