Gus Cavanagh – the man behind Augustus Bloom; London’s best-named florist – tells The Early Hour about forging a love of flowers, being a hands-on dad and setting up his business
Gus, 31, lives in Kentish Town, where he’s lived his whole life, with his wife Laura and their daughter Frida
“My wife, daughter and I live in a two-bedroom flat on the top floor of an eight-storey building overlooking Hampstead Heath. The view is breathtaking. We have a nice long balcony where we can sit and watch the world go by. Unfortunately my green fingers haven’t helped with my gardening skills. The balcony is pretty devoid of flowering plants and is mainly cluttered with pots of dying evergreens.
The flat itself is fairly small, and due to Laura and Frida’s ever-growing collection of ‘stuff’ the place can get overwhelmingly cluttered. I would probably choose a pretty minimalist design for the place and Laura would have a Mediterranean Santa’s grotto if given the freedom, so in actuality we live in something in-between the two. I love our flat and when it’s tidy it looks great.
When I started working at Rebel Rebel after uni, I wasn’t allowed near the flowers. But due to a lack of florists it got to the point where I had to help out. I approached the flowers with trepidation and worked with them rather methodically to get through a task and eventually it became quite clear that I wasn’t just a robot – that it really mattered to me how things were presented.
I didn’t worry about my friends thinking floristry was feminine, as they always thought I was pretty camp anyway. It was more with associates that I didn’t enjoy telling them, or when people from my old school days would unsuspectingly walk into the shop to buy flowers for their girlfriends and there I was. After a while, I began to like the level of interest it would create.
All I ever wanted was to be good at what I do and it took a couple of years before I felt like I was producing arrangements that were nicer than other people’s. Once this started happening and people started looking to me for advice and guidance, only then did I really feel a love for my work.
The things that repeatedly concern me are that all the flowers will die before the event finishes or that someone will knock a big vase over and badly hurt themselves
Living next to Hampstead Heath and seeing the flowers that grow in the gardens of north London, my preference is usually towards wild flowers. In winter, my favourites are anemones and ranunculus, in spring it’s peonies and sweet peas, in summer it’s garden roses and delphiniums and in autumn it’s dahlias and hydrangeas.
I couldn’t pick just one. That’s the beauty of the flower business: when you get bored of one flower, the seasons change and another one comes in that takes your breath away.
Lots of flowers are liked for their scent; tuber rose, sweet peas, freesia, lily of the valley etc… Personally, a sweet smelling garden rose is the one that makes me go back for another sniff, again and again.
When working, it’s good to have a variety of flowers. Some with big heads, some with small, some with frilly bits, some that are bold and tall. I always try and use a variety of green foliage too. I think that having many textures, sizes, shapes and colours in an arrangement is what makes it interesting to look at. A lot of flowers are cultivated to be dead straight and long lasting, so they end up looking a bit stiff and fake; these are the flowers I avoid.
I buy all of my flowers from New Covent Garden Flower Market. I do this because I like to see the flowers, check over them and touch them before I pay for them. I try and buy English flowers if I can, these are sourced from all over the English counties. The rest come from Holland in the main. Some from Italy and France and a few from further afield; Africa, South America, even New Zealand.
I made the decision to work for myself over two years ago for lots of reasons. I felt like I’d reached a glass ceiling in my job. I wanted to push myself and I wanted to try and make a financial success out of a business that I had created from scratch. Being in the same job for 10 years was making me feel a bit stuck so going it alone was definitely the right move, but it wasn’t straightforward.
I’d been thinking about a name for months, maybe longer. I fancied using a person’s name, as it seemed that most of the successful florists I could think of were using their name to spearhead their businesses. It made customers feel the flowers they received were made by the hands of the owner of the business. Which for the most part, in my business, is true.
I also thought it was important to mention flowers in the name so that people immediately knew what we were all about. Augustus Bloom was a joke I made initially, as ‘Gus’s flowers’ or ‘G flowers’ wasn’t having a very positive reaction.
After hours of sitting around with Laura and my friend Max (owner of the ingeniously named wedding DJ business ‘The Wedding Smashers’) Laura admitted that she thought Augustus Bloom was actually a good idea, for real. Max agreed and told me to think about it no more. It held an air of respectability, without sounding naff, so I quickly bought the domain name and never looked back.
While working for Rebel Rebel, I helped to arrange flowers for the Pope, the Queen, BAFTA… but because I was working with teams of people, I didn’t find those jobs particularly nerve-wracking, more so – they are examples of exciting jobs I was proud to be a part of.
The jobs I found really scary were the first couple of jobs I took sole responsibility for during my time at Rebel Rebel and when I first started as Augustus Bloom. Although these were only small parties/weddings, the buck stopped with me – there was no one else to hide behind – and I was terrified of the consequences. In actuality they all went very smoothly, but it took a while before I had the confidence to take on jobs without worrying about them.
I’m a bit of a worry wart at the best of times, but the things that repeatedly concern me are that all the flowers will die before the event finishes or that someone will knock a big vase over and badly hurt themselves. And there is always the worry that you will have promised hundreds of roses or something to someone and when you turn up at the market there is a chance that they will have sold out or forgotten to order them for you, or got them in but they are the wrong shade of pink!
The most special bouquet? That’s very hard to decide. I remember making the flowers for my grandparents’ funerals was very important to me and I took great care over them. And of course the wedding bouquet I made for my wife. Although she didn’t like it very much I later found out.
Getting used to my own company after years of working with a small team of people has definitely been challenging and I’m still working out whether I like it or not
My studio/workshop is in Canonbury, right by Newington Green. It’s on a lovely, quiet street, aptly named Poet’s Road, where I like to think lots of creative artists and poets reside. It looks like a big, smart double garage. It has a small patio and inside is nicely kitted out with smart tiles, white walls and a wooden floor.
As for the smell, I’m sure it smells great when it’s full of flowers, but as all florists will attest to, after a while you become immune to the scents and don’t notice the smell in the air at all. It has a lot of translucent windows, which is great, as it lets in a lot of light but protects the flowers from direct sunlight, which most of them don’t like at all.
It stays very cool in there, which helps keep the flowers fresh but also warms up very quickly if I need to turn the heating on to get some of the flowers to open up for an event should they be too closed. All in all it’s perfect! Apart from the lack of a toilet. Much to my friends’ amusement, I invested in a camping toilet/potty for emergencies.
Right now it’s not particularly busy for me. It depends very much on the time of year. The summer is undoubtedly the busiest time of the year for me. It’s when the majority of the weddings are going on and when most events and parties seem to be held.
Getting used to not having a regular flow of money coming in each month is probably the greatest challenge. I’ve also had to get used to working alone most of the time. As it stands I don’t employ somebody to help me regularly. Getting used to my own company after years of working with a small team of people has definitely been challenging and I’m still working out whether I like it or not.
When you take on a big job and it all goes well and you have no one else to thank but yourself it is a fantastic sense of achievement and you can be buzzing for days. It’s also great to be in charge of your own timetable. I only ever have to be somewhere when I agree to be somewhere.
I wish Laura and I could spend more time together. We agreed to have date night once every couple of weeks or something a few years back. I think we have had one or two in 5 years
I work as much as I can, and I say yes to almost everything that comes my way, but if I wanted to take a break I could. I wouldn’t need to ask for permission. I also feel very proud of myself for going it alone. I always admired people who owned their own businesses, no matter what they did. For me, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I do most of the school runs, which is great as I see my daughter for chunks of the day every day, however, sometimes it almost kills me trying to get everywhere on time. Sometimes I do wish I didn’t have the dual responsibility of working and keeping up with family obligations, not to mention social ones. However, it’s great to have the variety.
I wish Laura and I could spend more time together. We agreed to have date night once every couple of weeks or something a few years back. I think we have had one or two in five years.
Working with flowers is a great way to spend your time. The materials you work with are constantly changing. The jobs you work on take you to some great venues and introduce you to some amazing people. It’s great to work in a profession where you work with your hands and you see the fruits of your labour.
All of my jobs have a beginning, a middle and an end, which is a wholly satisfying way to work. And it is great being paid to be creative. Now I just need to crack on and make a success of it all. Wish me luck.”