The Chelsea Fringe is full of amazing ‘iconic’ scenes every year but one that always makes us grin hugely is Henley’s floral flotilla. A parade of boats, so heavily festooned in flowers you think they’d sink, motors gently down the Thames to cheers from the bank. One of the people behind it is Jane MacFarlane-Duckworth, this week’s Chelsea Champion.
Introduce yourself, Jane… I’m a florist, flower grower and I run a collective called The Flower Union (www.theflowerunion.com). I used to do floral styling for clients like Chanel, Valentino, Gucci and the Financial Times ‘How to Spend It’ Magazine. Now I prefer working with my local community. We provide event flowers, workshops and have recently launched a twice monthly flower club. I’ve been involved in Chelsea Fringe as a supporter since its initiation and as a coordinator, in Henley on Thames, for the part five years.
What has been your favourite Chelsea Fringe moment? My stand-out favourite was when a wonderful local lady chose to celebrate her 80th birthday by bringing a small group of friends on a Chelsea Fringe silent meditative woodland walk. It was over two hours long and a little challenging in places. But they embraced it with dignity and grace – and finished with coffee, cake and smiles.
Why did you want to get involved in the Fringe? The ethos, endeavour and end results appeal to everything I love. A slightly pirate approach to gardening – surely one of the best examples of cross-cultural, cross-gender, cross-demographic, cross-discipline activities – made even better, even more inclusive, even more accessible through the Fringe.
Tell us three words that sum up the Chelsea Fringe for you? On the hoof (in the nicest possible way…)
What’s your top tip for someone taking part in the Fringe for the first time? Don’t hesitate. The best events are those that are informal and spontaneous. If you have an idea aching to get out, don’t think about it too much. Enlist the help of anyone willing to offer it. Deep down most people love the brave and unusual. Some of our most unlikely events were the ones with highest attendance.
Who is your gardening hero? I have a few! Rachel Siegfried and Ashley Pearson, who run Green & Gorgeous flower farm in Oxfordshire, are a wonderful combination of vision, artistry, meticulous hands in the mud practicality, and horticultural geniality. I also love flower garden writers; Alice Coates, Jennifer Potter, Erin Benzakein, Azuma Makoto have all published wonderfully inspiring books I refer back to over and over. And Mark Griffiths’ The Lotus Quest is a firm favourite.
What is your guilty pleasure? Bulbs and seeds. I always get hugely carried away – hoping that THIS YEAR I will get them all in as and when I should. I’m also a bit nerdy about scissors and vases. On a recent trip to Kyoto, I stumbled upon a three-storey Ikebana store. It was honestly one of the happiest – and most expensive – moments of my life.
What do you listen to while you work? Not garden related, but Taryn Toomey, the NY-based wellness/fitness guru, curates brilliant Spotify playlists to meet most moods. I also really benefit from Debra Prinzing’s Slow Flowers podcasts and the Team Flower (teamflower.org) podcasts, classes and online resources.
Plus a lot of Ayurveda podcasts. One of the joys of growing flowers in the UK is an acute awareness of seasonal variations, which is a component of ayurvedic living. I try to garden according to (very general) Ayurvedic principles in my own somewhat ridiculous adapted yoga positions (‘yogardening’ it is fondly called by one of my colleagues). I look an utter idiot but don’t care because I feel great afterwards.
Image: Jane MacFarlane-Duckworth