JamJar Flowers at Chelsea Flower Show

Melissa Richardson and Amy Fielding, Chelsea Flower Show 2019 Credit: Rona Wheeldon

Third time lucky – Chelsea opens next week! After two postponements, we’re so excited to see what this year has in store. We spoke to Melissa Richardson, founder of JamJar Flowers who gave us a sneak peek at what she’s got planned for the show.

Melissa Richardson and Amy Fielding, Chelsea Flower Show 2019 Credit: Rona Wheeldon

What’s the idea behind your Nature of Thyme design for Chelsea 2021?

First and foremost we want the Bullring Gate to be beautiful and second we want it to tell a little story.  We were inspired to highlight the plight of pollinators, who have been in decline because of loss of habitat and changes in land use, after we spent some time at the Thyme Estate in Gloucestershire this spring.  Here the water meadows are a perfect example of nature untouched for thousands of years.  There was something magical about watching the countryside wake up after a long cold winter and seeing the wild flowers arrive and with them the pollinators swiftly followed by migratory birds.  We wanted to gently highlight the importance of preserving our wild places 95% of our wild flower habitats have been lost since the war. I feel that we need to shout that from the rooftops. It feels even more vital and important in the wake of the Covid Pandemic. Every child should learn about nature as soon as they are able to walk and talk.  How else will they ever understand what they need to protect?

The London Gate at Chelsea Flower Show 2019 Credit: Eryl Humphrey Jones

We were huge fans of the bees in 2019. How is this year’s commission different to what you took on in 2019?

Well we were clearly quite mad in 2019 undertaking such an enormously grandiose scheme. We managed to pull it off through sleight of hand and the help of some very talented gardeners Tilly Dallas and Daisy Garnett.  This year the installation covers a much greater area.  The Bullring Gate itself with its four tall gateposts is about the same size as the London Gate but then there is also the Southern Ground which flanks the entrance to the Grand Pavilion and the roundabout off the Chelsea Embankment in front of the gate.

We want to pull all three areas together into a harmonious connected piece. We will be combining our planting with floristry using hop garlands, freshly coppiced hazel and flowers from English growers which we have been drying at the studio.  We will be celebrating all that is English in September. The harvest, the woods and the garden in the final days of summer.

What is the process like creating these magical gates and installations for the flower show?

It has been a long process this year.  We were invited by the RHS to send in a scheme for the Bullring Gate in November 2019.  With two cancelled shows (May 20 and May 21) between the origin of our scheme and it coming to fruition the whole thing has changed quite a bit so the process has been rather unusual.  I think it starts with me having an idea and discussing it with Amy, my co-conspirator and the person who turns my fantasies into first a possibility and then a reality.  Getting Daisy Garnett on board early was important as neither Amy or I are gardeners.  Daisy is a fount of calm common sense, knowledge and a wonderful eye for beauty. Next we needed to discuss with Talena, our head florist, a way to bring some floristry into the gate. Hooking up with model maker Leila Watts and artisans Steve de St Croix and Tom Richardson add the beautiful details to the scheme.

You’re planning a wildflower meadow for the Southern Ground. How are you going to transfer it from its home in Slade Gardens in Stockwell to Chelsea?

The people who were going to supply us with our two meadow strips for the Southern Ground let us down this year so we thought “Oh well, we will grow it ourselves at Slade Adventure” (our local community garden who take all our plants after Chelsea is over). We had to lay the meadow on a membrane with a thin layer of soil so it didn’t root into the earth. We will transfer it on flat boards piece by piece in the JamJar van.  Its all pretty nail biting but the guys at Slade Adventure have taken great pride in looking out for it and we are just hoping the transfer goes smoothly.  We could wish for a few more flowers but its been a gloomy summer.  Never mind, as after Chelsea it will go back to Slade and be a wonderful resource for Bee Urban who have some hives in the garden there.

What plants/flowers might we be able to spot if we visit the JamJar gate? 

We should have all sorts of lovely late summer flowers like Rudbeckia, fennel, grasses, helenium, cosmos, coreopsis, Japanese anemones, gaura, dahlias, verbena bonariensis etc. Then there will be the dried flowers helichrysum, rhodante daisies, achillea, safflower, statice which, combined with the hops will decorate the two outer posts.

Can people come and see the gate even if they don’t have tickets for the show? 

The Bull Ring Gate is on the embankment. It is a public right of way and anybody can come and look at it.  Be sure not to miss our planting on the roundabout too and the beautiful hazel domed structure in the centre made by Steve de St Croix. Look out for little birds and bugs by the brilliant Leila Watts who made our beautiful bees last year and bug hotels by Tom Richardson.

Dried flower bee sculptures by Leila Watts

What do you like most about Chelsea Flower Show?

The Chelsea Flower Show is for me a celebration of everything that is best about Great Britain. We are a nation of gardeners and we have such a rich and diverse selection of plants that thrive in our unpredictable climate.  I always look forward to seeing the TV coverage too. For most people the show is too expensive or too far to visit but the beautiful BBC coverage is almost as nice – a way to see the show and you can pick up a mass of gardening ideas and tips from the experts. I always look for new planting ideas for my little overcrowded Brixton garden.

How has lockdown been for Jam Jar?

I have been absolutely blown away by the resilience and adaptability of our little business. In the end there were just the four of us, me, Amy, Ella and Talena keeping JamJar Flowers afloat. We missed the freelancers and all the weddings and events. Our business as an events florist was decimated but we found ways to diversify.  We didn’t lay anybody off. Lets just say we tightened our belts and rode the storm and we are still here.

JamJar Flowers team. Credit: Emma Guscott

What’s the most memorable event you’ve ever done?

It has to be Chelsea in 2019.  By far and away the most ambitious undertaking thus far and I have to say, without modesty, that we smashed it.

What’s your favourite flower?

It’s Friday so it’s Cosmos.  That’s an impossible question as it changes, not only from month to month, but also from day to day. In August we made a beautiful staircase piece for a wedding at the Savile Club using nothing but white cosmos and ammi major. I loved it for its absolute pure white simplicity.  An exquisite scheme imagined by Talena and realised by the brilliant jammers. So today my favourite flower is white cosmos.

What are your plans as we emerge out of the pandemic and move into the new world?

We have a lot going on.  The most exciting being that Amy is having a baby in November.  I am absurdly excited about this having no grandchildren (yet). Then we have a book coming out in April which is another check on our bucket list. We have taken on a new full time member of staff, Sally who is wonderful, and we have some really exciting projects on the boil.  I am expecting a busy time but I hope we will be able to choose our work carefully and continue to deliver jobs with all the care and creativity that people expect of us.

What is your ethos as a company, and as a person?

I decided to start this business when I was already old. I always knew it wasn’t a business that was going to make us rich. Therefore it had to make us happy. We make beautiful flowers for people who appreciate what we do. We want to be always learning, always getting better.  We want to be aware of our fragile planet, we want to support each other and hold each other up. We aspire to a better kinder world.  I think that’s quite a lot for a tiny company in a cobbled yard in Walworth.

JamJar at RHS Chelsea Flower Show
21 - 26 September 2021
The RHS Chelsea Flower Show Royal Hospital Chelsea, SW3 4SR
Where else:
JamJar Flowers Peacock Yard, SE17 3LH
Tickets from £66
020 7358 5414
— Daisy Allsup
14th September 2021

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