Photo: India Hobson

Florist Friday: Anna Potter of Swallows and Damsons

As a florist, Anna Potter often blurs the lines between art and nature.

As a florist, Anna Potter often blurs the lines between art and nature. She is the founder of Swallows and Damsons, a bustling flower shop in Sheffield, England, which she has been running with her husband for the last six years. After receiving her degree in Fine Art at Sheffield Hallam University, Potter worked as a Senior Floral Designer for two of Sheffield’s leading florists, and now helms a creative vision that is both unique to her region and her personal vision of the craft.

Potter’s artistry doesn’t end with the bouquets she now regularly creates for a living, as she often uses leftover flowers to create spontaneous and captivating art projects. Her photographs have become pieces of art in and of themselves, their dramatic lighting and staging evoking paintings of the Dutch Masters. One of the most exciting aspects of Potter’s work, however, concerns her collaboration with other artists: in one project, she paired the flowers she couldn’t use in a color-coordinated arrangement with different objects to create a beautiful public display.

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Potter also hosts a Flower School from the shop in Sheffield where she now teaches floral arrangement. This year, her work will take her to France and Tuscany, where she will design flowers for weddings abroad. Garden Collage recently spoke with Potter about design, flowers as an artistic medium, and what it means to truly push creativity outside of the box.

Photo: India Hobson

GC: How did you get into flowers? Did you grow up gardening?

AP: My flower journey really began when I was just a small child, we had a big garden growing up and my Nana used to grow many different varieties of roses which I used to enjoy picking and making into perfume! I’ve been entranced with flowers ever since.  I completed a degree in Fine Art and after that was fortunate enough to get a job at a brilliant Florist in Sheffield without having any experience, it was there I realized Floristry was the perfect fit for me.  I worked with Florists who had differing styles and eventually began to feel creatively frustrated. I wanted to work in a more natural, garden style and there was nothing really around like that at the time.  I founded and opened Swallows & Damsons just over six years ago so I could create the style of flowers I wanted to.

GC: Did you have a gateway flower? For example, a flower you completely fell in love with that led to a larger love of flowers, or a flower that you tend to zoom in on whenever it’s in season?

AP: Ranunculus– it was instant love! I look forward to their season and weep when they leave.

GC: How do you keep your creative drive going?

AP: The nature of the flowers themselves, the fact that they’re seasonal so I always have something new to work with and be inspired by keeps me creatively stimulated.

Photo: India Hobson

GC: What does a typical, say, Tuesday look like for you?

AP: A typical day starts with the usual manic rush to get the kids dropped off to school, coffee, a trip to market to collect and source what we need for the day, back to the shop and more coffee.  The day will then be a mixture of making up orders, working on weddings, some admin work, some wedding consultations in the afternoon and before you know it it’s time to pick the kids up again!

GC: What are some of your favorite local spots?

AP: Bragazzi’s– our local Italian coffee shop and deli, which also doubles as my office when the shop is busy. I adore the Peak District too, we’re so fortunate to have such amazing countryside right on our doorstep.

GC: Do you have a favorite garden?

AP: I love Chatsworth and their Cutting Garden where a good friend of mine is head gardener.  This meant I was fortunate enough to be able to cut flowers there and make an arrangement on site, it was like an amazing dream.

Photo: India Hobson

GC: How do you dress for summer weather? How does your summer style differ from your winter style?

AP: In the summer, I’m a shorts and t-shirt kind of girl, but even in the summer it’s rarely warm enough to wear this in the shop where it’s chilly all year round.  My winter style is really just my summer style with an extra seven or so layers on top!

AP: The more I get to know and work with flowers the more I appreciate their irregular nature and have learned to embrace this rather than fight against it.  It’s such a joy to work with their crazy bends, droopy heads, and kinks in creating something rather than fighting with this and trying to generate something straight and formal.

GC: What are your other floral design influences?

AP: I’m influenced by everything that’s around me– art and design, fashion and interiors, Dutch still life paintings, and nature itself.

Photo: India Hobson

GC: If you could travel to any one destination, floral-wise, where would you go?

AP: Japan, so I could see the amazing varieties of Ranunculus they grow there.

GC: How does social media affect your business? How do you interact with it?

AP: Social media has been fantastic, I’m constantly amazed and humbled by the fact that such a small shop in Sheffield like ours has been offered the most fabulous opportunities to work with wonderful people worldwide – this just wouldn’t have happened without it.

GC: Coffee order?

AP: Frequent and strong!

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