In north London, a once-neglected utopia is bursting into life. Dusky clouds of wild carrot and pink spires of snapdragons sway beneath the panes of 50-year-old glass. Next door, in the propagation house, months of patience are paying off as hardy annuals grow too big for their faithfully reused seed trays. “For months, the glasshouse has been teetering on the edge of explosion,” explains Camila Romain, half of the duo behind Wolves Lane Flower Company. Now is the beginning of the fireworks show: one of the most exciting moments of the pair’s year.
This is the sixth spring that Camila and old friend and business partner Marianne Mogendorff have been working their beloved soil on London’s most central flower farm. From the outside, tucked into a pocket of semi-suburban sprawl in Wood Green, the Wolves Lane Centre still looks a little abandoned – there’s a chain on the gates, the old signage whispers of better days. But that facade hides a vital, exuberant promise: seasonal flowers grown sustainably, through organic practices, within reach of the Tube. The unlikely wonder of Wolves Lane Flower Company’s existence suggests a future of ecologically friendly cut flowers isn’t just possible, but already here.
Marianne stumbled upon the site when she moved to the area. “On the day we moved in, my husband and I wandered down to this space and thought it was just insane to find this labyrinth of dusty glasshouses on our doorstep.” The couple, who now have two young children, have since moved even closer – Marianne’s garden gate opens directly onto the flower company’s plot. Camila had just quit her job as a producer working in fashion. “I used to live a lot of my life on a plane,” she adds. Marianne was a theatre producer, “fed up with facilitating other people's creativity.”
“I think,” Camila says, from the beds she’s inspecting, “we both had this awakening that we worked in quite unsustainable industries and it was at odds with where we wanted to be moving personally in our lives.”
With the gusto expected of two producers, a visit to the glasshouses soon turned into a maelstrom of negotiations with the council to gain access to the space they’ve now filled with flowers. Neither Camila nor Marianne were professionally trained in horticulture; Wolves Lane was filled with the hand-me-downs of former growing sites (“we cut out the old water pipes before anybody told us not to,” admits Camila) and a steep learning curve.
What’s remained consistent, however, is their mission to change not only how we use flowers in our homes, but how we think of them. “We try to guide people towards things that make more sense from a sustainability point of view,” explains Marianne. “We’re very no-nonsense about the fact we will cut whatever’s looking good on your wedding day. We can’t promise particular things, we can’t send you a photo of the bouquet, but by working with whatever is in season on that one day, you’ll end up with something unique: the weather will never repeat the same conditions. Your flowers will never be repeated. That can be a very romantic notion for people, but it’s still quite radical.”
Alongside countless weddings and workshops, the duo released their book How to Grow the Flowers last year, and have a continued push towards making their bold career change work for them. In their book both write a lot about joy, and the necessity of it when dedicating so much time to work that can often be frustrating and out of their control, increasingly with unpredictable seasons.
“We had so much failure in the beginning because it was a standing start,” says Camila, “so we’ve had to learn that when we do have successes, we have to acknowledge them, and say that to one another. Because if you’re not present in experiencing that joy, we’re not practising what we preach.”
This will be the first season in over a year that the pair have been working on the site together after Marianne’s second maternity leave. “I’m feeling the need to acknowledge my choice very acutely,” she says. “If I’m going to be here, then this has to be joyous. You can’t always predict the weather, but let’s be excited to be here, rather than getting consumed by what hasn’t worked. There will always be that within gardening – you can’t escape failure, you just have to lean into it.”
Six years on, and Wolves Lane Flower Company barely works with stems they’ve not grown themselves in their arrangements. They water efficiently, using drip irrigation, make their own plant feed and are “obsessed” with their soil, which is nourished by compost they make on site. They’ve also found a way of working to support their growing families. “We’re still balancing family life alongside running the business, which is ever-changing,” says Marianne, “but it feels really great to be doing something which is nurturing in every sense of the word.”
Interview by Alice Vincent.
Photographs by Elena Heatherwick.