Florist, creative and founder of JamJar Flowers
Melissa Richardson previously founded and ran the successful London modelling agency, Take Two, for almost three decades before establishing JamJar Flowers in 2009. I first came across Melissa when I interviewed her for a piece on buttonholes for The Telegraph. Her replies to my questions on boutonnieres outed her as a wonderful writer. She didn't have a book in Waterstones then, I'm glad to say she does now.
Your three favourite flowers?
This is an impossible question Emma. My favourites change monthly, hourly, daily. Today my favourites are Italian anemones, snowdrops and butterfly ranunculus. (Editor's Note: We did this interview in early spring!) But ask me tomorrow and you will get a completely different answer.
Tell us about your childhood garden?
I grew up in a lovely place. A very beautiful ancient iron masters long house in Sussex surrounded by three walled gardens. The house was freezing and the roof leaked and occasionally the lead pipes burst bringing ceilings down but the gardens were magnificent. To the front, a slightly formal front garden divided into squares with yew hedges and bordered on one side by a deep dark hammer pond and an enormous gunnera under an oak tree. We were told the pond was so deep and dark that if we fell in we would never come out and fear kept us safe for a few years. There was also a huge cedar tee and the tallest wellingtonia in the county. You could punch the soft red bark and not bruise your knuckles. To the rear of the house was a magnificent garden with crazy herbaceous borders higher than my head, spilling over on to the paths. Over the walls, there was an orchard carpeted with daffodils and scylla in the spring and apple and cherry trees, but the kitchen garden was my favourite with two greenhouses full of tomatoes and peaches and rows of delicious vegetables and flowers for cutting. All watered from the black water of another deep hammer pond that never ran dry. I go back there in my dreams and wander around. I hear the wind whistling through the ill fitting wooden doors in winter and see the dappled sun on the water and the rosy red brick walls and feel safe.
Who or what inspired your career choice?
What is a typical day in the life of Melissa
I am happy to say there is no typical day. I hate routine. That’s the bliss of running two creative businesses. At JamJar Flowers we have a huge variety of work so some days I might be up early at the market, making flowers or doing site visits and other days I might be pitching for a job at my computer or picking and pressing flowers for JamJar Edit. Hatching ideas for new art works with Amy Talena and India is my favourite. Over the past year Amy and I have been writing a book so some days I sit in my pretty little writing room at home and write which I have found nicer and easier than I anticipated. Our book, The Modern Flower Press, has recently been published.
No garden is complete without …
A day bed for lounging and enjoying the fruits of your labours.
Something we’d find:
On your bedside table: A beautiful water flask etched with lily of the the valley, a hand embroidered cloth, moisturiser and a towering pile of books I keep meaning to read. My iPad. I love watching TV in bed.
In your flower arrangement: Seasonal flowers always. In the summer English Garden Flowers from British growers like SSAW and Wolves Lane Flower Company. In winter when the garden is bare we include twigs of blossom in bud which explode into flower when you bring them into the house.
In your garden shed: My shed is full of the day bed mattresses and cushions in the winter. Epic cobwebs, quite a lot of encroaching jasmine tendrils, garden tools. My willow obelisks made by my brilliant gardener for growing thunbergia and nasturtiums sit there too in colder months. In the summer months the shed is blissfully empty.
The flaw you wish you didn’t have?
I wish I wasn’t so talkative. I would like to be more restrained and circumspect. As a child I used to long to be enigmatic. But it's too late for that.
What would you be in another life?
I don’t know that I would want to change the life I have had. It's been fun
Do as you would be done by…Try to put yourself in another persons shoes and see how they might be feeling. Always be open minded. Always listen to criticism or advice but also be strong-minded enough to reject it if it doesnt feel right and it is even stronger to accept you are wrong and change your mind.
Who is a botanical and/or horticultural hero?
I really admire the woman who used botany to break through the terrible limitations imposed on them by their sex in the 19th century. For instance, Mary Delany (1700-1788) and her marvellous botanically perfect decoupage and Alice Eastwood (1859-1953), an intrepid plant collector. I am also a passionate admirer of Piet Oudolf and his glorious planting schemes.
What is the one flower or plant you’d never plant in your garden, but don’t detest when you see others plant it?
Hostas. I love them but they are just too delicious for the slugs and snails and I am trying to not use slug pellets so they just aren’t really a possibility in a small London garden. The failure rate is just too depressing.
If there was a fire, and you could only keep one book on botany, what would it be?
Well, that would have to be Amy’s and my book, The Modern Flower Press, which came out in May. I feel as fiercely protective of it as I did about my babies.
For posterity, what would you like your work to be known for?
A huge celebration of the extraordinary beauty of nature. Simply and stylishly put together whether it be pressed or fresh flowers.
Quick fire: some favourite things
Book: The Wasteland by T.S.Eliot. I have carried the same old copy from when I was at school with my pencil notes. It is the gift that keeps giving.
Film: The Godfather 1 and 2 Charlie and I watch them at least once a year and have done so for the past 35 + years
Painting: Impossible question: maybe a painting by Jacob Marel painted in 1634 when he was only twenty. A still life with a tulip and anemones, a lily of the valley and various bugs and butterflies. It's depicted in such exquisite detail you can almost see the caterpillar creeping further up the stem of the tulip.
Smell: Queen of the Night Centrum Nocturnum. Exquisite scent only at night.
Meal: Agedashu Dofu or oysters…
Travel Destinations: The Greek Islands particularly Euboea and Hydra
A cause near and dear to me: Bees for Development and Bee Urban nobody seems to understand without bees we are toast.
Place to go for Inspiration: Derek Jarman’s Garden at Dungeness
A great walk near where you live: Nunhead Cemetery - fabulously overgrown and teaming with life and death. There is a cut through vista of St Pauls too. I love it there amongst the broken angels and the bluebells.
Thing to collect obsessively: Vintage Coloured Glass - I get lots from my friend Rusty who has a stall in Vinegar Yard
Museum; Pitt Rivers Museum and Tate Britain
Favourite person to follow on Instagram: @stephenellcock is wonderfully diverse and unexpected and educational
Garden in the UK: Daisy Garnett's Brixton garden, right round the corner
Garden anywhere else: Boboli Gardens in Florence or The Botanical Gardens in Oaxaca, Mexico.