MODERN RUSTIC 11
Our latest book on creating the contemporary country look
Amanda Clayden defies blustery Scottish weather to grow beautiful cut flowers for weddings and workshops
hen you think of abundant gardens, Scotland might not necessarily be the first location that springs to mind. However, with its beds of briza, rows of roses and pastel-coloured peonies, Green Pea Studio in the Port of Menteith near Stirling is a veritable oasis. It’s a sunny mid-july morning and the sweet scents of bee balm and apple mint mingle on the breeze. “Because of the climate up here, folk assume that gardening must be extremely challenging,” florist Amanda Clayden says, with a smile. “But, while we’ve had our fair share of late frosts and wet winters, I’ve learnt to understand the soil and grow what I know will flourish.” Specialising in seasonal flowers and herbs that she cultivates herself, Amanda creates artisan bouquets and decorations for events across the country. And, while some may think it’s as simple as “popping a few seeds in the ground and waiting for it all to happen”, there’s a great deal more to it than that.
After growing up on her parents’ farm in Northumberland, Amanda lived all over the UK before settling in the west of Scotland, where her husband, Hugh, helped to establish the Queen Elizabeth National Park. Following spells working in retail and the public sector, she decided to undertake an art degree, focusing on site-specific design – which places an emphasis on an installation being suited to its setting. “I think I look at things with a slightly different eye,” she says, snipping at the stems of some sweet peas. “I like to focus on the texture, shape and form of flowers, whether it’s using tendrils to produce a lovely cascading finish or a contorted leaf that’s been nipped at by insects.” Once she’d graduated, Amanda embarked on a year-long RHS horticultural course at the prestigious Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, before doing some hands-on training with Ashley and Rachel Siegfried of Green and Gorgeous (featured in Country Living, June 2017). “If you’re not a naturally confident person – which I’m not – thoroughly researching your trade is a great way to gain self-assurance,” she says.
Five years after setting up Green Pea Studio, Amanda has become renowned for her rustic and slightly wild style of arrangement. Her studio, which is conveniently positioned just around the corner from the cutting garden, is a creative space with whitewashed walls, antique furniture and collected curios. Once the various floral components have been gathered – buds
with semi-open heads and dense, green foliage – Amanda returns to her worktable where she’ll loosely arrange a bouquet to get an idea of shape. “Weddings can sometimes be a little tricky,” she says. “You’ve got to manage a client’s expectations while delivering something beautiful within the time frame.” And, although there’s inevitably a certain amount of pressure that goes with contributing to a couple’s special day, Amanda revels in the collaboration process and being there when everything finally comes to fruition: “Nothing can beat assembling all the bits and bobs you’ve grown yourself, then handing them over to the bride and her mum, who’ll often burst into tears – not that I like seeing people cry!” she says, laughing. “I’ll have chatted to them for a long time, so, to see their excitement, well, that’s just the icing on the cake.”
From Aberdeen to Glencoe, Amanda is fortunate to have worked in some of Scotland’s most scenic spots. “Monachyle Mhor in Balquhidder is one of my favourite venues. You trundle along a single-track lane lined with gnarled Scots pine before reaching a wonderful pink hotel in the middle of nowhere,” she says, unreeling a length of hand-dyed silk ribbon in ‘apricot blush’. “They’ve got an incredible Dutch barn that, despite its asymmetric shape, comes alive once you decorate it.”
Perhaps it’s her artistic background or her love for interior design, but Amanda is something of a visionary when it comes to coordinating transformations. At a wedding in Berwickshire last year, she fashioned an ‘inverted meadow’ – using fishing line to stitch together long lengths of native Scottish wild flowers – including yarrow, knapweed and ox-eye daisies – which she then fastened to the roof of the marquee. On another occasion, a series of 1940s lampshade frames were woven with moss and hung from the ceiling, with every third one featuring an allium head ‘lightbulb’. “The aim is to make a unique decoration that links to the couple and their story. “My motto is simple, stylish quality with a little bit of opulence thrown in,” Amanda says.
With Loch Lomond and the Trossachs just a stone’s throw away, sprawling glens and expansive waters are a constant source of
creativity. In fact, after a brisk stroll with her boxer Hector, it’s not uncommon for Amanda to rush back to the studio to try to recreate what she’s seen: “I’ll pass a patch of ferns next to a pale-pink dog rose and think, ‘Now, there’s a wonderful combination – I’d love to repeat it.’” With a tendency to see beauty wherever she goes, it will come as no surprise that Amanda appreciates the whole flower rather than only its burgeoning blooms: “I’ll often use leaves just as much as blossom. Scented greenery such as eucalyptus, lavender or lemon verbena can bring another dimension to a display,” she says. “Back in 2016 I did a wedding where the groom was part of the junior Scottish rugby team. Each table had a simple arrangement of scented herbs and all these strapping, six-foot-tall blokes kept coming up to me saying, ‘Oh my God, these smell amazing!’”
Back in the garden, Amanda is wandering between the beds, inspecting and dead-heading as she goes. She may appear to be a greenfingered guru, but there’s a lot of hard work behind the towering delphiniums and swaying cosmos. “My head is like a bumblebee – constantly buzzing,” she says, smiling. “People think that flowers appear naturally, but I’m heavily dependent on my diary and a host of spreadsheets.” Summer might be high season, but every month is spent planning those that follow. Even autumn and winter months mean ‘madly planting’ tulips, anemones and ranunculus for spring, when it starts all over again. While she may know what will and won’t work – not disregarding the input of Mother Nature, who “always wins” – Amanda still enjoys a bit of experimentation: “I have a low boredom threshold. I’m always thinking, ‘What’s next?’ Recently I’ve been trialling some New Zealand hybrids that come in shades of dusky lavender and smoky pink. I can’t wait to get my hands on them and see what they’ll work with next year.”
As the sun begins to set, sending the nearby hilltops into shadow, Amanda is busy sweeping up the loose leaves between the roses – one of the more high-maintenance blooms under her charge. Tomorrow will be spent away from the garden, hosting a stall at Stockbridge Market in Edinburgh – where Amanda offers an assortment not usually found on the high street. “One of my proudest moments was when I was strolling through the city and spotted a bouquet of dahlias and grasses I’d made in someone’s window. They had kept and dried them because they still found them interesting.” And, when asked what she finds so continually captivating about flowers, Amanda is resolute in her response: “You think you know what you’re doing, but then I find I am always learning and never, ever sitting still.”
For more information on Green Pea Studio, visit greenpeastudio.com.
Alongside her cut-flower business, Amanda also sells a selection of decorative pieces for the home and vintage items for the garden