Spring in a bottle
Melissa Richardson set up JamJar Flowers seven years ago. She had been running a successful model agency for 28 years, but by 2009 had had enough and was thinking of starting a simple flower business from her kitchen table.
One of the clinchers was deciding on a name. As Melissa says, the nicest flowers are the ones you pick when you go for a walk, plonk them in a jam jar and put them on the windowsill. She was bought up in a Sussex house with walled gardens, but her father hated anyone to cut anything from the borders. So she would go into the woods and pick milkmaids, cowslips and cow parsley. That’s where her love of simple flowers began, choosing them every time over stems which had a whiff of polytunnel about them. Eventually it became Melissa’s business plan: to specialise in wildflower look-a-likes, or simple garden flowers.
Her timing was spot on. In 2009, we were just on the tail of the financial crisis. At that moment, the flower fashion was, as Melissa reminds me, “all Martini glasses, calla lilies twisted in fishbowls, with strands of steel grass, and the whole world was in a rage, with people really hating that ostentatious, showing-off-of-wealth sort of look”.
At the back of her mind was the time when she had had her children and been sent flowers in hospital, but the nurses couldn’t find yet another vase. At the model agency it was the same. There were always flowers wrapped in cellophane dying in the
From running a model agency to a trend-setting florist – meet the creative mind behind JamJar Flowers. By Sarah Raven
sink, waiting for a model to pick them up. So the idea of the flowers arriving in a vase seemed like a good one. The concept of JamJar was born.
Melissa was soon joined by her son, Finn. He had been working in a bank, but loathed it. As a mathematical whizz, she knew he would be good at scheduling and spreadsheets, but it turned out he was also a genius at garlanding and large-scale arranging. He is now her right-hand man.
The JamJar studio is in Peacock Yard in Kennington, south London, and most of their work is press launches, weddings and contract flowers for clubs and restaurants. There is also a flower school, with about eight courses a year, ranging from weeks (there’s one coming up in June at Château Dumas in France) to one-day courses (see below).
Containers are all at JamJar, with some firm favourites used every day.
The first thing Melissa shows me is one of her vintage rose globes. A friend introduced her to these at the age of 15, when she visited him in his old-fashioned, country house flower room on the Isle of Wight. He went out into the garden and picked a single rose and then showed Melissa how to arrange it in an antique glass globe. The beauty of these is the magnification, with tiny little air bubbles trapped in a halo around every petal like phosphorescence. The rose globes work brilliantly in clean, minimalist spaces.
The best flowers for these, Melissa tells me, are good, huge-headed cabbage roses with a complex shape, such as ‘Beatrice’ or ‘Juliet’; peonies are almost as good. ‘Sarah Bernhardt’ is a reliable performer and easy to get, but Melissa’s favourite is ‘Claire de Lune’ and, as she also shows me: “Intricate flowers like snake’s head fritillaries are marvellous under the magnifying glass.”
JamJar’s other unique containers are made from cigar presses, with different-sized test tubes drilled into the press. They’re a dream container for people cutting from a city garden, a sprig of this or that, turned easily into a table centre and perfect for showing garden – rather than polytunnel – flowers. “Garden-grown stems have twisted and turned to the sun. That makes their shapes so much more interesting,” Melissa says.
She, on the whole, likes the cigar presses arranged very plainly, with
Simple tastes: Fritillaries in vintage poison bottles, above; Melissa Richardson of JamJar Flowers outside her studio