A cut above: How Ellie and Anna became experts in lacy ammi, English lilacs and witchy hellebores

The two friends set up their business, The Flower Appreciation Society, two years ago and do flowers for weddings, parties, photo shoots and restaurants. Best of all, they like English flowers, when they can get them.

I can't hold a figure as big as a trillion in my mind. The '0's keep dropping off the side and, inexplicably, turning into sheep. So when I'm told that 23 trillion cut flowers are bought every year (that's a worldwide estimate) I can only nod, hoping that at least I look as though I understand.

The worldwide trade in flowers is just one of the facets of a new exhibition at London's Garden Museum, called Floriculture: Flowers, Love and Money. Transport has been the key to the way that the market has changed. The growing demand for cut flowers in the big industrial cities of the country was neatly matched by a growth in the railways. Without the means to get their flowers to market, the bulb growers of Lincolnshire, for instance, could never have built up such a demand for their goods.

In the 1880s, JT White was one of the first local growers to get spring flowers – mostly snowdrops and daffodils such as the old cultivar 'Sir Watkyn' – into the Covent Garden market. Some were grown on his own small plot. Others were gathered from the cottage gardens of the neighbouring hamlets. But in 1899, the yellow trumpet daffodil 'King Alfred' burst upon the scene and for the next 50 years, it dominated the daffodil fields of the Fens.

Tulips only began to be grown in any quantity after 1907, when another pioneer, Frederick Culpin, bought from Holland a hundred bulbs of the new, strong, showy Darwin tulips bred by the Dutch grower E H Krelage. The beautiful pink flower 'Clara Butt' was among them; so was 'Pride of Haarlem', a brilliant cherry red. Both could be forced to provide flowers for the lucrative early markets.

Nobody then thought of cutting flowers in bud. Sellers thought they would not make enough of a show to tempt buyers. Only in the 1960s did Carlo Naef, of the Covent Garden firm J & E Page, singlehandedly persuade customers that by buying daffodils and tulips in bud, they were getting flowers that would last longer in a vase.

The cut-flower business was still then a mostly local affair, but in 1969, the first air-freighted flowers touched down in New York, sent from growers in Colombia. As international trade boomed, local growers went out of business. Once, 10,000 acres of the Fens were devoted to growing flowers. Now it's just 300 acres.

But in a flower-filled workshop in north London, smelling of green, 30-year-old Ellie Jauncey and 31-year-old Anna Day dream of recreating a market for local flowers, perhaps getting allotment holders to grow special things for them. They set up their business, The Flower Appreciation Society, two years ago and do flowers for weddings and parties and photo shoots and restaurants. Best of all, they like English flowers, when they can get them. "Mondays and Thursdays are the days we go to the big Nine Elms flower market," they explain, "because that's when all the English stuff comes in. We're not into the tropical look."

I happened to call on them on a Thursday and the floor of the workshop was covered in fresh flowers and greenery. There were huge swags of ivy and rosemary, big branches of catkins, and, most astonishing to me, even bigger branches of magnolia all in furry bud.

Never before, in England, have I seen magnolia cut like this. I first saw it in America, where in early spring, huge vases of it decorate places like the Metropolitan Museum in New York. I have a particular reason to remember vases of magnolia in America, because when I was speaking at an event there, in front of hundreds of people, I stepped backwards to look at the screen behind me, and fell off the stage right into the middle of a magnolia-filled urn. I wanted to stay there forever.

In Ellie and Anna's workshop, hellebores were the great prize snatched from the flower market early that morning. Who on earth is growing enough of those to be able to cut them with such abandon, I wondered? And who was going to be lucky enough to have them included in one of the luscious arrangements that are the girls' speciality? That morning, they'd even found some roses with a scent, each bloom wrapped in a protective net, like a small crocheted shawl. They had bunches of long-stemmed astrantia, lacy ammi, even some phlox. No lilies. Ellie doesn't like lilies. Especially not with the stamens cut out.

That got Anna talking about a year-long floristry course she did a while ago. "Horrible. So manipulative. Folding leaves. Putting a fake diamond in the middle of a rose." Ellie joins in: "We just want to use our flowers in as natural a way as possible. A lot of it is about selecting colours. We've got a lot more confident about that."

The business started by accident when they were both working in The Scolt Head pub up the road. Anna (who trained as an illustrator) had promised to do a wedding. Ellie (who as a student studied textiles) helped her, using flowers bought from the Sunday-morning market in Columbia Road. Then the landlady of the pub gave them a contract to keep the place decorated. They splashed out on a camera. They set up a website (theflowerappreciationsociety.co.uk).

And they started going to the big wholesale market at Nine Elms. "We love the market," says Ellie. "It's dark, it's freezing cold, but when we get there, it just makes you feel happy. The guys we buy from are so brilliant." "And you come away feeling so much better than when you arrived," adds Anna. "It helps that we don't have a shop. So we can get there about six in the morning, relatively late."

Anemones, ranunculus and the witchy hellebores are top favourites this season. "But the lovely thing about flowers is that there's always something to look forward to," says Ellie. "English lilac," says Anna. "English lilac," says Ellie. And we all sit there in the lovely workshop, surrounded by the soft green smell of flowers, dreaming of a day that will not be wet and windy and wintery and wild. A day when English lilac first comes into season.

Meanwhile, there's St Valentine's Day and from the 12 to 14 February, Ellie and Anna will be selling from a pop-up shop at Boxpark (a collection of freight containers) in Shoreditch. Look for Unit 17. To order flowers, call Ellie on 07980 270658.

The exhibition at The Garden Museum, Lambeth Palace Road, London SE1, starts on 14 February and continues until 28 April. It's open Sunday to Friday (10.30am-5pm) and Saturday (10.30am-4pm), admission £7.50. For more information call 020-7401 8865 or go to gardenmuseum.org

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
Louis van Gaal would have been impressed with Darren Fletcher’s performance against LA Galaxy during Manchester United’s 7-0 victory
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
Isis fighters travel in a vehicle as they take part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Life and Style
fashionLatex dresses hit the catwalk to raise awareness for HIV and Aids
Property search
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform