THOMAS BROOM-HUGHES - HORTICULTURAL MANAGER AT PETERSHAM NURSERIES
"Plants are good for you visually, good for your breathing and generally very uplifting."
Growing up in the Devonshire countryside, Thomas Broom-Hughes developed a passion for gardening and floristry, however always treated it as a hobby and decided to move to London to pursue a career in the aviation industry upon leaving university. After fifteen years, Thomas was ready for a change, and decided to follow his heart by retraining at the London School of Floristry at Capel Manor College. Today, he is the Horticultural Manager at Petersham Nurseries where he is responsible for the Nurseries’ plants as well as everything that is sold in the garden shop. He also hosts regular planting and floristry workshops. I spoke to Thomas about how he ended up at Petersham Nurseries, his workshops, the growing interest in floristry among fashion circles and his inspirations.
How did you end up at Petersham Nurseries?
After buying a house in Devon and completely transforming the garden, I decided to enrol in a floristry course at Capel Manor College in Gunnersbury. I ended up working at Petersham Nurseries while I was studying and that turned into a full-time role. I have worked my way up to Horticultural Manager and been in the role for five years now. The business owners have been very good to me and given me creative freedom.
What does your role entail?
I am a buyer for all the indoor and outdoor plants as well as all the stuff in the garden shop, so the tools, pots and all the cut flowers. My role also encompasses events, weddings and the School of Garden Inspiration so my cup runneth over. However, it is becoming more channelled now, and as of January, I will just focus on events and buying.
How has Petersham Nurseries changed since you first joined?
It has become a lot more customer focused. When I joined, it was quite an artistic type of environment but with the growth in its popularity, the Nurseries has become a bit more corporate, although not in a bad way, it still maintains its chaotic charm. The owners are very creative, hands on, and in tune with the organic lifestyle the Nurseries promotes.
Where do you source all your plants and flowers from?
I would say 95% of our stock are British grown and 60% are peat free or peat reduced. Then I have wholesalers and growers that directly supply me with seasonal cut flowers. It is very important for me to meet all the suppliers to understand how they grow; I will exclude them from the radar if they are using pesticides. At Christmas I went to the flower market in Staines and the guy that runs it had special mistletoe from Wales that he had saved for me because no one else appreciates it. That is invaluable to me because he really understands what I need.
Do you have a close relationship with the Petersham Nurseries kitchen?
We try and have a synergy between all departments but particularly between the green team and kitchen. We collaborate on a lot of levels, be it private events or growing things for the restaurant menu, although it is difficult to always meet the volume required. When Skye was here and it was a little café it was easier however now we have Harry Boglione’s farm which has allowed us to get up to speed with the demand.
How have the workshops developed over the years?
When I first started, there were only a few but three years ago, I started the School of Garden Inspiration as I noticed people wanted to learn and be inspired. The whole idea of inspiration is key and it is about inspiring anyone from any level. There is a regular following now, some people come to everything. We are now doing 16 workshops a year.
Is it fair to say there is a growing interest in floristry among fashion circles?
It is now cool to be a florist which is good, but it didn’t use to be like that. There are loads of hipsters at the flower markets that look like they have just been dragged out of bed. I get approached by a lot of fashion brands to do things but it does not always interest me. It is not that I don’t think I am cool enough, I prefer to teach people. Even with weddings I turn things down unless it is the right fit. I also did a wreath making workshop the other day with these big you-tubers. My niece and nephew phoned me up the next day saying they had just seen me on you tube, it was like I was famous. When I was tagged in the Youtuber’s post, my followers went up in an hour by 750 people. It is crazy.
Have you noticed a growing interest in indoor plants?
There is a huge indoor plants trend, it is something I have always liked so I am glad people are becoming interested in it now. There is a bath in the middle of my bed room by a bay window and the whole area is surrounded by ferns. Plants are good for you visually, good for your breathing and generally very uplifting.
What is your most popular workshop?
I am doing a kokedama workshop and that is a real phase at the moment. I used to work in Japan and learned to make them when I worked there. A lady came to one of my workshops and recently published a book; it is as if she is now the doyenne of kokedama. Sometimes people say why do you teach, you are giving away your secrets, but I am not precious about things like that, people could equally look it up on you tube. Damian and I do an edible flower workshop which is also very popular; I will talk about what we grow and then Damian will cook it. We are thinking of doing more workshops and trying to reach a younger crowd. Some ideas include a specific flower workshop, so we might focus on tulips.
What is your own garden like?
I spend a lot of time in my garden and we are currently having it redesigned. I want it to be Scandinavian in style so it will have lots of naturally occurring ferns and conifer trees and a few flowers that are delicate and understated. It has to be like it has happened in a natural way. I love the simple Scandinavian aesthetic, it is easy on the eye and very attractive. I also have an allotment in Shepperton where I can grow flowers and vegetables for my own pleasure rather than floristry kicks; flowers for the home, and veg for the home, all organic.
Where do you find inspiration?
Last year I did these floral chandeliers which were amazing. The idea came to me after I visited Sweden and saw something made out of foliage. I get a lot of inspiration from travelling but it can be the smallest thing. I was in Switzerland just before Christmas and went to a shop that had these wreaths made out of olive foliage so came back and said let’s make some. Little things are so important to open your eyes. It could be as little as a leaf or a wall that has ferns growing out