TALKING FLOWERS ...with Robert Hornsby of In Water Flowers

Talking Flowers with Robert Hornsby

ECT: In Water Flowers has a reputation for creating show stopping installations – you’ve even recreated a Dutch master in flowers. Tell us more!

RH: We’re really an art-based floral design company and we like step out of the box creatively so, each year, we do one or two major installations to drive the business. The Dutch flower ‘painting’ was commissioned by the Flower Council of Holland in 2016 to coincide with The National Gallery’s exhibition of Dutch flower paintings. We recreated Ambrosius Bosschaert’s painting ‘A Still Life of Flowers in a Wan-Li Vase’ – our version was made from 26,430 flowers and measured 35 square meters. We have a long-standing relationship with the RHS Chelsea Flower Show too. In 2018 we decorated the Bullring Gate – that’s the entrance the Queen uses - with pink carnations.

In Water Flowers national gallery dutch flower paintingIn Water Flowers with the Flower Council of Holland at The National Gallery

ECT: Carnations – that’s a brave choice…

RH: I’ve always worked on an element of surprise. The idea was to come up with something very industrialist, so I created these two huge, curved, mirrored-Perspex obelisks and filled the space between them with carnations in every shade of pink.

Carnations In Water Flowers RHS Chelsea Flower ShowIn Water Flowers at RHS Chelsea Flower Show

ECT: How do these one-off installations filter into the rest of your work?

RH: We like to bring an element of our art installations to our contract work. Regular displays for companies, restaurants and hotels are the bread and butter of the business, and those clients like the fact the florists behind ‘that Chelsea display’ or ‘that album cover’ have also created the arrangement in their lobby.

ECT: An album cover?

RH: Yes! After we did the flower painting, we were approached by the singer Shawn Mendes who wanted us to do the cover for his new album. It was a picture of his face with a crack down the centre and we had to fill the crack with flowers. The whole nine-hour process was streamed live on YouTube.

Shawn Mendes flowers album cover In Water FlowersIn Water Flowers album cover for Shawn Mendes

ECT: It’s quite a portfolio. How did you get into floral design?

RH: I’ve always been creative, and I went to art school but I didn’t realise that flowers were my medium until my best friend introduced me to the florist Kenneth Turner. He was working there as General Manager and used to take me to the big launches and I just loved seeing so many beautiful floral installations. I decided to wheedle myself in, starting as a van driver, then I became part of the design crew. After I left Kenneth Turner, I spent some time running the fashion designer Jacques Azagury's flower store in Knightsbridge and then I went to work for a florist in Bermuda for a couple of years. By the time I came back to London I was hooked. I met my first business partner and off we went. That was over 25 years ago.

Robert Hornsby In Water FlowersRobert Hornsby at RHS Chelsea Flower Show

ECT: There’s a strong trend for using British flowers these days. Is that something you are following?

RH: This relaxed, ‘just picked from the meadow’ style has burst forward in the last few years and we do that – we created a very natural, hanging display for Cannon using lots of moss, orchids with exposed roots and succulents for example – but buying British flowers has always been a bone of contention for us. Because our business is contract based, our flower displays have to last a week and British flowers, beautiful as they are, don’t last the course.

Canon Fotokina Cologne flower design In Water FlowersIn Water Flowers for Canon at Fotokina, Cologne

ECT: Has buying from the Netherlands been affected Brexit?

RH: Not much so far, touch wood. Some flowers haven’t been available, but we can adapt. The UK is a huge part of the Dutch supply chain and fortunately, our suppliers in the Netherlands are going through all the red tape for us.

Tulips Flower design Nobu In Water FlowersIn Water Flowers display for Nobu

ECT: What’s your top tip for someone just starting out in the flower industry?

RH: Always be an intern. There are lots of amazing schools and courses and they are a tremendous backbone for anyone wanting to get into floristry, but you need to get into the marketplace as well. If you can possibly afford it, spending two or three months following a florist, sweeping the floor, cutting stems, dead heading etc will show you where you want to be and what style you’re drawn to.

ECT: And what’s your all-time favourite flower?

RH: I love a Gerbera. They go against the grain I know – both my current and former business partners hate them – but for me they are the flowers that bring the most joy. They take us all back to our childhoods – when kids draw flowers, they draw Gerberas.

We also asked Robert to name his flower of 2021 - find what he chose in this short film