“I constantly have my head buried in hedgerows,” says the artist and designer Jess Wheeler of the brambly boughs that have been a hallmark of England’s rural landscape since before the Romans. “They’re often overlooked but they are crucial ecologically. They create so many homes for animals and native species.” 

Working from a converted cowshed in the foothills of the Berwyn Mountains in north Wales, Wheeler draws on the bounty of these hidden landscapes to create elemental oak-leaf candle sconces or mushroom wall brackets, working in brass, bronze and plaster. Every piece is made by hand in her studio or cast using the lost-wax technique in the local foundry.

Grayson holding an Everlasting Golden Zingara bauble
Grayson holding an Everlasting Golden Zingara bauble © Emli Bendixen

This summer, Wheeler (a trained illustrator, with a background in set design for clients including Aesop) was tasked with bringing a mystical landscape to life for a photoshoot. The project brought her into contact with the floristry wunderkind Kitten Grayson, whose London studio creates wildly exuberant ensembles of sustainable flora and fauna. The pair spent the two days on set immersed in a creative dance. “Something wonderful happened,” says Grayson. “We were weaving in between one another to build this theatrical piece. It felt very playful, like a pirouette.” 

The encounter sparked the idea to collaborate, and their first joint collection, launching this weekend, is a festive celebration of English hedgerows in the form of a wreath and a bauble. “Our views were so aligned,” says Wheeler. “We understood one another’s visual language instinctively, without even having to think about it.” Core to their creations is to elevate what Wheeler calls the “unsung heroes and underdogs” of the floral world, which thrive among the tangle of Britain’s most ancient thickets. 

Central to the pair’s creations are the “unsung heroes and underdogs” of the floral world
Central to the pair’s creations are the “unsung heroes and underdogs” of the floral world © Emli Bendixen

“We really honed in on what grows wild in the countryside, particularly the hedgerows,” says Grayson, who lives between London and Somerset, where she tends a one-acre flower farm attached to wild woodland – the source material for her flamboyant installations. The plot is close to the dairy farm where she grew up. Inspired by her maternal grandmother, a botanical and landscape artist, she would create garlanded flower heads to decorate her bedroom. Later, she would completely deck her dolls’ house in dried blooms. “Flowers are my paint,” says Grayson, who began her career at a tulip farm before working with London florist Wild At Heart. “And growing is part of the artistry.” 

Wheeler was similarly enamoured by her environment from a young age. She was raised in rural Suffolk, and her family would frequently relocate. After every move, she would take her box of treasures – shells, sticks and beach-foraged stones – and carefully rearrange them in her new room. Yet both Wheeler and Grayson feel keenly that such attentiveness to nature is not exclusive to the countryside. Taking time to pause to look for foraged finds, even on a city pavement, can be a poignant reminder of nature’s fragility. Both strive to make beautiful pieces that are intimately connected to the land and have a low environmental impact.

Wheeler preparing an Everlasting Golden Zingara bauble
Wheeler preparing an Everlasting Golden Zingara bauble © Emli Bendixen
Elements of the Golden Rose wreath
Elements of the Golden Rose wreath © Emli Bendixen

To begin with, the pair spent time in Somerset pondering their best-loved stems, before experimenting with natural ingredients in their respective studios. Grayson magicked up an abundant wreath, its framework of foraged birch and oak branches augmented with bracken and autumnal beech and festooned with the blousy tendrils of old man’s beard, papery pale pink larkspur, dahlias and an assortment of English roses. Wheeler, meanwhile, constructed 10 of Grayson’s most beloved fronds in brass, including pansy, iris and hydrangea. 

“But there was something about the dog rose that was just perfect,” says Grayson of the blush-toned thorny beauty, also known as witches’ briar, which clings to shrubbery as it clambers and curls its way across hedgerows. It is best seen in flower in May and June, with its fruit ripening in September and October. 

The Golden Rose wreath, £480
The Golden Rose wreath, £480 © Emli Bendixen

Experimenting with tones and textures, Wheeler settled on raw brass for oak leaves and dog rose blooms, which are elegantly scattered throughout the Everlasting Golden Rose wreath (£480). “The high shine of the golden brass is magical against the earthy shades of the foliage,” she says. The central stamen of Wheeler’s dog rose is composed of a knot of wire, reflecting the coils of blossom and branch that inhabit the edges of wild woodland and shrubland. 

The Everlasting Golden Zingara bauble (£285), meanwhile, is “an explosion of real and handmade flowers”, says Wheeler of the 20cm sphere of gomphrena, hydrangea, helichrysum, peonies and, of course, dog roses. She imagines custom requests of the design enlarged to the size of a disco ball and suspended dramatically above a dining-room table. 

‘An explosion of real and handmade flowers’: the Everlasting Golden Zingara bauble
‘An explosion of real and handmade flowers’: the Everlasting Golden Zingara bauble © Emli Bendixen
The duo’s Everlasting Golden Zingara bauble, £285
The duo’s Everlasting Golden Zingara bauble, £285 © Emli Bendixen

The project has enabled both the artist and the plantswoman to view their work in a new light. For Wheeler, observing the interaction between their differing materials has given her the chance to explore the size, texture and tone of her creations more freely; for Grayson, these brass accoutrements bring adaptability and an element of permanence to her garlands. 

These fantastical floral creations are not just for Christmas. Much like Grayson’s “Everlasting” installations of dried flowers, they are made to decorate interiors for far longer than the traditional 12 days. “They show a particular moment caught in time,” says Grayson, of the process of preserving the abundance of summer. Her hope is to encourage customers to connect to the seasons in a more meaningful and naturalistic way, rather than simply decking the halls before chucking it all out in January. 

“It still blows me away that something so simple can completely transform the feeling in a room,” says Grayson, who recently filled a vase with foraged hawthorn and beech branches, dressing them with their bauble design and russet ribbons to coordinate with the tones of the lichen. And come spring, they hope to release further seasonal flowers, possibly including a brass iris. But, for now, they have their eyes trained on the brambles. 

jesswheeler.com, kittengrayson.com

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