Catching up with old friends is one of our favourite past times - but for McQueens Flower School it takes on extra special meaning when it’s a former student. Floral design sensation, Hazel Gardiner studied with us back in 2016 and her fascinating career has gone from strength to strength. United by a shared passion for Garden Day - McQueens Flower School Principal, Sophie Powell, caught up with Hazel to find out more about her floral journey and why she’s become an ambassador of Garden Day UK 2021 (taking place 9th May).

Sophie (S) Hazel - thank you so much for joining us on the McQueens journal. Although I didn’t get to teach you, I of course know you from your time at McQueens Flower School - and I have really enjoyed following your journey ever since. From a teacher’s perspective, it's wonderful to see how a student’s floral journey evolves. Tell us a little bit about your school experience?

Hazel (H) I'd love to! The best place to start is probably why I chose the course. There were a handful of schools that I Iooked at - what I really wanted to find a flower school that matched the style of floristry I was drawn to. McQueens are renowned for having high standards but I was also enamoured with how incredible the school was - particularly learning how to create those big ‘wow’ moments. The Four Week Course touched on so many areas, which was great for me - I knew having a shop wasn’t the avenue I wanted to go down, and actually, the course gave me the confidence to pursue the type of work I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to story-tell with flowers - and the ideal thing for me was to work on magazine shoots and staging.

S - Tell us about your flower journey after graduating?

H - I was working for Channel 4, temping (whilst I was training to be a florist) in the Events Department. These things definitely don’t happen overnight - it was about nine to ten months before I stopped temping and began floristry full-time. The Head of Events at Channel 4 hired me to do flowers, which was great - I designed bouquets but also for bigger events too. You have to dig deep and find that confidence at the beginning. It took me a good year to hone my style - I really encourage people to take time to do that - in order to find your feet and do the kind of work you want to do. There was one shoot in particular with stylist Nancy Straughan where I thought ‘this is it, this what I want to do!’ And from that point, everything started to move a bit quicker and I began to work with some lovely brands.

S - It’s an incredible feeling when somebody trusts your creativity - it’s a special moment when you have the confidence to pursue your own style, which has now led onto this incredible path for you. To me it’s fascinating how people adapt their skills.

H - Absolutely - there is so much to floristry - it’s really about creating art.

S - How we look at flowers has changed - you see them in lots of different formats and scenarios.

H - It’s brilliant how people see the importance and value in a beautifully made display!

S - Can you remember the moment where you thought ‘oh my goodness, I’m actually doing this’?!

H - I think it was a photoshoot for SpaceNK, for their ad campaign which included product styling too (which was quite handy as I had some experience in doing this!). It was quite a tricky, mechanical job in terms of how the flowers and products needed to come together. There was a moment where I thought ‘what if I can’t do it?’ but you have to trust in yourself and take a deep breath. I was really pleased with how that job went - it was so exciting to see the ad in the windows and on TV screens in-store! When somebody puts their trust in you, you feel so chuffed!

S - I always reassure students; try not to overthink it. Flowers rarely let you down!

H - Absolutely - it can be stressful in the event world, but it's important to keep some perspective on it!

S - And have you always been interested in gardening too? I’ve been following your Dahlia planting!

H - I grew up with a Mum who is the most incredible creative force. She used to match her outfits to the car! She’s a really talented gardener - I watched her transform our garden where we grew up in the suburbs of London. We used to visit garden centres and watch Gardeners World all the time! She’s from Grenada but loves those quintessential, English scenes - formal gardens and historic buildings. My personal relationship with gardening began when I was ill - I was diagnosed with a rare strain of cancer in 2007. I had just moved into my first flat and with that came a very small patio garden. The treatment meant I couldn’t watch television or read - so I spent a lot of time being in the garden (or decorating the house) and I fell in love with it - when my life was up in the air, I knew my seeds would grow - and I found that really soothing, just to be surrounded by nature. And that’s when the real love affair began. But then it really took off when I moved in with my husband, Andrew - to a house with a really great garden. Bizarrely it looked like my parents' garden in layout! Similarly to floristry, you feel like you must learn everything - you must be kind to yourself when starting out.

S - When I think of you, I think of the outdoors - with a garden-style. How did you go about learning to garden?

H - Thank you, Sophie! I really do love learning. I immersed myself in RHS books, YouTube tutorials - and visited lots of gardens including Sarah Raven’s.

S - How did you get involved in Garden Day?

H - I spent a lot of 2020 in the garden - and naturally shared a lot of content on Instagram - and the Garden Day team probably realised just how obsessed I was with it! When they contacted me to be an ambassador it was a perfect fit - as I also believe gardening is great for you both mentally and physically - and also how enriching it is to see things grow. Garden Day is all about taking a pause to celebrate everything you’ve achieved - and also reflect on what it can do for you. But it’s not just about gardens - it’s celebrating growing plants in any form - from house plants to window boxes and the joy of nurturing. I think particularly, now more than ever it’s a lovely mindful routine to get need to have that time when you’re not working. I love waking up and going to look at my plants!

S - I’ve been inspired to start growing flowers - I think it helps you to gain a new appreciation of them.

H - I totally agree - by growing them it does change how you feel about them. I have a newfound respect for delphiniums - they need so much care and attention!

S - Do you ever cut anything down?

H - I find it really hard to - but I do dip in when things are abundant in the summer. I really like leaving things in the garden. Flowers like Cosmos and Dahlias are perfect for snipping for example, it’s brilliant if I need to add one blousy Cafe Au Lait to finish off an arrangement! I think I may have bought a few too many Dahlia tubers this year...but I am creating a cutting garden with my sister in Hay - so some of those tubers will go to Wales too.

S - If someone wanted to take part in Garden Day this year, what would you encourage them to do to celebrate?

H - Firstly - pop on a flower crown! It’s the perfect visual representation of a garden - it’s also a lovely skill to learn too. Whether you want to snip some cuttings from the garden or grab some seasonal stems from the supermarket. You could jump online with friends and create one together or meet out in the garden and have some lovely food together and just enjoy your surroundings.

S - You can make a crown out of so many things - from dried flowers to herbs. You don’t have to have a garden to make something - you could go foraging.

H - Absolutely - it’s about having a go and enjoying the process!

S - What are your favourite flowers to grow?

H - I love growing David Austin roses - such as Emily Bronte which have layered apricot-hued petals, I also adore tall grasses like Stipa Gigantea - they create wonderful movement. And Sanguisorba which is fantastic for floristry.

S - Will you be making a crown?

H - Yes absolutely - my friend is coming round with her little girls - I’ll be teaching them how to make them too! I will also be on Garden Day IGTV going live with a big tablescape, which I’m really excited about.

S - Can you give us any hints on what it will be like?!

H - It will be maximalist - a love letter to British flowers, something theatrical!
Garden Day UK 2021 takes place on Sunday 9th May - find out how you can take part here