Flower grower and florist Susan Dobson has turned her home and garden into a live-work idyll. Sharon Dale reports. Pictures by Jonathan Gawthorpe.
Susan Dobson’s garden is alive with the sound of music. It’s a symphony of nature’s finest with bees humming and blackbirds, finches and wrens singing against a backdrop of beautiful British flowers.
It’s a halcyon scene that couldn’t be more different from the garden that Susan inherited when she first moved to her Georgian cottage near Skipton.
Over the past 26 years, she has extended it into an adjoining field and completely redesigned it several times.
“Gardening has always been a huge passion but it took time to get this garden right. I tried all sorts including a box garden with lawns but it looked too formal. I think this cottagey design burgeoning with flowers is the one I’ll stick with or at least that’s what my long-suffering husband hopes, ” she says.
Brian is a builder who helps with the heaviest outdoor work, while Susan is the mastermind who designs, plants, weeds and nurtures.
Her garden is on a slope and the bulk of it is large flower beds interspersed with grassy paths and hornbeam archways that frame the view of the countryside beyond and lead to a herb garden at the side of the house. At the top is a recently-planted woodland.
She spends hours tending the plants, which have become her full-time job after she gave up her work as a medical secretary three years ago to follow a dream of being a florist.
“I’ve always been interested in floristry and when I heard about the revival of British-grown flowers, I knew that’s what I wanted to do, so I went off to college and then did a course in wedding floristry at a flower school,” says Susan, who has developed her own style, which she says is “rustic, natural and seasonal”.
Almost all her arrangements are made with British flowers that she has grown herself. “I source from other local growers and if a bride wants something imported I’ll use it because you can’t disappoint a bride. In general, though, I don’t like imported flowers.
“There are environmental reasons. My flowers attract lots of bees and butterflies and everything is pesticide-free, plus British flowers are so fantastic there’s no need to buy from abroad.”
In summer there is an abundance of blooms and even in autumn and winter there is more than enough to design with.
“There’s always plenty of foliage from the wood. I use pine, larch, spruce, cones, twigs and berries that I can put with hellebores and crab apples. I also use dried seed heads,” says Susan, whose favourite plants include sweet peas and dahlias, while her least favourite are gerberas and carnations.
While weddings make up the bulk of the business, along with funerals and arrangements for interiors, she also does workshops. That’s why her next project is a large shed next to her greenhouse, where she can work and teach.
At the moment, she shares the garage with Brian, who enjoys the fringe benefits of having a florist for a wife. Their house is always full of flowers and, of course, various vessels. Susan uses everything from old milk churns to vintage vases.
She loves antique and vintage homeware and she and Brian like hunting for it at auctions, including Andrew Hartley’s in Ilkley and Morphets in Harrogate.
It perfectly suits their historic home, which they renovated and then extended to provide a new kitchen.
“When I saw this house I fell in love with it right away,” says Susan, whose love of colour and pattern are evident. The walls are in various shades of Farrow and Ball. The kitchen is in red earth, which makes the room look warm and inviting.
The units are bespoke and the dresser is from an auction and painted “shabby chic” style, which is something she rarely approves of.
“I love antique furniture but it isn’t fashionable at the moment. I understand why people paint it but it breaks my heart to see all that lovely mahogany and walnut covered up and spoilt.”
It may not be on trend, but Georgian and Victorian brown furniture looks perfect in her cottage. The dining room table and chairs were a present from Brian’s grandparents and the chairs are especially loved as they feature needlepoint seats.
Susan has a passion for needle and wool work and for fabrics and her home features crewel work curtains, needlepoint cushions, tapestries, embroidery and footstools. “Footstools are another obsession of mine. I like to recover them with needlepoint. I’ve got about ten in the house and I have to stop myself from buying more,” she says.
She has phases of collecting. Staffordshire figures and Victorian pottery cottages were dalliances but blue and white ceramics are a constant.
She and Brian also like unusual curios, like the ceramic kegs they found at auction and she loves hunting for props and jugs for her flowers.
“I prefer vintage ceramic vessels to glass as I don’t like to see the stems,” says Susan, who spends much of her life working outside with her dog, Tessa, for company, along with an abandoned peacock and peahen that she rescued.
At the moment, she is fulfilling a request from a bride who wants buttonholes and wrist corsages made from succulents.
“ It’s contemporary and fun to do,” says Susan, who adds that she is always looking ahead. “That’s what gardeners do. We’re always tweaking, changing and thinking about the next year.”
The Yorkshire Dales Flower Company, flowers and workshops, yorkshiredalesflowers.co.uk.