Indie Of The Month: Flowers By Sophie Millington
Written by Stella Nicholls
Photos provided by Sophie Millington
“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” William Shakespeare – Romeo and Juliet
Flowers are like nature’s love letters to us, they are beautiful, often fragrant and can brighten up even the gloomiest of rooms (or moods).
From a blush of colour to woo on Valentine’s day, a celebration of love as we ‘tie the proverbial knot’ to a sombre show of respect as we mourn a lost loved one. A single flower has the power to evoke a bouquet of different emotions.
I remember the rush of delight on receiving a rose from an unknown admirer one Valentine’s day when I was still at school. My imagination ran amok as to who it might be from as I hugged myself in secret delight (while still trying to maintain my ‘coolness’ amongst my friends). And that’s the tip of the iceberg, flowers serve many practical purposes too, from feeding insects and birds to making tea, jams or jellies.
I was delighted, therefore, to recently meet with Sophie Millington, owner and founder of Flowers by Sophie Millington. Sophie runs a wedding studio in Alphington and has also recently opened a lovely little flower shop on Castle Street, Exeter.
Sophie started out studying fashion but during her second year decided that after completing her degree, she would change direction to follow her love of flowers. She recalls passing a florist in London one day and seeing a girl in fingerless gloves out in the elements. She thought, I don’t care that it looks cold, I really want to do that!
She wrote to many different businesses to enquire as to whether they would take her on as a trainee and was delighted when The Real Flower Company, who specialise in roses, replied. She remembers thinking that the roses were the best she’d ever seen or smelt in her life and that she’d happily work for free!
Sophie was trained by a dynamic woman named Lynn, who was meticulous in sharing her expertise while they worked together. It was four years later that Sophie realised she had reached the point where she was ready to branch out on her own. Having grown up in Exeter she decided that it was time to come home and start a business in the South West.
She loves the beauty of the Devon landscape, foraging the countryside and hunting in charity shops for bits and pieces to add to her creations. Her eclectic, natural style, is her unique ‘signature’ as a florist and I must say, I am a fan!
Likening herself to ‘a bit of a magpie’, she enjoys finding that ‘one off’ vessel to add to an arrangement. Antique suitcases, old containers, or trinkets that turn a work of floristry ‘art’ into an original masterpiece. The contrast of the different colours, in an elegant floral display, against an antique vessel and the way they blend together, is magical.
She describes her style as being unusual, not traditional floristry. As we chatted, I noticed the natural, organic arrangements that were displayed around the shop. There is something earthy and authentic about them, like walking through a beautiful field of wildflowers and grasses. One of her greatest influences has been The Real Flower Company, who Sophie says “grow their own very beautiful natural looking roses and incorporate things like herbs and lush textures into their arrangements”. She thinks that greenery does a lot in terms of her displays, she laughed and said that she’s all for “going OTT with the greenery”.
Sophie’s main line of business comes from providing floral arrangements for weddings, which has really grown over the last five years. She also enjoys the lovely supportive network of florists in Exeter too.
I asked Sophie how she approaches the task of knowing what flowers will work for each wedding. She replied that it’s what the couple wants combined with her own style and the season plays a part too. If the couple isn’t sure, she will happily offer them some ideas. She says, “Everyone is different and that’s what I like”, the variety.
The wedding day goes so much deeper than just preparing the flowers. She loves getting to know the couple and forging a bond which she hopes will remain with them as a positive memory. I thought, at this point, that the connection she makes must translate into her fulfilling their floral requirements “to the T”.
The other, more recent, side of the business is the shop in Castle Street (open from Thursday to Saturday at the moment) where she has successfully hosted several workshops.
The workshops are held in the evenings and are an outlet for people to come and be creative for a few hours. They also have the added benefit of having their floral creation in the house for a week. She joked that it often turns into ‘lovely chaos’ as people come to escape everyday life and have a bit of a ‘jolly’ while learning a new skill.
People enjoy connecting with each other at the workshops too, meeting new people, making a new friend and on occasion a valuable business connection.
Sophie also mentioned that she is running a (fabulously named) workshop called ‘Petals, pints and pies’ (directed more towards men but anyone can join) from a brewery, for Valentines Day. Sounds scrumptious!
I noticed that the shop carries a variety of stock, aside from flowers, and Sophie explained that the different soaps, candles and the like all relate to flowers too (and they smell so good!) The botanically inspired items are all locally made in the South West.
She is quite particular about what she uses, preferring to use seasonal and locally grown flowers and foliage. Whilst Sophie sometimes needs to source flowers from overseas – if a wedding demands it, for example, the majority of flowers have been grown and cut locally. She prefers them not to have travelled for miles and says that while it isn’t always possible, it’s one of the things that she tries her hardest to stick to.
I asked Sophie what some of the challenges have been along the way, and she said it is the flowers themselves. When the weather is exceptionally hot, she has to adapt her timings and act quite quickly to keep them as fresh as possible. She also has to work on things right up to the mark, especially at weddings, and you never know what is going to happen on the day, there are a lot of variables.
She went on to say that, “any problems are mini hurdles” and can be overcome. Late nights and early mornings are part and parcel of a florist’s life, and she wouldn’t change a thing.
If you would like to find out more about the workshops that Sophie runs, or are in need of a Wedding Consultation, pop onto her website.