The Allotment Florist in Otley, the sustainable floral designer
Berries add texture and richness to this table display Helena Willcocks spent years creating beautiful blooms in London. But she could not ignore the pull of home anymore.
Apples and orchard fruits play a big part in Helena’s work – she loves autumn colours and textures ‘I always loved to grow things, growing is my therapy,’ smiles Helena Willcocks, aka Otley’s Allotment Florist. ‘I’ve always loved being outside and the joy of putting something in the ground, that you look after and care for, and then get the most beautiful result, there is nothing better. It really gives me a sense of purpose.’
Helena spent years working in some of Covent Garden and East London’s most recognised florists creating show-stopper blooms and teaching budding floral designers her craft. But it has been a much-longed for return to her home county of Yorkshire, with partner Jack, that has grounded her.
‘Yorkshire was constantly calling me home and to be back here, doing the work I love feels incredibly special,’ she says.
She moved home just a few weeks before the enforced lockdown in March. Despite the challenges this created, including the loss or postponement of much of her wedding work, Helena has turned her attention to creating sustainable blooms, letterbox flowers, wreaths and dried flower postcards.
She grows her flowers in pots in her yard as well as sourcing from other Yorkshire growers, including Picked at Dawn in Thirsk, and uses beautiful blooms from her mum, Elizabeth’s garden. She still also has growing space in London but is searching for that ideal spot near home.
‘I really want my own place to grow and we got on the allotment list as soon as we knew we were going to live here,’ says Helena. ‘My mum has an amazing garden, with lots of established shrubs and is teeming with flowers. It’s beautiful.’
But flowers were not Helena’s first calling. She studied art at Leeds College of Art and Design and then acting in Stratford upon Avon where she lived and worked with almost 30 other actors, touring with the likes of the Royal Shakespeare Company and landing parts in a handful of films including Robert Downey Jnr’s Sherlock Holmes. But, realising she was spending more time working in restaurants to support her dream of acting, she decided to make a change. Her epiphany came while working as a chef for a Russian oligarch in Hampstead Heath.
‘That time with the RSC was my real university experience,’ says Helena.’ It was the best time, doing plays, touring around the country. I moved to London because I thought doing acting, you had to. I messed around trying to be an actor but, in reality, I worked in restaurants. My friend got me the job with the Russian oligarch. I really loved it at the time but I didn’t want to be a cook. I questioned what I was doing with my life. I wanted something else.
‘My mum is a really keen gardener; she really does know everything. Growing up […]