Creating Blooming Bouquets At Belfast's Petal Studio
Abigail Bell, the innovative florist who is making it her business to work only with seasonal and locally grown blooms at her light-filled Petal Studio.
Conway Mill, just off Belfast’s Falls Road, is a welcoming warren of independent activity, with artists’ studios, print shops, dressmakers and other small businesses all sharing space in this beautifully renovated historic mill, complete with a sky-high glass atrium.
It’s a spot well worth making a detour for, not least because this is where you’ll find Abigail Bell’s inspiring Petal Studio.
Before launching Petal Studio, Abigail was known to many in the design world as the co-founder of Abigail Ryan Interiors – a homeware business she ran with her husband Ryan Bell. “Ryan and I met as students in Glasgow School of Art,” begins Abigail in her soft Glasgow-Belfast burr.
“He was studying accessory design and I was studying silversmithing and jewellery, but florals were always at the heart of my work. My jewellery was botanically inspired, and late, when Ryan and I moved to his hometown of Belfast to set up Abigail Ryan Interiors, floral patterns in myriad guises formed the foundation for our wallpaper, textiles and lampshades.”
You will even find one of Abigail and Ryan’s beautiful floral wallpapers hanging in the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum in New York. “We were over the moon when the museum curator contacted us to let us know our wallpaper had been chosen; I cried that day,” admits Abigail. “I was still keen to make a career change, however, and knew there was only one route for me – flowers.”
Abigail launched Petal Studio in March 2016 to provide floral styling for weddings and private events and has since developed the business to offer flower crown hen parties, seasonal masterclasses and botanical illustration classes. And when she’s not knee-deep in seasonal blooms, she keeps herself busy working as a photographer and stylist.
“I am so thrilled to have made the move to work full-time with flowers,” says Abigail. “When you work with a growing, living thing, it is so restorative and enriching. I find it uplifting to connect with the seasons. This is part of the reason I am trying not to work with imported blooms and I don’t work with florist’s foam oasis as it is non-biodegradable and quite toxic. The physical act of picking and cutting flowers is also a hugely important part of the process for me – so I am determined to use only locally grown Irish flowers where possible.”
Some might argue that this “fairweather” approach, as Abigail calls it, might impede her business model because it limits her offering to clients, but Abigail disagrees. “There are so many wonderful local, seasonal flowers to work with, I never feel shortchanged. Scent is also hugely important to me and flowers that have been grown slowly in their native, natural setting have a fragrance that no forced floral can compete with.”
It is this passion for the heady fragrance of seasonal blooms that inspired Abigail to join forces with local candlemaker Mike Morris (one half of The Bearded Candlemakers) to create a series of floral-scented candle masterclasses.
“We offer classes in spring, summer and autumn,” explains Abigail. “Where we host a group of no more than ten people in each one. We kick off with teas, coffees, or a cheeky little mimosa, in the studio here before I explain a bit about oasis-free flower arranging and share some guidelines on responsible foraging and the many benefits of working with locally grown flowers.”
After the demo, everyone helps themselves at the flower bar, where Abigail has lots of lovely blooms laid out for workshoppers to pick and choose from.
“Once everyone is working away, I go around the room and give as much guidance and advice as needed. We’ll break for a lovely sociable lunch, here in the flower studio, and then when Mike takes over to demo the scented candle-making, I take each person’s arrangement next door to my photography space to photograph it.”
In the afternoon, under Mike’s guidance, the class will learn about top notes, base notes and heart notes and will choose the essential oils they would like to blend to make their own bespoke scent.
“At the end of the afternoon everyone leaves with a seasonal arrangement, a styled photograph, their own personalised scented candle… and a happy heart, I hope,” smiles Abigail. What a glorious way to spend a day.
WORDS Lizzie Gore-Grimes
PHOTOGRAPHY Abigail Bell