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Willow Crossley on the serendipity of her flower-led career, turning 40 & life lessons learned

World-renowned florist, author, and designer on sharing her flowery joy & reflections at her milestone birthday...

04 March 2023
By: Emily Armstrong

“I've learned that we can't rely on other people to make us happy. Our own happiness is our own responsibility, and it starts from within. I've learned that not everything that makes other people happy is guaranteed to make us happy, so we have to find what makes us happy.”

It appears Willow Crossley has not only found what makes her happy (more on that later) but also a special recipe to share with her global community to find their moments of joy and happiness too. The secret is a magical mix using flowers and nature as the base and layering inspiration, with the time to create and to nurture. Willow's favourite quote - 'If you want to get something done, do it yourself', rings true in her life. She makes things happen and while her enthusiasm to create and share her craft is boundless, she is beginning to recognise that you can't do it all, all of the time and that there is nothing more important than health. As Willow says, "Taking care of ourselves is not a luxury but an essential."

Often referred to as the UK’s ‘Queen of Flowers’, Willow is a celebrated florist, author, designer, stylist, entrepreneur and (a somewhat reluctant) influencer. She shares her love of flowers through her Instagram channel videos, and through workshops, digital courses and events. Last year, she launched The Seedling, which aims to deliver broader inspiration across lifestyle to the brand's global community. She has written four books and if time allows there may be another... Based in the Cotswolds, she is also a mother to three boys - Wolf, Rafferty and Kit and wife to Charlie.

In this special interview, Willow shares the personal stories from her outdoorsy childhood and close family, her early career in fashion and beauty, creating her first products, writing her books, the moment she decided to eschew other work in favour of flowers; lessons learned and achievements earned; and more…


You’ve just celebrated a milestone birthday, Happy 40th Birthday! You’ve achieved so much - from being our national treasure - the queen of flowers to parenting your three boys and so much in between. What would you say your biggest life lessons are on reflection turning 40? 
I think I’m finally learning what makes me happy; I've learnt that we can't rely on other people to make us happy. It has to come from within.  You have to know what it is that makes you happy and not focus on what makes other people happy.  So for example, for me, I know that spending quality time with the people that I love; my family and friends - outside, in the daylight, eating, walking, chatting, and having coffee - is what makes me happy. Creating makes me happy. Spending time outside in nature makes me happy. I try not to compare what I love to do with what other people love to do.  Surrounding yourself with ‘radiators’ and not ‘drains’ is important and it's okay not to be friends with everyone. Life is too short to spend time with people that don't make you feel good,  spend time with people that make you the best version of yourself.  I've learnt (the hard way) that our health is the most important thing, without that, nothing works.  Taking care of ourselves is not a luxury but an essential.

"Creating makes me happy. Spending time outside in nature makes me happy'" Willow as a young girl and recently, still spending time creating in nature.

My early years in the Welsh countryside were completely idyllic - very rural, very outdoorsy. I didn't really appreciate how amazing it was nature-wise at the time. All the incredible flowers and trees were just there as a backdrop but I think with hindsight I must have been subconsciously absorbing it and it's definitely informed what I do now.

    Please tell us about your early years growing up with your brothers in the Welsh countryside and your aspirations, access to and interest in nature and the arts?
    My early years in the Welsh countryside were completely idyllic. Very rural, very outdoorsy - lots of den-making in the woods (mine were always immaculate, I remember sweeping them obsessively with brooms that I’d made from pine needles!) paddling in the rivers, picking berries, hunting for mushrooms. We’ve always been a very close family, my brothers and I are just two years apart and it was heavenly. I didn't really appreciate how amazing it was nature-wise at the time. All the incredible flowers and trees were just there as a backdrop but I think with hindsight I must have been subconsciously absorbing it and it's definitely informed what I do now. When I go back home now I feel so lucky that I've had that upbringing and still have access to that space and nature now.

    You’ve said before that you dreamt of being a fashion designer as a teenager and would spend hours dreaming up outfits. You went on to study fashion at the London School of Fashion and some of your very first jobs were in the fashion and beauty departments at British Vogue… can you tell us about this period of your life?
    After graduating from London College of Fashion with a BA in Fashion Promotion, my goal was to end up working on a women’s fashion magazine, ideally Vogue with my hero, Lucinda Chambers. I did a few internships, basically sitting in a fashion cupboard doing returns but didn’t get a lot further. It’s a very competitive world, hundreds of people going for the same very, very badly paid job and I knew in my gut that it wasn’t meant to be. But I loved it while I was there. I especially loved my role as a beauty assistant at Tatler under Antonia Whyatt which introduced me to a whole new world of beauty and wellness.

    Then you spent a few years living in France. You wrote a blog, Willow Rose Boutique documenting your finds in local French brocantes and were always creating things. Was this a catalyst for your foray into flowers, your first book and possibly The Seedling coming full circle many years later?
    When I moved to France, we had so much time to potter and hang out. Each weekend I’d drag Charlie to the local brocantes and flee markets where I would be drawn, like a magpie, to these tiny little snippets of fabric, old bobbins of ribbon, gorgeous antique treasures - things I felt I couldn’t be without - and I started making things out of them. Hand-covered fabric notebooks, linen beach bags, pompom-trimmed baskets, beaded bracelets, necklaces… all of which I couldn’t make fast enough for the beach restaurants on Pampelonne Beach.

    And at the same time, I started writing a blog called Willow Rose Boutique documenting life in France but also mixed in with fashion, wellness, beauty, lifestyle, interiors, and recipes. An early more junior version of The Seedling! My agent, Clare, discovered the blog and thought it could be turned into a book; a year later, The Art of Handmade Living was published by CICO books!

    Willow with her brothers Ned and Tom outside the Ralph Lauren store in Chelsea she helped style for Chelsea in Bloom and won the people's choice award; Willow's mother, Kate Corbett-Winder gardening at home in Wales; Willow at home in the Cotswolds.

    For some it takes a lifetime to find their passion, but when did you first discover your passion for flowers? And then when did you realise your passion could become a career? 
    My second book,  Inspire: The Art of Living With Nature, is about bringing nature into our homes;  decorating with plants, shells, natural finds and flowers. Whilst writing the chapter on flowers, I had a Eureka moment.  I had two small children, was decorating someone’s house, doing personal shopping,  writing a book and feeling like I was going to break. Basically, spreading myself too thin. So I decided right then,  to stop everything else I was doing and focus on the flowers.
    Charlie gave me a week's intensive flower course and I’ve never looked back.  My first job was a great friend’s wedding which I did with my mum. We hadn’t a clue what we were doing.   Plucking figures out of the sky but it worked and I loved it. I think I realised it could be a career when Anthropolgie offered to throw my book launch.  I couldn’t believe that this huge global company was remotely interested in what I was doing and will always be so thankful to them.  From then on, other brands started to approach me and it was a total snowball effect. 
    I've been so lucky and have now got to the point where I can be quite picky about who I work with. I love being able to work with people and brands whose ethos and values I admire. 
    As the business grows, how do you keep the passion for flowers whilst trying to keep a handle on the less creative sides of running a business - the spreadsheets, the forecasting et al? 
    It’s really hard.  But the creative side is what makes me most joyful. So I know that if I'm running on empty, and I've just been staring at a screen for days on end, my mood will dip and I wont function properly. I know I have to manage that and as of recently I now spend three days in the office on spreadsheets and give myself two to be creative - get out into nature and play with flowers.  I read something recently about how we have to allow ourselves to be bored to come up with the best ideas.  I find it very, very hard to not be doing all the time. It’s virtually impossible for me to sit on the sofa and do nothing, guilt-free. But, I'm slowly realising that a) it’s ok to let yourself switch off and b) creatively, it's actually important to do so.
    Can you tell us about the brand pillars for your business - inspire, create, nurture - what is your biggest pull?
    I think they all feed each other: I need to create, but I need to be inspired to be able to create, and I need to nurture myself to be able to create!  Each one is integral to the other. But if you really want me to choose, it would be ‘create’.
    You’ve styled flowers for major brand events with Chanel, Dior, Aerin, Mulberry, Tory Burch, Jo Malone and The Royal Family, among many others. Have there been any favourites?
    Being asked to do Harry & Meghan’s evening wedding was something I'll never forget. It was just so incredible and so exciting.  But also utterly terrifying!  A real pinch-me moment. Teaching at Christian Dior in Paris this last Christmas gave me butterflies for days. 
    Your design product collaborations with Brora, Barneby Gates, Oka, At Home in the US and many more show your innate flair for designing collections - what do you love most about the process?
    I love the variety. I get bored very quickly so collaborations keep me on my toes.  I love designing and creating.  I love the research, going to galleries, looking at archives and reading books, playing on Pinterest; I love learning a completely new skill and learning about a world I know nothing about.  It's fascinating.

    Willow teaching for Dior in Paris

    Whilst writing the chapter on flowers, I had a Eureka moment. I had two small children, was decorating someone’s house, doing personal shopping, writing a book and feeling like I was going to break. Basically, spreading myself too thin. So I decided right then, to stop everything else I was doing and focus on the flowers.

    Hosting a Tory Burch workshop; with Cordelia de Castellane at a Dior event in Paris; at the pop-up at Chelsea in Bloom.

    Willow and Charlie on their wedding day; Willow with eldest son Wolf; the first day as a mother of three boys; on holiday with Charlie in Willow's favourite place in the UK, Tresco in the Scilly Isles.

    When designing your product collections for Willow Crossley - what are you drawn to?
    It varies every time. My taste and what I'm into changes so quickly. One minute, I’ll be obsessed with chintz or a stripe, and two weeks later, I'm completely over it. Quite unrelaxing for everyone I work with! Saying that, the things that I do always come back to are: stripes, chintz, embroidered florals, and natural fabrics. Always natural: I’ve never been good at shiny, metallic, unnatural things.

    You’ve said before “Often my first arrangement on an event is a total disaster!” which is so humbling. Do you ever experience self-doubt?
    Every day. But thankfully less as I get older. I think turning 40 has made me realise that I can do more than I probably give myself credit for. I'm not a planner. I wing things a lot, and I'm disorganised on paper, but in my head, I know exactly what I'm doing. But working with flowers is doubt-inducing because you're playing with nature, and it's terrifying! Things drop down dead all the time for no reason and it’s out of your control. But I know this so have endless backups.

    In your most recent book, The Wild Journal, you’ve written about your experience with post-natal depression with your first child Wolf while living in France. Can you tell us more about what you experienced and learned from this period of time?
    I had terrible post-natal depression for about a year after Wolf, our eldest was born. We were living in France where we had very few friends, and no family and it was very, very isolating. It was a very dark time and I couldn't talk about it for years until I wrote my book, The Wild Journal which was an attempt to help both myself and others going through the same hell. I think it's still such a taboo subject that no one is really honest about.   There were certain things that I did -being out in nature,  making things, playing with flowers -  that I noticed would lift me a little bit, make me feel brighter and that's where I got the idea to write The Wild Journal. It took me a whole year to get help. And what did help was talking to other people and realising that I was not the only one feeling this horrific at a time when I should be so happy.   I knew how lucky I was;  how there were so many awful things going on in the world, and I had everything I'd ever wanted. Yet I was still in a living hell. I feel very strongly about how important it is that we keep this conversation going to try and help more of the new mothers that are going through this nightmare.

    You’re a self-confessed 'perfectionist' – how do you balance this with your ambition and generally find balance with the many hats you wear?
    I think I'm only a perfectionist in my work life. The rest of my life is pretty shambolic, very happily so!
    I'm not great at balance and do get overwhelmed quite often. I burn myself out every few months because I keep going and going and thinking, I can do it all and say yes to everything. But I'm slowly learning that I can't do it all. And I'm learning to prioritise and work out the things that I actually, genuinely want to do, as opposed to thinking I should do.

    What’s next for Willow Crossley, the brand?
    I have so many plates in the air and so many things that I want to do. Just not enough time in the day to do them. We started this year in the office with so many plans, so many exciting things we wanted to launch and develop and then a few weeks ago I woke up and realised I needed to stop and reassess. We were on the brink of spreading ourselves too thin and not doing anything well enough. So we’ve decided to focus on what we're doing already but make it better. So grow the collections, and create really beautiful, original product. Continue to grow The Seedling.

    And what’s next for Willow as you embrace your new decade?
    I’m going to try and stop spreading myself too thin. I'm going to try and organise my life a bit better, so I'm not constantly in a state of panic. I’m going to try and make time for myself and not feel guilty about it. I think now I'm 40, I'm going to have to start doing proper exercise. Walking fast and doing everything at a million miles is probably not enough. I'm going to make time for yoga. I'm going to make time to hang out with my friends and family more. I'm going to really cherish this time with the boys. Wolf is 14 this year, and it scares me how quickly it's going. That's quite a lot to be going on with, isn't it?

    Lets Play Favourites - Willow Crossley

    Flower – Solomon Seal
    Artist – Kate Corbett Winder and Mary Newcomb
    Interior Designer – Lucy Barlow, Anna Spiro and Sarah Vanrenen
    Scent / Fragrance – Garden roses, geranium and tomato leaf. I adore all Ffern's scents
    Travel destination – The Maldives
    Place in the UK – Tresco in the Isles of Scilly
    Book – Darling by India Knight
    Podcast – Table Manners by Jessie and Lennie Ware and Therapy Couch
    TV Series – Yellowstone, Succession and Shrinking
    Film – Olympus Has Fallen, Man on Fire, Air Force One
    Wellness ritual – At least one very fast walk a day
    Colour – Green. Or Blue
    Make-up must-have – Jones Road Mascara
    Fashion label – Vita Kin
    Wardrobe Essentials - white linen t-shirts from H&M, bright cashmere jumpers from From FutureMarine Straight Jeans from Zara, brightly coloured trainers, either an Adidas Gazelle or Nike Daybreakmerino wool layering tops from Cos (I'm always cold), a Breton stripe, velvet Penelope Chilvers ankle boots, Tory Sport gym kit, something fringed, colourful jewels from Roxanne FirstMonica Vinader or Sophie Theakston
    Music – my Spotify playlists
    Season – Summer
    Restaurant or Meal – either roast chicken or some sort of noodley deliciousness
    Era or decade – 70s for fashion, now for everything else
    Guaranteed laugh – Schitts Creek
    Time of day – Morning
    Day of the week – Friday 
    Quote – 'If you want something done, do it yourself.'