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February 18, 2022 —

Love What You Do: Rachel Wardley of Tallulah Rose Flower School

From fashion to floristry, Rachel Wardley made the creative step to launch her own business and now helps others’ careers blossom at Tallulah Rose Flower School.
Sine Fleet - contributingeditor of 91 Magazine
Sine Fleet
91 Magazine contributing editor,

Photography

Jessica Reeve
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How would you describe Tallulah Rose Flower School?

A welcoming, safe, creative environment in which to learn. You’ll find no judgment here, only support from the team Tallulah and your fellow students.

Rachel Wardley of Tallulah Rose Flower School demonstrating creating dried flower arrangement

How did Tallulah Rose come to be?

After making a career change into floristry I knew it was possible to create a business. I felt equipped to teach others based on the knowledge and experience I gained through floristry and my previous career in fashion buying. After guiding my first career-change student through a four-week course, I realised what an impact it had on her creative confidence, and confidence full-stop. Change isn’t always easy, not everyone will think it’s the right decision for you. Imagine how empowering it is to prove, not only to yourself but to others too, just how capable, strong and successful you can be. This one experience alone gave me all the inspiration I needed to pursue my business goal!

How did your career begin?

Before setting up Tallulah Rose I had a florist store and wedding and event business, creating flowers for couples in the south-west of England. Prior to this I was, as they say, ‘in fashion’. Based in London, I bought handbags and jewellery for the high street. A job I loved, but after leaving London, a career change beckoned!

Rachel Wardley outside Tallulah Rose Flower School in Cumbria

Where do you find creative inspiration?

I’m inspired by so much – fashion, interiors… but over the past 18 months, I would say nature. I relocated my business from the city of Bath to Cumbria in 2019. The school is now located in the grounds of Cumbria’s Levens Hall, and it’s beautiful. There’s a deer park, river, and a century-old topiary garden that have become our home. I notice the changing of the seasons so much more now we’re literally amongst it! If I’m in a creative rut I head to the sea, it clears my mind, resets me. Being close to the sea allows me to refocus and re-energise.

How did you first discover your love for what you do?

After climbing the fashion buying ladder, my day-to -day became less about the creative and more about the margin. When a dear friend bought me a day course with respected florist Jane Packer, my creative juices began to flow and I wanted more! I returned to complete a four-week career-change course, and in less than a year I had my own florist store!

Rachel Wardley of Tallulah Rose Flower School demonstrated creating floral British flowers foam free display

What’s the ethos behind your business?

It’s vital to me to know that everyone who walks through the door at Tallulah Rose Flower School feels safe and confident in their own ability to create their chosen style of floristry. My aim is always to provide a relaxed environment, allowing students to feel able to ask whatever questions they have.

In recent years I have become very aware of how the floristry industry negatively effects the environment. It has become my priority to only teach sustainable floristry techniques and to use as many locally grown or British flowers as possible. During the 2021 British growing season (May to September), we achieved ninety per cent British ingredients in our workshops and courses, something I’m extremely proud of. I’m learning and trialling new, sustainable ways all the time – only a few weeks ago while dressing Levens Hall for Christmas, I showed a group of students how to create a large-scale installation using branches instead of chicken wire, and re-useable Velcro, instead of plastic zip ties. I encourage every student to seek out sustainable learning from each other, from local florists and those around the world. We must all share the sustainable knowledge we have in order to put back what the industry has already taken away.

Tell us about your space…

Tallulah Rose Flower School was originally created and nurtured in the heart of the city of Bath. The school grew from a home studio space into a light an airy space on busy Milsom Street, home to Bath’s main shopping area. After a decade of business growth, I relocated the school to Kendal in Cumbria, gateway to The Lake District. After searching for a more rural location for the school I fell upon Levens Hall – a beautiful, privately owned house and garden. It’s home to the world’s oldest topiary gardens and centre of a thriving 9,500-acre agricultural estate which provides much of its own produce for Levens Kitchen – an amazing cafe! It’s two minutes from school… not always a good thing when the doughnuts are the best in town! In a nutshell I found the perfect new home for Tallulah Rose. Our school room is housed in a beautiful renovated stable with access to a courtyard, perfect for taking shots and for our students work in natural light.

Is there an element of your work that you love the most?

I love watching my students create the business of their dreams. I watch as their ideas, born during their time here at Tallulah, comer to life – ideas that first show themselves on a mood board. I love watching confidence grow, financial reward build, uncertain students become strong, empowered by their own achievements. I go on loving this every single day.

How valuable is the online community to your work?

Invaluable – it’s as simple as that. I’m often congratulated on how the community of ’Tallulahs’ share their knowledge, expertise, top tips, jobs – even on our online forum, but in truth I am simply the facilitator. Tallulah students have created their community, they have built something really special because they care about each other, and about the industry.

During 2020, I wrote an online Career Change Course to mirror our physical one. Something I’d been wanting to do for a very long time, lockdown finally allowed me the time to achieve this goal. Launched in September 2020, we have over 100 students learning with us online. The course is pre-recorded, allowing students to learn with me but at their own pace, in their own space. Although an online course, we have invited those students that can to in-person social events here at Levens Hall, too.

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What’s been the biggest eye-opener for you in running your business?

The number of hours that running your own business demands. My business will be 12 years old this year, and although I no longer have to work the hours I once did, I still put in an awful lot. I wouldn’t have it any other way, but be under no illusion – running your own business is hard work. On the flip side, another eye-opener of course is just how rewarding running your own business can be!

How do you differentiate yourself in a creative industry?

I often talk to my students about this. Some are anxious about the competition they face, particularly on socials. The one unique thing we each have is our own story, we are individuals after all. There is little point in trying to differentiate yourself through fact alone… it is hard to stand out if all you’re telling people is that you sell or offer. Your story is your differentiator – why you do what you do, where you do what you do, and most importantly, how doing what you do makes you feel… you get the picture!

Rachel Wardley of Tallulah Rose Flower School demonstrated creating floral British flowers display

Do you enjoy working as an independent – what are the joys, and what are the challenges?

Yes, I love working as an independent. Why? There are the obvious reasons of course: being your own boss, no office politics, making all the decisions, etc. But it’s more than that to me. I love being able to react quickly – particularly key over the past couple of years when circumstance have required it. Becoming more sustainable, almost overnight, has been amazing. Making quick, informed decisions, and not having to wait for a queue of personnel to agree, hold another meeting, sign a piece of paper.

There are, of course, challenges too. Making all the decisions is hard, especially at the beginning – what if you get it wrong? Being in charge of EVERYTHING can blow your mind, and your sleep pattens! You’ll work harder than you’ve ever worked before, maybe in a different way, but harder. There are financial challenges of starting a new business too. If you’re leaving a stable job, then you’ll be leaving a steady income. The early days of starting a new business can come with financial instability and that can be stressful. But work hard, ask for help, and if you really want it and it’s right for you then you’ll find a way. And for me I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Dried flower wreath created by Rachel Wardley of Tallulah Rose Flower School

How do you approach your own marketing and PR?

I enjoy Instagram very much. Building an audience takes time, but I love being able to follow the businesses that began here at Tallulah Rose Flower School. I’m able to keep in touch with so many students through social media. In turn this keeps me in their mind too, and can lead to students returning to the school for developmental courses.

In those early days of building your business just say yes to opportunities – even if it puts you out of your comfort zone! Say yes to demonstrating your work, say yes to hosting a workshop, say yes to that big wedding – you never know where opportunities may take you. I’ve been approached by press, both digital and print, who have seen my social media accounts. This has led to features, quotes, step-by-step how-to’s, and more. You never know when someone may find your business through your social media. Network with others within your industry or with like-minded creatives – collaborations are great for attracting PR. Finally, I would say, just ask! Ask to be featured, offer to talk on a podcast, write a blog post or a newsletter. There’s so much you can do to attract PR – just take a deep breath and do it!

Inside the workshop of Rachel Wardley from Tallulah Rose Flower School

What have been your business highlights so far?

The incredible community of ‘Tallulahs’ that has built up over the years. They share their knowledge, and support each other every step of the way… they even share work too! There’s nothing I love more than seeing a team of ex-students working on an incredible wedding or event together. Relocating the school to Cumbria has been a business highlight too, the welcome I received has been incredible!

Do you have any creative hobbies?

I bought a camera a couple of years ago with the main aim of taking better images for Tallulah’s social media, however it’s developed into a real personal passion too. I recently took a landscape photography course in the highlands of Scotland, and I absolutely loved it! I run too, a pastime that helps me to switch off when my business brain is full to the brim.

Rachel Wardley of Tallulah Rose Flower School demonstrated creating floral British flowers display

What is the most important lesson that running your business has taught you about life?

To listen and learn from others. To understand that you don’t have to do everything yourself and that you haven’t let yourself down if you ask others for help.

Any good advice for independent creative businesses just starting out?

Listen to your own creative voice, not the one that’s telling you to compare yourself to others. Reach out within a safe community – our Tallulah forum gives just that, and there are forums out there in all sectors, too. Seek help from those that have gone before you, mentors, family, or friends. Take courses, paid or free, gain as much knowledge as you can and keep asking questions. There are lots of free business advice services funded by the government, so seek these out to help you with the areas of business you’re not familiar with – finance, marketing, business planning etc. Believe in yourself and surround yourself with the people that believe in you, too.

What does the next year hold for you?

We recently introduced a series of one day courses called ‘Tallulah’s Take Over Tallulah’. So many talented students have trained with us over the years that we thought it high time we invited them back to share their skills and success! We also introduced a new four-day wedding course into our curriculum last year and that will be returning this year. Our spring and autumn residential retreats are taking place on the wonderful Townhead Estate on the shores of Lake Windermere this year, a new location for us and we can’t wait.

QUICK-FIRE QUESTIONS

Books I love: I used to be a reader, now it’s audio books. Since moving to Cumbria I’ve become captivated by the landscape. I was encouraged listen to The Shepherd’s Life by James Redbanks – it’s beautifully written.

Creative hero: Before floristry, I worked in fashion for many years and Alexander McQueen was an absolute creative hero of mine. Often controversial, McQueen never strayed from his own creative path.

Shops I love: Found – an original independent store in Bath. They curate their range to perfection – clothing, stationery, accessories, homeware – you name it, you’ll want it! Also, Pajotten a relatively recent discovery for me. Talented duo Rebecca and Ben make contemporary workwear-inspired sustainable clothing.

Inspirational places: New York, always. And Amsterdam, for its architectural beauty. Glencoe in the Scottish highlands too. If you’ve never been, you will not be disappointed.

Instagrammers I love: I follow so many floral creatives, and hundreds of ‘Tallulahs’ that I adore (and perhaps one or two sausage dog accounts, too!).

tallulahroseflowers.com

@tallulahroseflowerschool

@rachelwardleystyle

Photography: Jessica Reeve

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