Hi Layla – how would you describe your work?
Nature-inspired, sustainable, everlasting flower sculpture/art. A beautiful joining of the ancient art of flower craft, with a clean fresh contemporary edge that sings in any setting. It’s wild, exciting, fun, and emotion evoking, bringing all the life and magic of the outdoors in. Made from foraged twigs, seeds, berries, and organic everlasting flowers nurtured and gathered from my wildlife loving garden on the Welsh borders.
What inspired the idea of setting up your business – how did Layla Robinson Design come to be?
I am one of those people that doesn’t like mundane repetition, or being told what to do, so this was always a massive inspiration for me to set up my own business. I started out as Darling Buds of Hay, growing and using my own fresh cut flowers, this was back when British cut flowers was an emerging thing, around 2008-9, and there were only a handful of people doing it.
After the birth of my third child, I decided that it was just too much to juggle all the immediacy of the planting, cutting, designing, and selling that is involved in fresh flower production, my love had gone out of it, and I just didn’t enjoy the pressure anymore. But what I did still love was the element of winter twiggy designs that had grown from it, I’d been gradually incorporating more and more dried flowers each year into my flower patch, and which I had been steadily gathering a reputation for.
Eventually, I completely let the fresh flowers go, deciding to devote myself to my everlasting beauties, and focus my efforts. No more fresh flower weddings that take all week to create and only last a few hours for me!
How did your career begin?
I have been a lover of flowers since I was a little tot. I made my own mini garden from wildflowers dug up from the verges at the age of five or so (sssh don’t tell anyone!), and have always had flowers in my life ever since, they are just an unquestioning part of me, and speak to me on a soul level.
I went on to study horticulture and garden design at Pershore College of Horticulture in my early twenties, whilst also doing a modern apprenticeship in their gardens for two years to help cover my living costs at the time. On from there I spent several years as a freelancer working in some of the most beautiful country gardens of Herefordshire, before giving it up to have my first daughter in 2007. I was very ready for a change by this point.
At the time, we had just bought a plot of land with a dilapidated barn on it and built a cabin which we moved into (as you do when you have a new born). A year later, I had started plotting and planting my first cut flower garden, which after several years, and a couple more babies, would eventually lead me down the road growing and specialising in everlasting flowers, and all that goes with it, to the present day.
Where do you find creative inspiration?
Creatively, I am very much inspired by my surroundings. I live right on the border between the lush green rolling hills of Herefordshire, England, and the wild, sometime stark mountains of Wales. This contrast of wildflower-filled meadows and the harsher uplands is what inspires me to combine the playful colour of flowers with a stronger architectural structure, replicating the surrounding landscape, that is somehow even more exquisite for its contrasts.
I also draw inspiration from other artists and friends, especially when collaborating. Other times, I really couldn’t say exactly where my inspiration comes from, it feels like there are moments when it literally falls into my head, and I guess in these moments, it’s when I’m not overly trying or thinking too hard, and creative lightbulb moments just flow into me. It’s that juggle of finding space amongst it all to allow this to happen from time to time.
Could you describe a typical day…
After getting my three girls to school, I check my diary and to-do list to make sure I haven’t forgotten anything urgent. Then I catch up on admin such as phone calls, emails, social media posts and messages, and ordering any sundries. If I have a commission to work on, then I will get on with that, or it may be meeting a client to quote for a job, or planting and harvesting flowers in my garden, updating my website, or drawing up a design. My days are extremely variable, being a one-woman band and keeping all the plates spinning. There is normally a bit of flapping and panicking about how short the day is and not achieving as much as I’d like in the time before school pick up. This is only five hours, and it feels like a heartbeat. I never really get as much done once my lovely, often tired, hungry, and chatty rabble are home, which often results in me doing dribs and drabs of work, like editing photos, or writing magazine articles, sometimes till midnight (not recommended).
What is the ethos behind your business?
My ethos is to be genuine and create beautiful natural works of art that make people feel good and lift the spirits – that are fun, bring joy, and look beautiful for years.
I would also love there to be a message of hope in my work, that helps to open people’s eyes to the details of nature, highlighting how precious and inspiring it is, appreciating it, and therefore caring for nature and the living planet more. My work is woven from natural and abundant foraged materials such as willow, birch, bracken, grasses and berries, and flowers grown in my slightly overgrown completely organic wildlife and bug filled haven of a garden.
Natural habitat is a big focus for me, as is sustainability and creating low impact products and lifestyle.
Also, for me, I aim to create a business that is valued properly for what it offers, so that I actually get paid for all the hours and hours that go into it. This may sound simple, but a lot of work like this is often priced massively short of the work that’s been put into it, being paid instead with ‘happy’ buttons, ‘it’s not proper work’ levels of money. You can’t feed your kids on that! Constructing the sculpture is the tip of the iceberg in terms of time. These works of art take a lot of love and sweat to make and are here to be valued as long-lasting luxurious items that have meaning behind them.
What sort of space do you work in?
I built my studio two years ago, with my husband and the help of an amazing friend. As soon as I started using it, I felt like I was literally living in a dream, after working at the kitchen table for so may years with toddlers, cats, dogs and dinner mixed in amongst it. We joined onto the back of our cabin, so that it always remains completely warm and dry, which is essential for keeping everlasting flowers for any length of time. Adjoining it is a flower storage room, also a dreamy luxury for me instead of them hanging from my bedroom ceiling all year. It is a wooden clad structure with a corrugated tin roof, lots of windows, and French doors leading out onto the garden for plenty of natural light and good access for getting big installations out when I need to. It’s additionally heated with a wood burner to keep it beautifully cosy during the winter months.
I absolutely love this space, I feel calm, centred, and inspired when I am in here, it’s wonderful to work in. There’s a large Victorian shop counter with many drawers, down one side of the room, we salvaged it from a closing down engineering yard many years ago, and recently renovated it. Behind it, a large window looks out over my everlasting cut flower garden.
Tell us about your business’s neighbourhood and community…
Our little smallholding sits up in the hills above the Wye valley, five miles north of Hay-on-Wye. My nearest neighbours are a quarter of a mile away, but it doesn’t feel remote. I’m sure some would say it’s in the middle of nowhere. It does mean there’s rather more driving than I’d like. And it’s not even like it’s the best place to grow flowers as the season is shorter and colder due to altitude, but it is very wild and beautiful, great for peace, quiet and inspiration, and we love it. I only occasionally have flower envy when I see other warmer gardens flowering very prolifically down in the valley bellow.
I consider myself to be extremely fortunate that my surrounding community is jam-packed with all sorts of creative, clever, wonderful, and inspiring (often eccentric) people. There’s a strong sense of everybody working together and supporting one another. It’s a rich seam of artists and entrepreneurs that live around here, and therefore there is always plenty going on. It feels amazingly supportive, exciting, and full of opportunity.
Is there an element of your work that you love the most?
I love it when I am making a very individual commission and get completely in the creative zone, I literally buzz! I also find it incredibly rewarding when I teach a workshop, and someone who thought they weren’t very creative shocks themselves by making something stunning. I absolutely love to reveal a hidden artist through teaching flower art.
How important is the online community to your work?
The online community is invaluable for my work. It is my shopfront so to speak, and how my art gets seen. It makes working from my rural perch possible, and I’m exceedingly grateful for it. How lucky we are to have such amazing opportunity to promote ourselves.
How do you find working as an independent – what are the joys, and what are the challenges?
I love the freedom that comes with working independently, the excitement of building up ideas, and not having to answer to anyone. It’s also worked brilliantly with being a mother, it’s made it possible to be there for my girls, as I don’t have family support, which has been valuable to me. The challenges are that it can get lonely at times, sometimes I just wish I could chew ideas over with someone who’s as responsible for what’s happening as I am, and hand over some of the decision responsibility, or be able to have time off knowing things are being taken care of.
How do you approach marketing and PR?
I love photography and taking my own photos, which is great as it works very well with working with Instagram, where most of my marketing happens. I use Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, in varying levels (basically when I have the time). I’ve been lucky that quite a few magazines have featured my work, which is a massive help for PR.
What have been your business highlights so far?
Going to the Welsh BAFTAs as part of a project for Taittinger champagne. Going to the Goodlife festival with my family to run a flower crown workshop. Creating a suspended everlasting blossom forest at the Oriel Davies gallery in Newtown Powys, as part of the Rembrandt portrait ‘Flora’ exhibition. Creating a massive flower cloud for Russell Brand’s community festival in Hay-on-Wye last year. Doing the flower install for the Hay Festival winter weekend for the last few years. Entering an exhibit to the Strawberry Hill Flower Festival in Twickenham. And making flower art to go in my friend Jesse’s ice cream parlour/café, Shepherds, in Hay-on-Wye!
What’s one thing people would be surprised you do in your job?
I grow, harvest and dry over seventy different flowers and foliages that end up in my creations.
Do you have any creative pastimes or hobbies?
Time is a bit limited for hobbies, but I love taking photos. Going for a relaxed walk with my camera is a real treat.
I’m a lover of history, archaeology, and architecture. If I get the chance, I love to go out with my metal detector, or go to see old castles or houses, or generally root about anywhere that’s old and interesting.
I love growing, cooking and eating healthy, fresh good food. I’m also a real bookworm, and love reading. I have at least ten books beside my bed that I’ve got on the go at any one time. And I recently discovered that I love writing, and hope there will be more opportunity and time to do this in the future.
What is the most important lesson that running your business has taught you about life?
That you can’t take anything for granted, things are always changing – quite often just when you thought you’d got there! Especially after these last few challenging years, it’s taught me to be more flexible, open-minded, and to trust that things will work out – even if you can’t always immediately see how at the time.
Any good advice for independent creative businesses just starting out?
Consider how you might stand out from the crowd. What makes what you’re offering a bit different? There’s a lot of competition out there, now online social media advertising is available to all, big and small.
Getting the balance right when creative businesses often come from doing something we love can be a delicate situation. You may not need to worry about making it pay, which is wonderful, but if you do need to make it financially viable, then you may want to explore different ways you could possibly achieve that. Often getting an outside viewpoint to help with pricing confidence can be helpful from the right person. I wish I’d done a bit more of that at the start, but think I was worried it would invalidate what I was doing at the time.
What does the next year hold for you?
I am currently filming an everlasting flower panel tutorial video, to be released later this summer. I’m very excited about this, as I’ve had so many requests from around the world, I can’t wait to finally have something to offer them. This could be something I do more of in the future if this one works out well.
I will be exhibiting again at The Strawberry Hill Flower Festival, Twickenham in September, and I’m hoping to do more in-person workshops and tutorials this year. And I have a few exciting up-and-coming projects that I’m working on but can’t mention yet!
Describe your work in three words: Everlasting flower sculpture
What are your creating rituals? I like working in the quiet, and drinking lots of tea – preferably with cake or biscuits. I’m doing my best to fit in a fifteen-minute meditation in the mornings to help with creativity and bring a bit of calm in a demanding day. An early evening dog walk to soak up a bit of nature and unwind is also great for clearing the mind and making sure I get some exercise regularly.
Tea or coffee? Tea
Mountains or sea? Mountains
Night owl or early bird? Night owl