A stimulating working environment leads to an engaged and happy workforce. For PYRUS, a botanical design studio and cutting garden founded in 2011 by fine artists Natalya Ayers and Fiona Inglis, never has a truer word been spoken. PYRUS operates out of its sprawling three acre Victorian walled garden on the outskirts of Edinburgh. Founded as a response to the startling lack of seasonal, scented blooms available in Britain, the studio’s cut flower garden allows the designers to grow their own scented blooms. There’s no mass production, no pesticides and no demands the soulless (and scentless) uniformity typical of the European flower industry. Once more, absolutely everything is in season.
PYRUS is the latest studio to take part in Laboratory Perfume’s ongoing series of artist collaborations. Given five scents as a starting point, the design studio created three series of photographs inspired by the changing seasons. The images will be unveiled throughout the next few months, the very first – centred on the theme ‘mist’ – launches today.
To celebrate the unveiling of the collection, we caught up with PYRUS co-founders Natalya and Fiona to find out a little more about the distinctive creative approach that drove the project. In the interview that follows, Natalya and Fiona discuss their mission to shake up the British flower industry, their uncompromising commitment to nature and its seasons, and the role scent plays in their day-to-day lives.
LP: How did PYRUS begin?
P: We founded our botanical studio and flower garden in 2011. With backgrounds in fine and applied art, we share a passion for seasonal, British-grown flowers and using botanical material as a medium for our studio practice. We have worked together as PYRUS ever since, expanding to a three-acre Victorian walled garden in 2015 where our vision to create a self-sufficient flower garden, wholesale business and creative studio is slowly taking shape.
LP: How did you get involved with Laboratory Perfumes?
P: We became aware of each other through Instagram. We immediately liked how Laboratory Perfumes approaches working with scent and how it supports and collaborates with visual artists. The Gorse scent captured our imaginations and in spring this year we met with founder Aaron Firth in London, where this project was born.
LP: Does the Scottish climate affect the plants you can grow?
P: Scotland is one of the most beautiful countries in the world but we do have a challenging climate. We have learnt to be relaxed about the weather and use polytunnels to lengthen our short season, protecting the tender crops and pale blooms that are easily weather damaged. We are slowly developing and getting to know the site and soil in our Victorian walled garden, trialling varieties and keeping the successful ones. In its heyday, our garden had vast glasshouses with heated brick walls, powered by a boiler house. It’s our hope to reinstate part of the glasshouses so that perhaps, in the future, there will be pineapples and tropical plants. That’s the dream!
LP: You’ve said you want to start a revolution in the British flower industry – what change would you like to see?
P: We developed the PYRUS cut flower garden in response to our disillusionment with the Dutch flower industry. The uniform, straight, scentless flowers that are produced in their millions and shipped all over the world are no comparison to British-grown, fragrant garden roses or sweet peas which are in season. We were one of only a handful of cut flower growers in Scotland when we started and it is heartening to see new micro growers establishing plots every year. We would like to see a real and lasting change in the way consumers buy and think about flowers in the UK. Seeking out and purchasing beautiful seasonal blooms from a local supplier supports small business, helps the environment and influences the cultural and ethical place that botanicals have in our lives. We hope to make a contribution to our industry, encouraging a national change akin to the recent movement with local, seasonal food.
LP: You have a history of working with brands on creative collaborations – what do you enjoy about this?
P: Collaborations are one of the most exciting and rewarding parts of our creative practice. We enjoy the process of conceptualising and visualising a brand, collection or product with botanical material; considering and rethinking perception and finally realising ideas in sculptural form. We really value getting to know a brand or group of creatives and drawing on a different set of values and ideas, we find projects such as this incredibly informative to our own practice and growth as artists.
LP: How do you start planning for a project like this? Do you have a vision of the final design or do you begin with the plants and flowers you have available?
P: We always start with visual references, gathering inspiration from poetry, art, photography and architecture. From our mood boards, we then start to consider scale and if a piece will be documented or viewed in situ. Finally, we explore the materials available to us at the time and search for what we consider to be the heart of the piece – there is always a special element that tells the story of the piece and from that the sculpture or installation begins to take shape.
LP: Is being limited by seasonality a creative restriction, or do you see it as an opportunity?
P: Working seasonally feels absolutely right when using natural materials as a medium. We never feel limited, conversely there are a wealth of botanicals available in the barren winter months when wood, lichen and dried plants come into their own. Working alongside nature and the seasons means that the materials we use are always changing. We use botanicals in every stage of their cycle: from seed to seedling, in full bloom, seed head and decaying state.
LP: Can you give an example of how you go about translating different fragrance notes into different plants, shapes and textures?
P: We spent a long time note-taking and discussing our emotions when we were wearing the perfumes, and how they presented to us visually. Working on all five scents simultaneously meant we were taken from dark swimming pools to mountain caves; imagining yielding undulating forms and smooth grained wood and played with a colour palette of cobalt, saffron and rose. These were then naturally translated into botanical materials: weather smoothed root systems, tough but subtle coastal grasses, delicate and vibrant thalictrum stems.
LP: How does the installation express idea of scent evolving over time?
P: The creative process developing this project has been a journey in itself and evolved naturally as we became familiar with the scents. We found a lot of texture and colour in the perfumes, and these forms changed over time. We have conveyed that in our pieces by combining botanical material with contrasting manmade colour held in the wood grain. We’ve also manipulated our chosen materials to create new sculptural forms which have evolved from their natural state. It should be viewed as a visual journey.
LP: How do you divide the work between the two of you – do you each have set areas you’re responsible for or is it more organic?
P: On a creative project, we tend to research independently before bringing our ideas together to develop in the studio. We have different artistic approaches having studied fine art and ceramics respectively but tend to work very intuitively. Working as a partnership means there is constant dialogue and discussion which can produce interesting and sometimes surprising results. We remain open-minded as neither of us has ultimate creative control over a piece.
LP: As botanical designers, how much of a role does scent normally play in your work and personal lives?
P: Scent is absolutely intrinsic to our personal and creative lives, it was one of the reasons we began growing our own flowers when we founded PYRUS. Commercially grown flowers have largely been bred devoid of scent, to increase their longevity. For us that is incredibly sad, the first thing we do when a new flower blooms in the garden is to breathe its scent in. We had no idea that tulips have such a delicate, sugary fragrance until we grew them ourselves. We tend to be so disconnected from that experience in the consumer society. Scent is transformative and can take us to a place or person in the past, on a journey or lift your mood instantly. Perfume has always been a huge inspiration to us: it’s influenced our work as artists and has informed our creative practice over the years.
LP: Do you have a favourite smell?
P: We often discuss this in the studio! As our moods and the seasons change, so does our inclination towards certain scents. We are lucky enough to be surrounded by incredible botanical scents every day in the garden and we forage in the meadows, woodlands and coast where there are layers of earth, decay, blossom, salt and wild grasses. The smell of a garden rose is incredibly hard to beat, it is an instant smile and evokes imagery of an ancient historic romance. Bonfires, wet soil and orange blossom some more favourites.
LP: And a favourite Laboratory Perfumes fragrance?
Natalya: To wear, I am drawn to Atlas. I enjoy the strength, warmth and texture of the scent on my skin. For my home, I love the Gorse candle. There is an airy lightness that takes me to the outdoors and a clifftop walk.
Fiona: There is something in the spicy, woody notes of Tonka that is deeply nostalgic for me, memories of burying my face into a loved one’s knitted chest as a child. On my skin I love Amber, how it moves and changes through the day compels me to smell it again and again.