Interview: Zita Elze, floral and garden designer

Zita Elze cannot simply be defined as a florist despite the fact that she owns two flower shops, in Kew and Ravenscourt Park in London.

Zita Elze, floral and garden designer. Image: Tamara Peel
Zita Elze, floral and garden designer. Image: Tamara Peel

She is not normally found making up simple bouquets. Her forte is creating large floral installations, which are becoming known for their "embroidery" style, and dreaming up garden design concepts.

It is a testament to her success that she has never had to place an inch of advertising. All her commissions are obtained by word of mouth. She has been working seven days a week for the past five months and she regularly arranges flowers at weddings over the weekends - but this spring will see her push herself to her limits.

Adding to the flower shop and garden design business she runs in Kew, she opened a second store within the Ginkgo Garden Centre at Ravenscourt Park a few weeks ago. Housed within the arches of a railway bridge, it is a cool, elegant space, with flowers and gifts placed with flair. A bespoke iron florist's sink takes centre stage and even the area around the till is decorated with aged pots and Elze's signature pale green colours.

"I got into the space the week before Mother's Day so it was a busy time," says Elze. "We had to strip all the paint off the arches. Then I had two days to decorate and add all the finishing touches before it opened. I don't know how we managed it but I'm not scared of taking on big projects anymore after that experience."

She needs this courage for her debut at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. The organisers are focusing much more on the Great Pavilion this year and have invited new designers to bring a breath of fresh air to the show. Her installation will be built around a Perspex house amid Amelanchier 'Ballerina' trees from Hillier Nurseries.

The floor will be completely covered with plants from a variety of British growers, in colours graduating from pale (white, cream, lime green and pale pink) to warmer tones. Delicate wire structures will hang from the ceiling so they appear as though they are "floating in the air", says Elze. "It will be theatrical - a bit surreal, like a dream."

Unlike many show garden designers, who often have their plants contract-grown, Elze is more spontaneous with her plant- and flower-sourcing to keep it fresh but also because that is the way she works.

"I'm not the type to work to a recipe. I have to be excited by the material. The cut flowers that are available change so quickly - one week there could be something spectacular, the next it's gone. I prefer to buy on the spot. It will cost more but it's going to be worth it."

However, she has decided to use garden roses from Essex-based Country Roses to intricately decorate a centrepiece vase and is likely to use New Covent Garden Flower Market traders Porters Foliage and Prattleys, to whom she often goes for seasonal material.

Brazilian by birth, Elze has spent her adult years in France, Germany and England and this experience of different cultures may have informed her original concepts. Her style may also be explained by her varied career history, which has encompassed bookbinding, porcelain painting and interior design as well as garden design and floristry.

"I think this experience has shaped my taste in a particular way towards natural beauty," she says. "I like to think of a bouquet or a table decoration as a flowerbed and to avoid artificial, non-natural combinations."

As recently as 2002 Elze planned to be an interior designer, but a two-month stint at the Inchbald School of Design on a garden design course persuaded her otherwise.

"Andrew Wilson was in his last year as director there and he convinced me to carry on and study for the diploma. He was a fantastic teacher and really encouraged me, saying I was talented. It was hard work but I went onto get a distinction of which I am very proud."

When she left the college the plaudits continued and she won the garden design category of the Design & Decoration Awards, with a concept for the landscaping around a centre for traumatised children in Italy. Then her eureka moment occurred: "I had just finished at the Inchbald School of Design and was thinking of opening a garden design practice. While walking my dog, I came across a little shop, which had been closed for some time.

"I said to my husband, 'This is exactly what I am looking for - I can have a flower shop at the front and a garden design practice at the back'. His initial reaction was not very encouraging as I had no experience in running a flower shop. But I knew what I wanted and that I could not have worked for anybody else - I had my vision and I needed to follow it. From the first day it was a success. I was very lucky when I think back now."

With a design underway for a garden in Rock, Cornwall, alongside all her other projects, it appears she is becoming a victim of her success.

"It is getting a bit too much. I am organised but I can't keep doing it all. I need someone to handle the business side of things, especially the paperwork. So I can just concentrate just on coming up with concepts, which I love.

"I do not like to be pushed. I have my own speed. I know where I am going and I do not want to lose the magic."


1998 Floristry course in Paris
2001 Interior design course, KLC School of Design, London
2002 One-year diploma in garden design, Inchbald School of Design
2003 Floristry as a Career course, London
2004 Winner of the Design & Decoration Award for garden design
June 2004 Opens Zita Elze flower shop, Kew, London
March 2009 Zita Elze flower shop opens within Ginkgo Garden Centre,
Ravenscourt Park, London

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