Showcasing nature’s beauty
Barbara Young meets designer Jenny Daft, who aims to highlight the versatility of natural elements from local hedgerows which feature at the heart of Tillow & Co’s home decorations, ideal for the festive season.
“Nature is so fundamental to our wellbeing, I think we should bring it into our lives and homes as much as we can,” so says Tillow & Co founder Jenny Daft, who has turned her passion and appreciation for the countryside into a thriving new business, producing bespoke decorative wreaths and table designs, as well as hosting a series of popular “how to” workshops.
“Our aim is to encourage people to create and connect with nature in a way which is both sustainable and as eco friendly as possible. This is our core message and sums up everything we are trying to achieve.
“We all know how happy a vase of flowers makes us feel and I believe that the process of foraging and creating your own beautiful arrangement adds so much to that experience and emotion.”
Jenny, a mother of two who lives with her husband Joe near Woodhall Spa, fulfilled a long-time dream launching her business Tillow & Co (aptly named after an old English word meaning to branch or shoot) in September this year after many months of planning.
Since then business has blossomed, with more local hands-on workshops planned for next year.
“I was diagnosed with a health condition in September 2020 and nature became really important to my wellbeing,” says Jenny.
“I found it made such a difference just to be out in nature, whether it was a walk or simply being in the garden. My diagnosis gave me the drive to create a business that would work around my family, my health and encourage others to benefit from all the magic and beauty of nature.
“It took a while to come up with ideas of how to make nature and creativity into a business, but keeping that as my focus, I gradually developed the concept for the products over several months. I then worked with local craftsmen to create my ideas and source other elements to form our first collection.”
From early childhood and encouraged by her family, Jenny, who grew up in Skegness, has always been interested in the connection between nature and the art of foraging for elements to decorate her home.
“I love being creative with nature and find it so therapeutic. Even when I was growing up, it was always my job to decorate the table for family occasions and I loved searching the garden for pretty things to use – I don’t think that’s changed as I’ve grown up but hopefully my style has improved!
“A few years ago, my sister-in-law invited me over to make a Christmas wreath from foliage she’d foraged from her garden and I found myself in my element. Over the following years, I started making wreaths for myself and then expanded to selling at local village fairs and supplying a local Christmas tree farm.
“I also had requests for spring wreaths which I designed and produced and these too proved really popular.”
Jenny says her mother taught her to sew and make clothes as a child and she enjoyed making bags and jewellery for school friends.
“I always dreamed of becoming an interior designer, but my school encouraged more formal routes of education. This led to me studying for a geography degree at the University of Durham, but with hindsight I should have pushed to follow my dreams of a more creative path. After graduation I moved to Los Angeles to work as an au pair, but following my father’s death, I returned to Lincolnshire where I met my husband.
“Eight years of marriage and two children later, Tillow & Co was born. Joe’s been so supportive and I wouldn’t have got this far without him – he’s technical and business-minded and I’m creative so it makes the perfect team.”
Jenny says being a “stay-at-home mum” while also launching a new business has been “a bit of a learning curve”.
“My children have mostly been very understanding but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to struggling to get things done. Business calls are by far the hardest when you have a very loud two-year-old demanding your attention!
“I’ve found that most of the work has to be done in the evenings, but I hope that long-term, the business will allow me flexibility to work around them and grandparents are a godsend too!”
INSPIRED BY THE SEASONS
In creating her bespoke designs, Jenny says she is inspired not only by the change in seasons, but the new materials produced by nature throughout the year too.
“The designs seem to organically form and change depending on what I find. It often takes a bit of experimenting and playing until I’m happy with ideas, but that’s all part of the fun! I also try to be really conscious of the longevity of the flowers and foliage that I find when I’m producing wreaths that people want to enjoy for as long as possible.”
As well as growing many of the natural materials she uses in her own garden, Jenny also finds ideas while out on walks around her neighbourhood.
“We’re really lucky in Lincolnshire to have access to so much lovely countryside, so it’s very easy to go for a walk and find beautiful natural materials. Hedgerows and road verges often have the biggest variety of foliage and are also often the most accessible for people to forage.
“Our gardens can have a really surprising amount of usable materials too. As the seasons change, look for evergreen foliage as this will always be the most durable for wreath making. Sometimes plants that we view as weeds can produce beautiful flowers and seed heads such as cow parsley, thistles and teasels.
“Sometimes it just takes a moment to look around and see things from a different perspective. I love gardening and have harvested and dried a large amount of seed heads from a relatively small bed to use too.”
While Jenny aims to encourage people to connect with nature, appreciate its beauty and value its worth, she is also conscious of making every effort to minimise any impact on the natural world.
“As a general rule I’d say be very mindful not to wander on to private land. Stick to public footbaths and verges and be respectful about what and how much you take. Thankfully, the best materials for wreath making are often some of the most abundant; leylandii, pine, yew and ivy can create a beautiful festive wreath base.
“Foliage for spring wreaths can be more difficult as so much of the growth at this time of year is fresh and young and won’t last long once cut; buxus and leylandii are good staples and I like to use bulbs and small plug plants wrapped in the moss base so they grow and bloom on the wreath.
“The Woodland Trust also has a helpful article on their site about the dos and don’ts of foraging wild spaces.”
Tillow & Co’s workshops take place in and around Woodhall Spa, including at Self.uk, a new boutique which recently opened on The Broadway, and Stixwould village hall.
Depending on the intricacy and size of the design, it can take between one and three hours to make a traditional wreath. Jenny says everyone is welcome to attend her workshops, even if you have never attempted to create a wreath or table decoration before.
“Our workshops are open to anyone and I make sure they’re relaxed and friendly and always want everyone to feel welcome.
“Nature is wonderfully forgiving to work with. It is perfectly imperfect so there will never be two pieces the same, but they will always be beautiful and I find this so reassuring when I’m creating and teaching.
“The technique for wreath making is simple and accessible and they can be easily tweaked and changed during the process, so I’d never want anyone to feel that they wouldn’t be able to produce something lovely.
“We keep our course numbers small with a maximum of six people to allow for a more personal experience. Our seasonal wreath workshops offer people the chance to create a unique wreath using a large selection of foliage and natural decorations, such as dried seed heads and feathers.
“I always aim to make sure everyone has the knowledge and materials to make a completely personal wreath, so no two look the same and everyone has the opportunity to express their own creativity.
“During our workshops we emphasise the use of sustainable, local and seasonal materials and show just how wonderful they are to work with. You will never find plastic or artificial foliage and flowers in our products or workshops and we hope to demonstrate that there is no need for them as nature is beautiful in its original and natural form.
“I’ve been overwhelmed by the response to our workshops and the positive feedback since we launched. People seem to have really embraced our story and aims, and I’m so grateful for this.”
HOME DESIGN RANGE
Jenny has also recently launched an exclusive new range of tableware decorations and products, of which she is justly proud.
“Nature is magic and we want to encourage everyone to bring it inside in any way you can.
“Our first collection of products has been designed and chosen to connect you with nature and showcase its beauty within your home. Our table centrepieces are at the heart of this collection and have been designed to enable you to decorate with nature and can be changed and updated with the seasons.”
Due to popular demand, there are plans for further workshops next year.
“We will be expanding on our Christmas Wreath workshops with more seasonal wreath workshops throughout the New Year. We will also be running table centrepiece workshops based around our products and creating beautiful seasonal tablescapes.
“Our winter collection focuses on bringing nature inside, but as the seasons change, the spring collection will embrace creating and connecting with nature in outdoor settings.
“I have a notebook full of ideas and plans for the future which I’m excited to share as our business grows. I’m determined to run a business that is environmentally conscious, and hope that as the business develops I’m able to take more steps to ensure we are as environmentally friendly as possible.
“We hope that by encouraging others to connect with nature and find places for it within their homes, that they become more in tune with this connection and as a result value and respect it more.
“Lockdown has really enlightened people to the benefits of slowing down, enjoying nature and prioritising their wellbeing. Creating with nature is a wonderful way to incorporate these benefits into your lifestyle and the hope is that we can encourage people to do so.”
For more information visit www.tillowandco.com
MAKING A DECORATIVE WREATH
• To make your own Christmas wreath you will need one wreath ring, secateurs, wire cutters, florist wire, moss, a variety of evergreen seasonal foliage and decorations such as pine cones, seed heads, feathers and ribbon.
• Attach the wire to the wreath ring and begin securing handfuls of moss by tightly wrapping the wire around the moss and continue all the way around the ring to form a base.
• Group together several different stems of foliage to create bundles and secure them to the wreath base by tightly wrapping the wire around. Make sure to overlap them as you go to avoid gaps.
• Continue this process until all the moss is covered and you have created an even and full shape.
• Choose which decorations you would like to use and place them on top of the wreath – play around with spacing and styling until you are happy with the design.
• Secure florist wire to your decorations and attach to the wreath by wrapping around the sturdy foliage stems, or the base depending on the weight of the decoration. Feathers and seed heads can simply be pushed into place through a wire loop already on the wreath.
• Don’t allow the moss base to dry out by regularly watering and enjoy your beautiful wreath for four to five weeks.
Photographs: Luka Photography