Bringing nature in with Willow Crossley

As part of our celebration of all things floral, we’re sharing an extract from Willow Crossley’s book Inspire – The Art of Living with Nature, in which she discusses her love for bringing nature into her home.

I am neither a florist nor an interior designer. I am just flower mad with a serious passion for decorating.

I grew up in deepest rural Wales but, if I am completely honest, my love of nature wasn’t full blown then. Although my childhood was rooted in the countryside, from an early age my outdoor life was firmly connected to homemaking. I picked wildflowers to decorate my bedroom or pressed them to become pictures. Walks were spent nose down, treasure-hunting for my museum of relics, and when I made a den with my brothers, I insisted on being chief decorator.

I can vividly remember being given a bunch of lilies on my fourteenth birthday by my friend Alex, which was quite an unusual present for a teenage girl at the time. We were both at boarding school and didn’t own a vase, so the lilies had to live in a basin. But I absolutely loved them and loitered in the bathroom, admiring their beauty. They made me feel inexplicably happy and marked the start of my love affair with flowers. I’ve never looked back, and have been without food (sometimes) to finance my habit.

When I was about fifteen, I became bored by my sleepy country horizons and longed for something glitzier and fast paced. I eventually moved to London, where life was intoxicating. I made new friends, went to university, got a job, and loved it all. But, ten years later, I began to want the calmer, prettier way of life again. This coincided perfectly with Chaz, my (now) husband, moving to a remote vineyard in the South of France, and I followed him.

We spent the next five years in rustic bliss. When not crushing grapes, I was filling trugs with lavender, trawling the local brocantes or markets for fabrics and treasures, and beachcombing. I would bring home my spoils, excited by how they turned our house into a home. I started creating still-lives and vignettes with them as a way of saving space, but finally ran out of room. It was then that I started collecting and buying with other peoples’ homes in mind. There began my interior styling and dressing business.

It’s unthinkable for me not to have flowers at home, but should there be a surface without a vase on it, I’ll put shells, fir cones, crystals, herbs, or plants there instead. Picking is easy in late spring and summer, when the hedgerows are bursting with growth, but it does become harder in the winter to rely on treasures from the countryside or garden.

In this book I want to show how natural elements—and I don’t just mean flowers—bring an affordable and accessible dimension to an interior. For natural, think the opposite of manmade: anything that has lived, evolved, or grown. I’ve divided the book into five chapters—Woodland, Flora, Fauna, Beach, and Edibles—and show how my favorite elements from these groups can be used to create an impact in many different settings. There are ideas for living rooms, bedrooms, and bathrooms; table settings for feasts and al fresco picnics; and show-stopping flower arrangements. Put simply, I hope you’ll share my view that bringing nature into your life also brings in the magic.

All photography is by Emma Mitchell and Inspire – The Art of Living with Nature is published by CICO Books