Our ‘Lunch at the George’ series is about getting to know more about some of the talented people who have made contributions to the renewal of The George Hotel after its devastating fire a few years ago. The multi-talented floral designer, Tamsin Scott, whose first visit to Rye she recalls was with a mutual friend Marcus Crane of the McCully & Crane art gallery on Cinque Ports Street. When Marcus brought her to the George she was moved by seeing her favourite colour green in the Ballroom. I felt privileged to be able to learn more about the colourful life of Rye’s own internationally renowned floral designer on a grey, wet, cold spring day.
As we arrive for our lunch, Tamsin presents me with a tiny powerfully scented bouquet foraged from her garden. In medieval times, it was traditional to give friends a seasonal posy like this, a “tussie mussie”, as it was called, to ward off spirits. She likes to make her own version, gathering up wild and garden flowers, securing them with a bit of ribbon to create a modern posy with a double meaning… “We can choose to see it as a talisman” or, as she puts it: “Just a pretty thing to adorn your home on a grey day.”
Tamsin’s love of gardens and flowers began in childhood. She was first inspired by her mother who was a commissioning editor of architectural books. Exposure to her books and influence gave her an appreciation of garden design at an early age. At 17 she was sent to LA to stay with her aunt where she fell in love with California and began to create bouquets for friends with local flowers.
When she came back to England, she lived on a canal boat in London festooned with flowers. This is where her freelance life in floral artistry began. In her early 20s, as a BBC journalist, she worked together with her childhood friend, the fashion photographer Tim Walker whose work is renowned for ethereal, bloom-strewn imagery. Tamsin remembers foraging for flowers for his assignments on moonlit nights, shaking trees to release blossoms.
Before forming her own company, The Gypsy Rose, Tamsin worked with the brilliant Wild at Heart, Scarlet & Violet and Harper & Tom’s in London. Developing her team over these past ten years she has fully embraced her own personal take on creating dramatic, romantic and head-turning flowers. The Gypsy Rose, is a group of experts in historical and contemporary flora who share Scott’s imagination and passion. They work together on floral designs for big Hollywood films (everything from period dramas to Disney), for leading independent film production companies on features and TV series as well as fashion shoots, prop builds and bespoke events. Tamsin loves being on set, “mixing real and fake”, her imagination is limitless.
Tamsin still does shoots with Tim who says she is “Constance Spry to my Cecil Beaton.”
As the floral designer behind Amazon’s genre-fluid series The Great or Autumn de Wilde’s macaroon-hued film version of Emma, Tamsin sees that her job is to ensure that the on-screen flora is “narrative appropriate”. A hothouse jasmine for Jane Austen’s aspirational Emma; “over-the-top cascades of wild roses” for Elle Fanning as Catherine the Great. “I was fascinated by the class elements of each character and wanted to make sure these were right.
The Coles, who are on their way up in society in Emma, had flowers to impress; modest Miss Bates would have picked whatever was to hand.” When Emma meets eligible bachelor Frank Churchill in her glasshouse, she is flirtatiously picking sweet peas and jasmine, flowers that would be out of season for all but the well-heeled.
“Be it a drunken urn of seasonal flowers, Jane Austen greenhouses and poppy fields or a room exploding with peonies, in my book, a cornucopia of crazy colours, blousy blooms and pretty poetry rules.”
As we tuck into our lunch of the delicious George salad with king prawns and lime, I am curious to know more about how living in Rye affects Tamsin’s life and work. She tells me how she especially loved room 12 at The George as a peaceful place to stay last year while she moved with her two children from The House with Two Front Doors in Mermaid Street to renovate her new cottage and studio where she now lives and works in Rye.
“I’d been eyeing up an old cottage in Rye for a while,” says Scott. Visiting it for the first time, she clutched the estate agent’s hand. It was a thespish moment. “I wept,” she said, “because I knew that I didn’t need to go inside.” The cottage is one of the earliest bungalows in Britain – built for the gardener who tended the nearby estate. In summer her garden is “rambling, luxuriant, a little eccentric” perfumed with honeysuckle and roses. A venerable fig tree throws green shade and there is a treehouse that Scott made from salvaged wooden panelling, complete with a porthole window.
Ideas take root in her studio there, set in an old apple store, where the door opens on to views of the valley. Silk flowers wrap around beams; vintage cabinets are filled with reference books. “I use everything from vintage seed catalogues to paintings to get the details right. Wallpaper’s a good starting point. The Victorians, for instance, used rich Gothic styles. After the 1840s, they shifted to macaroon colours with silvery golds. By the 1940s flowers had become more fun – a spray of love-lies-bleeding, a curled rhubarb leaf.”
There are props too: an over scaled cotton reel turned into a table or a chicken wire swan, salvaged from a past production. Like the influential mid-century florist Constance Spry, who also worked in film, Scott is a fan of swan-shaped vases, which she says bring serenity to surfaces. “The earliest ones date from 1900 and were made by potteries such as Goebel or Hornsea. My grandmother collected them and used to name each one. There’s a Cedric in the kitchen, Maude’s on the dresser and Gertrude is in the sitting room.”
For Trust, the TV series on John Paul Getty III, Scott chose brash, 1980s blooms: “Diamond-shaped displays of clashing colours, spiky orchids, clumsy carnations. I’m actually rather fond of how bad flowers were then.”
Image Credits: Susan Benn, Tim Walker, Tamsin Scott, The George Hotel.