Big skies, cosy time & the healing powers of nature | Willow Crossley
Just days before the UK went into official lockdown, British florist and writer Willow Crossley celebrated the launch of her new book, The Wild Journal. At a time of huge anxiety and with a population craving the outdoors, this beautifully illustrated, practical guide for how to harness nature and ‘mend, heal and transform our mood’ could not be more timely. To celebrate the launch we were lucky enough to catch Willow (between home-schooling her three boys and running a business) at her home in Oxfordshire and hear her tips for a more grounded life first hand.
You’ve achieved such a huge amount, as an interior designer, nature writer, author, florist, stylist and more. If you meet someone for the first time and they ask what you do, what do you say?
It’s a good question, I don’t really know! Either a florist or a floral stylist or and an author. I stopped doing interiors professionally - writing and flowers are my two real passions and this latest book brought them together.
So this book, The Wild Journal, was a particular highlight?
Yes, I really enjoyed this one. This is my fourth and the first three are very much crafty, interiors and flowers. The second one was about living with nature and it was working on the flower chapter that really concreted my love of flowers. I was spreading myself too thinly at the time, doing fashion interiors, writing, everything, and I was breaking myself. This is a bit of a pattern in my life - I push myself too far and then I break. When I had my children I suffered from very bad post-natal depression and it was the nature side of my work that really helped fix me. It was what made me feel better, so I went to my new publisher and spoke about my idea for the new book and they loved it. It is a mix of mental health, my love of nature and floristry.
Your work has evolved hugely over the years - has nature always been a part of it?
Yes, it’s always been there. I grew up in very rural Wales, surrounded by nature. My childhood was very outdoorsy - we were never inside or on screens and we were banned from watching telly so it is kind of what I have always known. Then when I hit my teens, all I wanted was pavements, friends and cities and I couldn’t bear the idea of being stuck in Wales. But I have always had very bad anxiety so city life and the fashion world, which is very competitive, wasn’t doing me any favours. Doing things for myself, in nature and at a slower pace is what really works for me. I am 37 and only now finally realising this.
As a fellow working mum, I would love to know how family changed your approach to work.
I was just starting out when I had Wolf, which was 10 years ago. I pitched my first book when he was around 1 so at the very beginning I didn’t have any huge pressure. Now the youngest is 5 and I find I am juggling on another level. I try and make it work because I want to do it, not only for the financial side of it but also because I really enjoy working. I feel guilty a lot of the time, but wouldn’t have it any other way - I need my work as a creative outlet. The challenge is the juggling and managing everything - keeping everyone happy without feeling too fraught in the process and it always feels like sacrificing one thing for another.
It sounds like home and work have always been closely intertwined - have you found the lines to be even more blurred during lockdown?
Definitely, we are all sitting round the kitchen table! I am trying to do maths lessons at the same time as doing an interview or packing off orders - it’s complete chaos. What it has made me realise is that I don’t really want to be running around the country with work, not seeing the boys - I would love to make my career work from home. Just before the lockdown I was at breaking point because I was exhausted. Normally I get January off to recuperate after Christmas, but this year I had to push myself solidly for 6 months so I was very much in need of some time to switch off.
I think this time has made me realise that this is what I love - just being around the boys as much as I can. I’m hoping I can change the way my business works to make it better in that respect.
We source single-origin teas and herbs from around the world and it never ceases to amaze us that something completely natural can provide so much flavour and variety. Is there any one thing in nature that truly amazes you?
I have got this one tulip in my garden that just appears, seemingly out of nowhere because I don’t remember planting it. It’s about 8 colours of stripes and it just sits there by itself - I have never seen anything so exquisite. I think she is called a Flaming Spring Green. I feel the same about the really stripy Dahlias as well, they’re just so magical. I go on a walk with the boys and every five minutes I make them stop and look at things.
You’ve spent a lifetime surrounded by nature and it clearly has a healing effect on you. Have you always found it to be an important part of your well-being?
I have always loved being outside, but now I crave it - I have to go for a walk and get fresh air and if I don’t it makes me really uncomfortable. For as long as I can remember I have found that if I don’t get out, I don’t sleep properly and feel very hemmed in. I also do my best thinking outside so if I’m stuck trying to write or come up with an idea, I will go for a walk and it always appears. So for me, it’s important emotionally but also for creativity.
So when you’re rushing around with work are you desperate to get back to the countryside?
Yes! I work in London all the time and I’m desperate to get back every night. I will always go at 5am and come back at midnight rather than stay and have another day there if I can help it. And when I am there for longer, I really notice the difference in air when I get back and find I can suddenly breathe again. There are big skies and trees and I really need that to function.
What tips can you give those of us living in London or other big cities for bringing a bit of nature into our daily lives?
Always find an opportunity in the day to get out. Don’t settle for a walk on a pavement, go and find your nearest green space. Start planting seeds. If you can find space for window boxes, start using them. Maybe bring some indoor herbs into your kitchen, and start cooking with herbs and drinking herbs. Pick flowers, buy flowers, arrange the flowers. You can get lovely indoor plants which are cost effective as they last for much longer. And if you do have a balcony, little terrace or garden, start looking into planting seeds. It’s a great thing to do with children as well as you can give them their own little project.
We are surrounded by devastating news at the moment, but are there any positives that you hope might come out of this situation?
I think it is hopefully going to put in perspective the things that are really important in our lives. We spend so much time fretting about things that, in the grand scheme of things, are really not important. My friends, my family, my health and all their health is all that matters and if all of those are good, life is great. We don’t need amazing clothes and lovely things, they’re just great side bits. It is sad but it often takes something horrific like this to reassess our purpose in life.
Finally I read somewhere that you and your family make time for tea every day. What type of tea is usually in your pot at that time of day?
Yes, we call it ‘cosy time’. 5 o’clock, every day. It’s always a black tea with milk and preferably cake. My eldest is really into baking at the moment so he has just made me the most delicious Victoria Sponge with cream. I have two brothers and when we go back to Wales together it is a full on event - tea, toast, cakes, biscuits... It goes on for hours!
Get your hands on a signed copy of Willow’s book The Wild Journal at willowcrossley.com or from any good booksellers.