Tulip Harvesting in the Cotswolds With Lily Atherton Hanbury
The Le Monde Beryl designer is getting her kids into gardening and thinking about the digital future of fashion.
For W’s new series, “One Fun Thing,” we’re inviting creative people around the world to share an easy, relaxing activity that has brightened up their days spent at home, from Jewel’s guided meditations to the jewelry designer Jean Prounis’s recipe for rose and pistachio shortbread to the artist Marcel Dzama’s homemade coloring books. Consider it a grab bag of ideas for how to shake up your own quarantine routine.
Tulips are a surprisingly delicate flower. They have to be picked early in the morning while they are still crisp, before the sun opens them up too much, otherwise they’ll fall apart. But what happens when flowers that were otherwise destined for parties, art fairs, galleries or shops have nowhere to go? You round up your neighbors (at a safe distance) at the crack of dawn for a harvest, and then drive them to your favorite grocer.
When Lily Atherton Hanbury, the co-founder of the minimalist accessories brand Le Monde Beryl, heard that her Cotswolds neighbor, the florist Silka Rittson-Thomas, had multiple beds of tulips that needed picking, she enlisted her two kids to help out, too. What started out as a favor to a friend ended up being one of the highlights of lockdown, a way for Hanbury to get her kids involved in a fun outdoor activity and help Rittson-Thomas make sure the rare varieties of Turkish, French and Parrot tulips wouldn’t go to waste. In between homeschool sessions and swims in the river below their farm, Hanbury has also been collaborating remotely with her co-founder Katya Shyfrin and the rest of their team to reimagine the Le Monde Beryl website and the future of their digital showroom. Here, Hanbury shares the story of those early mornings in May, and her thoughts on fashion’s future.
What was the daily process of harvesting the tulips like?
The tulips have to be cut before the sun opens them up too much, otherwise they don’t last, the petals just flake off. It was also a matter of getting up before school started. Silka started at six and we got there around 6:30. Silka has magnificent, incredibly long raised beds for growing her cutting flowers for her floral business, The Tuk Tuk Flower Studio—they’re divided into different colors and they’re amazing. The kids and I stayed in one area, so we were too far away to fully gossip. But it was wonderful to be doing something productive with Silka even if we were 30 feet away. Once the flowers are cut, you take off the imperfect leaves, make sure the petals are dry and put them in tubs of water. Silka would then do the rest of the dressing and preparation and drive them to London, to the Notting Hill Fish Shop, which also sells—especially during this time—other groceries and flowers. Tulips have a brief window of life and beauty. Normally she would be doing events for galleries and for Frieze and Dover Street Market, but she wanted to do something to brighten up her community instead of letting them go to waste.
Now that tulip season is over, what’s next?
I have helped with a vendage [a wine grape harvest] in Bordeaux, which was one of the happiest and most satisfying things I’ve done. In France, it’s this really communal thing and such a fun experience. So I would love to continue to do more things like that with my kids while we have this time, even if it’s just on the weekends. I was amazed at how much my kids loved it—talking or not talking, working outside is a nice way to have company during this time.
What other activities are you getting the kids involved with?
My daughter always feeds the dogs, and then school takes up quite a big chunk of the day, for better or worse. My kids are really diligent with their home school, but that still needs some supervision and help and there’s a lot of snack-making—I’m like a formula one technician on the sidelines—until they finish around three. I try to finish all of my work in that timeframe too so that we can do something fun afterward. Then they’ve been getting involved in our own garden, which is not on the level of Silka’s garden at all, but they’ve been really enjoying making little paths and pruning some of the trees and tending to our vegetables. After the tulip picking, they’ve enjoyed really getting into that kind of stuff. We read together and go running with the dogs. (If you need a visual for that, imagine Ben Stiller in The Royal Tenenbaums.) And our favorite thing to do—before, during, and after quarantine—is to have a picnic and swim in the river below our house.
What’s your advice for someone who is planting flowers or gardening for the first time?
Have some help or do it with a friend. Nothing grows if it becomes a chore and it’s much more rewarding to do it with someone, especially children.
What are the essential tools or materials you need to get started? Any great how-to books or videos you would recommend?
A shovel, a spade, a pair of clippers and a hose. And Children and Gardens by Gertrude Jekyll is a wonderful book that I’ve had since I was a child.
What’s the most satisfying part of the process?
Eating our artichokes or strawberries. Those feel like sufficiently decadent rewards!
How has this time affected you and your team creatively?
Our whole team has worked really well together (apart) during this time. It’s given us time to pause and really think, research and develop so many exciting products, projects and ways to interact digitally. We have spent a lot of time working on our website, which will relaunch at the end of June and also include a digital showroom. We were planning on showing in Paris in June, and we didn’t want to push everything to September. Who knows what will happen for the rest of this year? But I think probably a lot of people will be rethinking the calendar and the amount that everyone has been traveling. For so many buyers, it’s a big ask to leave your partner or your family and your life and go away for a whole month and then do it again a couple of months later. I think it got to the point where it’s unsustainable environmentally and the sheer cost of the toll that it takes on people is significant. The showroom aspect will probably be something we continue, even when we have a real, live showroom again.
Are there any elements of your new routine that you want to continue even when things get back to normal?
I want to spend less time in transit—fewer planes, trains, and automobiles. But as that becomes necessary again, I guess I want to hold onto this feeling of making an adventure wherever we are, being in the present and not feeling compelled or obliged to rush somewhere else. We’ve been doing Google Art with the kids, visiting museums virtually and stuff, and it just isn’t the same. But I do think that there was such an ease to travel that’s really is obviously not good for the planet. I can’t imagine a world where we can’t travel again—that would be hard to accept, especially since my family is so far away. But I think we will think more about what’s necessary to do, and the digital is part of that.
Related: Simone Rocha Shares What’s Sprouting in Her Kitchen Garden