Meet Nik Southern. Florist, author and all round girl boss with a love for gold rivalled only by Mr T.
After spending years working in recruitment, Nik took a brave leap into the unknown and decided to turn her passion for flowers and plants into a career. A few years later, Grace and Thorn is the go-to florist for any cool Londoner. And with a new bestselling book under her belt, we stole a few minutes of her time to chat about what inspires her, her love for nature and why she wanted to become a nun as a child.
You’re no typical florist, you give as much attention to plants as you do to flowers. What led to that decision?
It wasn’t planned really, I went from my living room to a studio, then within a year I needed a bigger space. When we finally found the shop on Hackney Road, I realised how difficult and expensive it would be stocking lots of flowers when I had no idea how many I would be selling week on week! I have always loved plants and thought they’d be a fantastic way to keep the shop looking beautiful. I realised that nobody else was really doing plants at the time, so I started looking for really nice pots to put the lovely plants in from all over Europe and it just went crazy! It was just the right thing at the right time.
You’ve achieved so much in such a relatively short amount of time. What has been your career highlight so far?
I was asked by L.K. Bennett to do their Chelsea in Bloom competition. I had to do six of their windows in Chelsea and I hadn’t done anything like that before, not even a wedding! I remember my friend saying that I was a nutter to take it on but I was determined. I took on the job and we won the People’s Choice Award in the end! Doing the Giles Deacon show was also amazing.
What inspires you the most when creating these beautiful pieces of art? Do you think about how you want the finished product to look or just let the flowers guide you?
I like to see it as doing a painting really, it's my art! you have all these flowers in so many varieties, textures and colour. I get lost in the moment when doing arrangements and want the results to be different every single time.
Do you have a favourite flower or plant?
Oooh that’s a tough one! I love cheese plants but I didn’t realise why until I found a picture of myself when I was about 10 years old sitting on my nan’s lap surrounded by 10 cheese plants! I just love them, they remind me of her. When it comes to flowers, I love mottled hydrangeas. In the autumn lots of different colours come out. I particularly love the dark purples mixed in with the reds; they are so beautiful.
Do you have a signature style? Could someone see a floral arrangement and go ‘That’s Nik!’?
Yes I’ve had that a few times. We created this amazing installation for Relais and Chateaux hotels, one of our brides saw me and said that she knew it was by us from the flowers! I think our style is very asymmetrical - our flowers always look like they’re having a bit of a rave. They’re dancing, they’re singing, they’re free, you know? You can see every flower and they’re not stifled or suffocated, we really like you to see every flower in its full glory. We also really love playing with colour.
…Flowers with attitude!
Exactly! That’s why it’s called Grace and Thorn!
What about with your personal style? How would you describe your look?
I always find it really hard to describe so I asked Virginia (Norris) and a friend what they think. They said “modern chic power dressing with an edge” and “classic British with a feminine luxe slant”! I like classic pieces but with an edge. Because of my job I have to wear quite comfortable and practical clothes, but I never want to leave the house looking boring, so I will add a little something to my outfit. I love gold so I wear lots of gold!
Now, just between us (and everybody reading this) could you tell me something about yourself that no one knows?
Oh no! When I was younger, I wanted to be a market trader or a nun! I’m from Islington and my mum would take me down chapel market and I used to love seeing the fruit and veg men. I used to say “Mum, when I’m older this is what I want to do”. And then I had an amazing nun at school called Sister Juliana and I wanted to be like her!
From wanting to be a market trader, then a nun; you’ve now found your true passion. If you could go back in time, what advice would you give to your younger self?
Stop being so nervous, stop worrying about what everyone else thinks and don’t doubt yourself. I’m a firm believer of positive affirmations. Whatever you put your mind to, if you put in enough work and effort, learn your subject and are passionate about it, you’ll get it.
It is difficult to even imagine, but where do you think you'd be if you hadn’t set up Grace & Thorn?
I’ve always been a bit of an entrepreneur; I’ve always had lots of different ideas. When I started in recruitment at 19 I used to run a tuck shop from my desk. So I definitely would have become my own boss one way or another! I’m so lucky to be doing what I love. I mean, it just goes to show you – it’s never too late!
Finally, what’s next?
We are currently working on something very exciting! We are turning the Brick Lane store into a lifestyle shop. We’re thinking of calling it Grace and Thorn Life. It’s still going to have lots of plants and flowers but also include more homeware, which I’m very excited about because I love interiors too! It will have a very botanical feel to it, think lots of dark greens, blues, palm prints and lots of gold, of course!
Nik's best selling book 'How Not To Kill Your Plants' is available for purchase here