Anna Potter, In Their Shoes

Friday 15 December 2023
Anna Potter, In Their Shoes

Anna Potter set up her flower shop, Swallows and Damsons, in Sheffield after studying Fine Art at Sheffield Hallam University. Her floral style is loose and poetic; choosing wonky stems and mottled branches to create wildly beautiful, natural displays. In this months edition of In Their Shoes, we chat to Anna about Dutch flower paintings, socks and sandals and roses from her Nana's garden.

How did you choose the name Swallows and Damsons?

My favourite book as a child was Swallows and Amazons. For me it was all about adventure, play and curiosity, amongst and being connected with nature. All of these things are important principles to our business which is very much focused on all things imaginative, wild and natural.

So many artists through the ages have painted flowers - from Vangoch’s Sunflowers to Hokusai’s blossoms, and from O’Keefe’s poppies to Warhol’s floating flowers. What is your favourite painting of flowers?

I recently visited the Dutch flowers exhibition at The National Gallery in London. It was such a privilege to see the Rachel Ruysch up close and in person. It was like a real life pinterest board. The dramatic lighting and subtleties in tone, the loose and wild composition of the flowers and the wonder in the hidden details of garden creatures and mini beasts are all qualities I am inspired to bring into my work.

What is your earliest memory?

I spent my childhood outdoors, and my earliest memories are from my Nana’s garden – where she used to grow many different varieties of roses which I enjoyed picking and pulping the petals into perfume. This curiosity and play with flowers and nature has been a part of me ever since.

Where and when did you see the most beautiful flowers growing wild?

There’s a large overgrown cemetery near where I live, every time I see the wild sweet peas growing around the graves it totally gets me. There’s something incredibly poetic in free, natural growth amongst death and decay.

How do you style your Salt-Waters?

Currently with thick woolly socks, Dad style.

What is your favourite season?

Autumn. There’s something incredibly sentimental about the season, scents, the crunch on the ground. My husband and I got married in autumn, my children were born in autumn. Whenever the leaves start to turn and there’s a faint smoky smell to the air these warm memories are sparked.

If you could spend the day in someone else’s shoes, whose would you choose and why?

I think I’d go for someone that lives deep in the woods in the middle of nowhere, perhaps a wood cutter or someone from a fairy tale. Somewhere where you’re so entangled with the earth, nature and the shifting seasons. Living off the land. When I’m really busy and flying around that’s where I’ll often imagine myself. A bit Hansel and Gretal or Snow White, with squirrel friends!

What are your Top 5 Tips for a day out in Sheffield?

But first Coffee ... Bragazzis or Steamyard are a must!

Followed by brunch in Marmadukes or Forge Bakehouse.

Our shop is based in The Antiques Quarter which is great for curiosities and one of a kind treasures - Sheffield Antiques Centre or The Emporium are both amazing.

A nature walk in either Sheffield’s Botanical Gardens or in the Wild Peak District.

Lastly one of Sheffield’s best bars is Public, serving the most insane cocktails underground in the old gents public toilets! There’s even our own cocktail on the menu, which is pretty special!

Your book, The Flower Fix, came out earlier this year. Tell us a bit about it.

I’m absolutely over the moon with it. India, the photographer, and I are good friends and have worked together for a long time. We’ve shot similar set ups for blogs and design websites and the book just felt like a natural progression. It’s been a real dream.

The book covers twenty-six arrangements and walks the reader through how to make them at home. Its pages include lush foliage, deep moody colour combinations and unexpected vessels that sometimes break the traditional “rules” taught in floral design. But alongside the practical is a more personal insight into my own creative process, quotes that inspire me from poetry and literature, like my antidote to the fast-paced world we live in. I’ve met so many amazing florists and creatives at the discussions and book events recently who have all been inspired differently, from slowing down, letting go of rules, trying new practices and seeing flower arranging with a different sight. I feel so honoured to be able to share my experiences and process in this way.