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Mary Lennox Flowers really are a universal language – a very positive one

Results of a study from the Netherlands in 2015 suggest that just looking at pictures of nature can reduce stress levels. So while there may be something to the images of snow-capped mountains that come standard with a new device, might we suggest looking at Ruby Barber’s floral creations instead.

“In the digital age people are hungry for things that are honest and natural,” she says. “Even with all the artificial beauty available to us, we always come back to nature. Flowers really are a universal language – a very positive one.”

Ruby is the founder of Mary Lennox, a floral styling and botanical set design studio based in Berlin. More than your average pretty posy, her creations are sculptural arrangements majestic or minimal depending on the brief at hand.

Photo by Becca Crawford

While her company is named after the heroine from the children’s novel The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett , it was coincidentally on the corner of Mary and Lennox streets in Sydney that she first opened shop. Ruby was studying Interior Architecture when she began visiting the flower market in the city to buy blooms for her own home. After several visits she began picking up flowers for friends on request, gradually starting a small delivery service.

The Secret Garden follows the story of a neglected young orphan - Mary Lennox - who lives with her uncaring uncle. She discovers a long-forgotten garden within the grounds and works to restore it to its former glory. While exploring the garden's secrets, she develops a deeper appreciation for nature and the world around her.

Her business grew organically from special occasion bouquets to flowers for weddings, but now Mary Lennox is known for its set designs at shoots for brands like Nike, Gucci, Asics in collaboration with Disney, and so on.

Photo by Becca Crawford

For most creative people, moving to another continent means a relatively easy transition when it comes to the tools of their trade: studio lights for photographers or paints for fine artists remain somewhat universal. But for Ruby, moving from Australia to Germany a few years back, it meant she had to grow familiar with a whole new palette of flowers indigenous to the area.

Travel has since become a vital part of her creative process. “It’s important to visit new landscapes and see how nature responds to different environments,” she says.

When she first moved to Berlin, Ruby reached out to people who she found inspiring. It was how she made her first friends and also how she met her first colleagues and collaborators. She has since worked with photographers, art directors, props stylists and musicians on projects ranging from experimental shoots to editorial photographs for magazines like The New Yorker.

“Collaborating has been so enriching to our design process.” she says. “It’s been invaluable to see so many different approaches and perspectives. Each collaboration lets us see flowers in a different light.” When it comes to working with others, Ruby allows the collaborative process to guide her. She sources the floral elements riffing off the confirmed props, set or location.

“I try to constantly educate myself beyond the field of floristry by following artists, chefs, designers, anthropologists and cinema that I find interesting,” she says. “I still have so much to learn about the world and I try to bring new ideas back into my design process with flowers, so hopefully it’s constantly evolving.”

It’s important to visit new landscapes and see how nature responds to different environments

Ruby waters her creativity with a compulsory ‘studio day’ once a week that’s designated for pure experimentation. “It’s a key part of the evolution of our aesthetic,” she says. “We try to evolve and stay curious.” Defined over time her personal style has come to be a meeting of classically beautiful flowers with a hint of the unexpected and modern.

Photo by Becca Crawford

Beyond flowers, Ruby has worked with a range of growing things, including styling fruits and vegetables. Due to the nature of her materials every arrangement or installation she makes is temporary. “This is something I find really relaxing,” she says. “Having a limited amount of time with each stem that passes through our care helps us to be decisive. I tend to overthink and over-evaluate my own work. I think if I didn’t have the limitations of working with natural produce, I might never complete anything.”

Fortunately, working as a stylist, Ruby’s work is photographed at its most beautiful. “I am content to have images as a record and reminder of the projects,” she says. These images make their way on her Instagram account, so others can enjoy the stress-relieving effect plants can have.

Photo by Becca Crawford

“I like to imagine that the pictures we post can have a restorative effect for people who don’t spend much time in nature. We work with bold colors in modern contexts and I think that resonates with people in the Instagram format. You only have a short moment to capture attention so we try and get as much ‘pop’ into the images as possible.”

As every project she’s involved in has its own voice, it’s important that Ruby stays intuitive. But, she does have some stylistic rules that guide her through: the flowers in her arrangements will always be in uneven numbers and you’ll never find pink and purple together.

Words by Alix-Rose Cowie.

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