LM Woman #15 / Ruby Barber
‘Some people, like flowers, give pleasure, just by being’, American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson once said. This phrase could not be more apt for Berlin based florist Ruby Barber. Creator of Mary Lennox with collaborator and old friend Olivia, Ruby is a multidisciplinary florist producing dramatic, unexpected and sculptural arrangements. Known for her space at The Store x Soho House, Ruby works in a distinctively forward space in the florist world. Her work is a focus of composition and colour, as she gently tames wild and unusual blooms to create highly cinematic arrangements. We met with the talented Ruby to talk about the mysterious flower community, and her life as an expatriate Australian living in Berlin.
Can you tell us a little about your business Mary Lennox, who you run with your colleague Olivia?
The business is constantly evolving and we are always looking for new ways to work with plants and flowers and collaborate across creative disciplines. Olivia and I went to high school together in Sydney and we've now worked together for 5 years here in Berlin. The operation started off as a simple bouquet delivery concept and now we rarely do any work like that. These days, the majority of our projects are consultancy and styling based but we also work on events and with private clients.
How did you choose the city of Berlin to make your home?
Berlin has been so good to me. At first, it seemed like it was going to be really complicated to make something work here, but Berlin is the type of place that rewards passionate people and new ideas. Mary Lennox started by sending a couple of bouquets out to people I admired in the city and it snowballed from there. I never could have imagined that I would be living in Germany but here I am.
How did your partnership with The Store x Soho House in Berlin come about?
It was early days for Mary Lennox - we were working out of a pretty basic studio in Lichtenberg, very rough around the edges. It all began with a studio visit from our (now) dear friend and colleague, Celia. She was working with Alex Eagle developing the The Store x Soho House Berlin and they wanted plants and flowers to be part of the DNA of the space. We worked together to develop the botanical identity for The Store then curated and cared for their jungle.
I read that you trained in both NYC and Australia, can you tell us a little about where you learnt your craft, and what initially drew you to the industry?
I started going to the flower markets with my friend for fun. In the beginning, we were just buying flowers for ourselves and our family but it ended up becoming a side business for us. I wanted to learn more so I started freelancing for other florists.
I've always liked the effect flowers have on people and I have met a lot of amazing people working in the industry. It was actually really unexpected and not very considered to become a florist but it worked and I remain captivated by plants and flowers to this day.
How would you describe your approach your craft - your arrangements are modern and untraditional in the most beautiful way.
It's all about the sourcing and produce. If you are lucky enough to find amazing flowers, the work almost does itself. I get really tired of the flowers you can buy cut at the market so we make time to visit growers and the surrounding landscape to source special unexpected elements.
What are some of your favourite blooms to work with, for beauty and for fragrance?
A locally grown garden rose for both.
Is your home full of flowers?
I have a lot of plants but the flowers usually stay at work unfortunately.
Flowers represent beauty, joy, love, fragility - can you explain your own human connection with flowers?
It's hard for me to imagine a life without flowers. They're so ingrained in everything I do and the way I see the world.
Can you describe what the flower markets are like in Berlin?
The market itself isn't very charming. There are 5 big importers from Holland so it can be quite repetitive, but it is slowly changing. We have found a lot of pleasure in sourcing flowers outside the market as well. We have visited farms all over Europe looking for new suppliers and interesting flowers.
What do you love about the flower community?
It takes a florist to truly appreciate another florist. The work that goes in behind the scenes is unfathomable to most... the hours and the physicality. You need serious drive and a sense of humour to get by.
It was the community that really encouraged me to keep going in the early days and they continue to be incredibly supportive today. I've made so many amazing friends from flowers and these days our network spans across the globe.
Melbourne florist Joost Bakker always posts hilarious stories on the eccentric flower growers he works with in Australia. Do you find yourself having unique relationships with the growers you buy from in Germany?
From my experience this is universal, people that grow plants and flowers have unrivaled charm. Some of the places we source flowers are so bizarre. I almost have too many stories to choose one to share.
We've seen 100 year old cactus greenhouses with talking birds flying free, old dutch men in clogs growing the world's biggest dinner plate dahlia, Italian families spending hours helping us find the perfect citrus branches, big business commercial rose growers in Holland. All people involved have been the perfect amount of eccentric and humble.
How do you feel about the relationship between flowers and fashion, however popular now, that has been around for centuries?
Nature is the ultimate, forever muse. I think the relationship is timeless.
How do you approach your own personal style?
I try to keep it classic.
Do you have a daily uniform?
Sneakers, jeans and a t-shirt.
What influences your work with flowers?
Collaborating with other people keeps our work fresh. Each interesting project sheds new light on our process.
Does sustainability come into play, working with flora?
Waste is the hardest part of the job. We always try to be conscious, to use and give away as many leftovers as possible!
Where are some of your favourite spots in Berlin to eat, drink and shop?
My favourite cafe, Lok6, also happens to be our neighbour. It's the best. For a drink, I like ORA which is a beautiful, old apothecary turned bar and cafe, and for shopping I can't go past the home to our plant family, The Store x Soho House Berlin.
What can we expect to see from Mary Lennox next?
We're in the process of refining our services and hopefully launching a Mary Lennox 2.0 next year.
*Photography by Becca Crawford.