It’s an enchanting small boudoir of a shop, a slim eight feet (2.4 metres) wide in a row of mostly larger medieval buildings. The location is Faversham’s Market Place, and the shop looks directly onto the 16th century Guildhall. In the modest shop window there is an old cast iron table with a weathered wooden top. Piles of books about gardens and flowers serve as pedestals for vases. An imaginative window display groups roses, Alchemilla mollis and eucalyptus with artificial flowers – currently very much in vogue – including bright pink hydrangeas and blowsy peonies. Inside the shop, there is the uniquely powerful scent of dozens of varieties of flowers, the honeyed sweetness of hyacinths tempered by the spicy sharpness of eucalyptus.
The owner of this exquisite small shop is Charlotte Couchman, who is to be found here on three busy days a week. She has been in her current premises since 2015, and before that occupied a long, narrow shop in Preston Street. Faversham born and bred, Charlotte started training as a jeweller at Kent Institute of Art and Design at Rochester. She decided jewellery wasn’t her vocation, so gave up her B Tech course after two years and went to work for Pfizer, coordinating clinical supplies for trials. In 2003 her first child, Sam, was born. Charlotte returned to work at Pfizer until the arrival of her second son, Henry, now nine.
One day, while she was putting on a DVD for Henry to watch, she says: ‘I had this Eureka moment, and decided I was going to be a florist.’ ‘It was very nice,’ says Charlotte, ‘to find out eventually at 35 what you’d like to do.’ Two years’ study at Canterbury followed and then a stall in the Market Place, next to the octagonal panelled pump. Her flowers didn’t like the prolonged cold spell in January 2012, so Charlotte looked for a shop. She was in Preston Street for three years and moved into 2b Market Place in July 2015. She knew the shop when it was a dry cleaner’s, and worked here when she was 15. Charlotte likes a challenge, so she just closed for two days. ‘Everything was soon back to normal and I had a wedding that first weekend.’
On my first visit to Lotty’s Flowers in the week that culminated in Mother’s Day – ‘a big landmark in the florist’s year,’ says Charlotte – her full-time assistant, Sophie, was unpacking deliveries from the wholesalers: pink and white roses, sunflowers, tulips and chrysanthemums in a range of colours, delicate astrantias, (masterwort or Hattie’s pincushion), clouds of gypsophila (despised until recently but now a must in many a bouquet, and known familiarly to florists, Charlotte included, as ‘gyp’) and large quantities of Chamelaucium, the elegant waxflower, an Australian native related to myrtle. Charlotte buys from local growers when she can – Mr Minter comes each week from Ash; he is currently supplying tulips.
Charlotte describes her design ethos as ‘natural but keeping up with trends.’ She is good at flowers for the big occasion – she also runs Charlotte’s Wedding Flowers – but excels equally at the affordable small posy or little clump of muscari in a pretty pot. There is a growing trend for seasonal flowers and customers say: ‘I want it to look like I’ve gathered it from the garden.’ ‘People give me things,’ says Charlotte, like the dolls’ prams that provide unusual display units, ‘or they come in and say “I’ve just chopped this out of my garden, would you like some?” ’ She finds it hard to choose, but says her all-time favourite spring flowers are ranunculus and daffodils.
As Mother’s Day draws near, the interior of the shop becomes a great bank of flowers – roses galore, anemones and tall, opulent stems of orchids. Spilling out onto the pavement, beautifully composed in square carrier bags containing Oasis foam, are ready-made arrangements in subtle spring colours – pale lilacs, purples and orangey pinks. Older recipients love these, says Charlotte: ‘You don’t have to worry about vases.’
Lotty’s Flowers is a deservedly thriving and typical small Faversham business – close to its customers and very much part of the community it serves. Long may it prosper.
2b Market Place
Text: Sarah. Photography: Lisa