Berlin-Lichtenberg: a quiet, residential borough of Berlin, once the center of the German Democratic Republic capital’s industrial power. Today, it’s characterized by the abundance of East German “Plattenbauten” (tall, prefabricated housing), and its verdant green spaces. It’s popular amongst families, thanks to the comparatively affordable rent and housing prices, and thus spared from the hordes of tourists throughout the city center.
It seems unlikely, then, that many expatriates are beginning to discover this borough for themselves, as they have others within Berlin. Australian-born Ruby Barber is one of them. In a quite street not far from the easternmost railway station serviced by long-distance trains, Barber has chosen to house her studio and atelier for her floral services in a small, unfinished summerhouse behind a larger building—a perhaps unlikely location for a bespoke, appointment-only floral service. She shares the space with Kentholz, a woodworker who often provides pieces for her work.
Taking its namesake from the main character in Frances Hodgson Burnett’s novel “The Secret Garden,” Mary Lennox provides clients with custom floral arrangements made of blooms sourced from local growers and markets. As luck would have it, Barber’s first studio in Sydney, Australia was located on the corner of Mary and Lennox Street.
Barber is easygoing, friendly. Her dog, Paco, welcomes you, happily wagging his tail. The space is bright and unpretentious, allowing the natural beauty of the flowers to shine. “In a similar space in some of Berlin’s more hip neighborhoods, like Kreuzberg or Neukölln, I would have had too many distractions right out the door. I thought that would be counterproductive. Here, my work is the focus, from sourcing to installation,” explains Barber. Once you enter her studio, it’s easy to tell what drew her here.
Her work has taken her around the world, with clients in Australia, the United States, and in Europe. Berlin’s position as a creative hub drew her to the city, but not without any challenges. “People in Germany have a great relationship with nature and really think a lot about how they can lower their impact on the environment,” she says. “But they haven’t yet caught on to sustainability in the floral industry. In a city where a flower shop is on every corner, it has been difficult trying to convince people that the flowers they’re purchasing are often shipped across oceans, grown in conditions that have been controversial amongst human rights groups, and are anything but sustainable. I guess, in that sense, I’m trying to make a difference.”
Waking up early in the mornings, Barber engages with growers on her search for seasonal, locally grown flowers for her arrangements. Next door to her studio, there’s an empty plot of land. “I’m talking to my landlords to see if I can turn the space into a sort of community garden. I would love to grow my own flowers to use as well.”