Trading Places

Louise Johnson, Burford's Creative Director, is inspired by her most recent buying trip to Europe

I meet some interesting people in the course of our buying year. As I take an interest in all aspects of what we sell at Burford Garden Company, indoors and out, I am lucky to encounter talented characters as diverse as rose experts and artisan weavers. Burford is always seeking to work closely with producers who design and create their own work and so we have to travel far and wide to find them (hey, it's a tough job but someone has to do it!).

January is a busy buying month. It all starts when I travel with my trusty colleagues, Meike and Glen, to Europe. This year we kicked off with Stockholm, my first visit, and it's really whetted my appetite to explore the city more. It truly is a stunning place. The brief drive through the city past glorious architecture, gleaming waterways and a huge, snowy park was a treat in itself.

Then swiftly on to the 'trade' show. Oh, if only that word still conjured up those vibrant and colourful markets on the silk route with colourful characters plying their wares, friendly bartering, finding a hidden gem....... Now a trade show is situated generally in a very large, purpose built windowless grey box, functional yes but rather sterile all the same. One walks up and down endless long aisles of often similar appearing stuff, so you need to be a rapid scanner of the myriad array of shapes, colours, quality and styles to try to find that elusive product that you might like to stock. You also use plenty of shoe leather in the process and have no need to go near a gym at this time.

Back to Stockholm. We stayed in the brand new Garden Hotel, so new I felt like the first person who had used the bedroom. It was wonderfully styled, very comfortable, lovely friendly staff. I shall definitely stay there again when I return for my exploration trip!

Laden with cushions, soft sheepskins and the most gorgeous children's slipper boots, this vibrant red Packhoppen motorcycle really caught my eye.

Handmade, pebble-shaped French soaps, perfumed with glorious scents such as floral Ylang Ylang and tangy Grapefruit, made a simple yet wonderfully enticing display.

Then on to Paris, a favourite city for finding wonderful European makers. One aspect of this job I love is the multi-cultural diversity of our suppliers. We have stockists from Italy, Germany, France, Spain, Holland, Denmark, Sweden, Africa, Portugal, Thailand, Turkey and, on this trip, we bought some beautiful glass light shades that are made in Syria!

Talking to the maker he said how important it is that trade continues in his country despite the horrors going on. People still need jobs. It's very humbling to hear that in person!

We met up with our current suppliers and found some new brands, and through the year you will find these lovely things appearing in our shop and online.

Anything different or out of the ordinary, especially relating to flowers and plants, always appeals, such as this whacky floral sculpture.

These bold and bright paper maché bowls are handcrafted in Africa. Set against deep, inky black, they really stood out from the crowd.

A quick switch of focus and a trip to Germany to look at plants and gardening at a huge show in Essen. We work with a wonderful agent called Ron who organises the stock to come to us from many suppliers. He speaks perfect English, of course, though I must say I find the Dutch language the very hardest to understand, though wonderful to hear. Ron has been in the business a long time and the hardest part of the day was getting around between his frequent 'hellos' as he seemed to know all the suppliers by name.

Together with a love of beautiful products, it is the building of good and fair trading relationships that makes this job so interesting and rewarding. There are many people making many products in this world and so the trust and fairness of the 'trading' that we do is ultimately what makes us choose one supplier over another, as long as we like their products of course!!