A florist and cider maker's idyllic life in a 17th-century Sussex cottage

In an idyllic corner of Sussex, Milli Proust and Ted Dwane are pursuing their twin passions of floristry and cider making, growing their own cut flowers and apples in several meadows around their 17th-century cottage

‘Making traditional-method cider is the most elaborate thing you can do with an apple,’ explains Ted, as he shows me round the new cidery headquarters – a large barn on a nearby farm. ‘The whole process takes about three years. We use a wine press to extract the apple juice after we’ve harvested the apples in autumn. This hour-long extraction allows a lot of flavour to be leached out, leaving the harder tannins behind.’ Once the juice is in the tanks, they employ the pied de cuve method of taking yeast from ongoing successful fermentations, using it to kickstart fermentation in the freshly pressed juice. This imparts flavour and character to the finished cider. In spring, when all the tanks are fully fermented, they assemble the blend. ‘Before bottling, we initiate a new yeast starter with champagne yeast, which will run the secondary fermentation in the bottles,’ explains Ted. ‘This is what gives the cider its natural fizz.’ The cider is left to mature in the bottle for 24-36 months.

Next to Ted’s cidery is Milli’s new flower field. Having teamed up with fellow grower Paris Alma, she is expanding her business and growing more flowers so she can supply other florists as well as meet their own needs. Milli started the cut-flower business when she moved to Sussex in 2017, while she was still working part-time in London. She began to build up an Instagram following with her brilliant Windowsill Wednesday posts. Before long, friends and followers were asking her to arrange flowers for weddings and other events. ‘When the pandemic happened, it was sink or swim. I knew I had to make the flower business work,’ she says. ‘I had grown tulips for people’s weddings and, suddenly in lockdown, there were no weddings. I can remember watching all the tulips start to explode and crying in the kitchen. My grandmother was staying with us through lockdown and she came in and just held me. She was always so stoical and practical – she said people would want flowers more than ever in lockdown.’

Milli has created a cutting garden between the cottage and the meadow

Eva Nemeth

Of course, she was right, so Milli started sending out bunches of a dozen tulips through the post: ‘I did a few trial runs with my friends and then put them up on Instagram. That year, I sold every single stem that came from the garden. British flowers had a real moment in lockdown and we are still riding that wave.’ Her grandmother, a great gardener who had a passion for wildflowers, died in 2021, but she lives on in the form of a tree at the top of the meadow. ‘She wanted Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending to be played at her funeral and the larks ascended in the meadow when we planted her tree,’ says Milli.

Apart from when Ted is on tour, the couple now spend all their time in Sussex and have thrown themselves wholeheartedly into their new life. They have made the garden as sustainable as they can by putting in an elaborate rainwater harvesting system and have built what Ted calls a ‘compost palace’ to generate enough compost for the no-dig beds and for mulching the apple tree saplings. Ted keeps bees on the edge of the meadow, which help to pollinate the apple trees, and the whole place is as wildlife-friendly as possible.

Both Ted and Milli have studio spaces in outbuildings in the garden. Milli’s studio, housed in an old stable, is full of dried flowers and her own range of seeds collected from her flowers. A fabulous 1950s circus wagon, renovated by Ted’s friend Rollo Dunford Wood, has become Ted’s office and music studio. ‘Our businesses are different, but they are symbiotic,’ says Milli. ‘The new flower field is next door to the cidery, so when we are both working there, we can take Rex along with us. He’s fitting into our regime.’ Cider, flowers, bees and babies – with the occasional musical interlude. It sounds like a perfect recipe for happiness. And if they can manage to do it all without leaving this idyllic corner of West Sussex too often, they are certainly getting something right.

Alma Proust: almaproust.com | Two Orchards: twoorchards.com