As featured on Flowerona 17th December
I've been meaning to write this blog for sometime, thanks to Rona Wheedon for asking me to guest on her Flowerona blog. I hope you enjoy reading it and that it strikes a chord with jobbing florists everywhere.
“I’d love to play with pretty flowers like you do, what a lovely job you have.” If I had a pound every time someone made that comment, I’d be a millionaire by now. Sadly I’m not (not yet anyhow). Pretty flowers? Yes they are. Playing with them? No I’m not. Similar comments include “Oh I’d love to be a florist, so much fun and stress free.” Despite the well-intentioned nature of these remarks, I am here to put the record straight once and for all that we florists are not ‘playing’ but rather toiling, nay grafting our derrieres off all in the name of ‘pretty’ flowers.
I admit I may have what some might think a peach of a job, but I’m not sure it’s everyone’s ideal. For those of you who think they might like to earn a living ‘playing’ with flowers, read on; this career path might not be for you after all.
I am a wedding florist. There are a lot of us out there; we don’t run shops, we just work on events. I’d like to walk you through the steps involved in just one wedding I’ve worked on this year; just to reiterate - one wedding. Multiply that by seventy, throw in a few arrangements along the way - bouquets for Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day, sympathy tributes, decorations for dinner parties and Bat mitzvahs, and you are nearing the complexity of my job. Okay, I admit, it’s not brain surgery but I’m not exactly playing either!
The hours are long but I don’t mind this as I work flexi hours that suit my family commitments, although my family may beg to differ on this point. I’ve not exactly been a queen of domesticity for some time - particularly during peak periods or, what we like to call ‘the wedding season.’ This largely excuses me from regular chores such as shopping, laundry and parents’ evenings from May through to mid-October; some may even consider this a perk of the job!
Before I get near any actual flowers, there are meetings, site visits, proposals, quotations, revisions and re-revisions of said quotes, invoices… In fact, there’s an awful lot of admin to deal with, I reckon around six hours per wedding on average. Then there’s ordering the flowers, you know, dreaming up all those beautiful flower combinations and varieties - this is probably the hardest and most critical element. Buying flowers at market involves early starts to collect them and get them back to the workshop for conditioning. Conditioning refers to removing transit packaging, stripping and trimming the stems and giving them a long drink in a bucket of water. Now multiply this relatively simple process to around thousand stems and you get the idea. I’ve had days where there’ve been so many flowers to condition I’ve finished at tea time. With this laborious task comes the state of one’s hands; let’s just say I’ve seen younger looking hands on octogenarians.
So far I’ve not actually arranged a single flower, and still there are pots, pedestals, candle sticks and containers to buy, paint, construct or hire before the actual act of arranging can begin. Probably another two or three hours of preparation on average here.
Whilst the actual arranging is the most important element, you can see it comes way down the list of things one does as a florist. Typically I allow at least one or two days to arrange a wedding. Very large weddings require more than one pair of hands: flowers are perishable commodities which means there is a short window in which to turn them around and deliver them at the point of perfection; bigger events need a team of florists. I know many who genuinely think I just rustle it all up the night before - ta dah! If only it were that simple!
Stress free you say? Ever thought how long it takes a lily to open? Those stems of tight buds you throw in the trolley during the supermarket shop that last ten days and then finally open. Event florists (like me) need our flowers to be open and at the point of blooming perfection and it may surprise some that this doesn’t happen by chance. Depending upon the time of year, some flowers will need to be bought a week ahead allowing time for them to open. For example freesias, alstromeria, roses, lilies or peonies, the list is endless. How many florists reading this have sat the night before a wedding looking at a tightly closed lily gently trying to prize it open, or placed the bucket in a warm room or in bright sunlight, or turned the hair dryer on them or spritzed them with water, or even left them all night with the light on? Yep, me too!
The big day arrives: Delivering a wedding is the culmination of metaphoric blood, sweat and sometimes tears (you would cry too if the peonies in the bride’s bouquet are still tightly shut on the morning of the wedding). Finally the flowers are displayed and at last appreciated by all.
It’s not unusual to put in a twelve or even eighteen hour day leading up to a wedding, starting at the crack of dawn the day before and finally falling into bed in the small hours the following morning. That said there is nothing more gratifying than watching the bride’s face light up when you deliver her bouquet, absolutely nothing.
Yes it can be back breaking and exhausting; yet at the same time, like any creative job, it is exhilarating and completely fulfilling to see ones ideas and creations unfold, emerge and be realised into something quite beautiful. All that effort to be appreciated and enjoyed by so many, not to mention to be part of such a momentous occasion; it is always, without exception, worth the effort.
So you think it’s all over? Not so fast! We will be required to return (sometimes at midnight), to clear, take down, wash up, repair, polish and pack away. On busy weekends we’ll do the whole wedding thing all over again the very next day. Oh, and then there’s the small matter of trying to make a living from it.
Now tell me you think I am still just playing with flowers.
Photo credit and grateful thanks to photographer Guy Collier who gamely offered to step up and (some might say), bravely offered to shadow me, capturing a few stages in the working life of a wedding florist. As always, he did a superb job.