From time to time I receive emails from people who remind me of myself. People who love gardening and/or flowers, who dream of leaving their current jobs behind, and plunging themselves into a new career in growing or floristry. When I do farmers’ markets and customers coo over my stall and stay for a chat, the comment:
“Ooh, how lovely to do flowers for a living”
often comes up, along with:
“It must be so relaxing – I’m so jealous”.
OK – I am lucky. I do love my job. But ‘relaxing’ isn’t a term I’d use to describe it.
I’ve got a very supportive family who will put up with me taking over the house with what we bluntly term “floristry crap”, and a forbearing husband who was prepared to carry the financial can until my business found its feet. The latter was important to me as I am not, by nature, a financial risk taker, and I’ve also been brought up with a strong dose of the protestant work ethic (thanks Mum…) so feel deeply that I have to contribute to the family economy in material, practical and emotional ways, and it bothers me when I can’t do all of these. Becoming self-employed certainly gave me the flexibility to fulfil the latter two criteria – to adapt to the kids needs as they made that tricky transition to secondary school, help with exam revision, and to ferry off the eldest off to the back of beyond at sparrow fart to milk cows every week as he followed his dream of getting into farming. But it can take a long time to get any business off the ground from a standing start, and it was only in my third year that I felt that things were really starting to change, and when people started to seek me out. It was only in the fifth year that I made anything approaching a salary.
Working in floristry is not, generally, a big money spinner. If you want to make a financial killing, I’m sure there must be much more effective ways to do so. If earning a good salary is an important part of your self esteem, or a financial imperative for your situation, I’d say that it is probably best to look elsewhere for a career or business idea – even if it doesn’t earn more money, it might take up less of your time and headspace – and this too can be important.
But working with flowers IS fulfilling and I count myself deeply lucky that I’ve been able to do it and to find a way to make it work for me. However, I don’t float around in a flowing frock and bonnet with a trug over my arm. I’ve got callouses on my callouses, permanently compost stained hands, and life is far from stress free. Especially in a year like this one, when winter seemed to drag inexorably on through spring and I despaired that anything would ever grow. Where I’d normally be ripping out an invasion of forgetmenots from the flower borders in April, this year I was reduced to covering them with cloches and begging even a single one of them to flower in time for a blue themed spring wedding. I got three flowers I think! This frozen state of affairs probably lasted for about three months, but it felt like forever. And I could do nothing to change it except to source the flowers I needed from the extended network of British growers which I’ve developed over the past few years to ensure that I can always find supplementary blooms. Relaxing it was not.
And then the sun arrived. What joy. At first. The months grew hotter, and hotter and hotter. By the time June arrived, I was desperate for rain – but nothing…. and I began to despair yet again, as the garden turned brown and crisp. Even if things did grow, it was touch and go how well they would fare once cut in temperatures of over 30 degrees. It was a deeply stressful first half of the year.
A friend of mine, last weekend, did the flowers for her daughter’s wedding, and, as I’m taking a few weeks off to recuperate from a foot operation, I told her to take whatever she needed from my cutting patch, as she has always been very generous in letting me pick from her garden. Whenever we chatted in the run up to the wedding, she’d exclaim
“I don’t know how you do it – my nerves are in shreds! The slugs! The winds! The weather!”
Then, just to send her to the very edge of a nervous breakdown, the allotment site which houses my own cutting patch and her plot, was hit by early frost just days before the wedding. Luckily this struck only a glancing blow and the dahlias squeaked through, pretty unscathed. When I told her I’d done 19 weddings this year, she looked at me with fresh respect and confessed
“I keep waking up with a jolt in middle of the night, thinking about the flowers, in a cold sweat”
to which I responded with a knowing chuckle. Welcome to my world.
All this has set me to thinking. A plethora of amazing workshops abound for would-be career changers and these are fabulous opportunities to try your hand at gorgeous floristry. For me, a floral workshop is almost like a quasi-religious retreat – a chance to get away from the day to day and do something truly lovely with the feast of ingredients served up to participants on a plate. But the pros running that workshop have ‘magically’ made those lovely ingredients appear for your delight and delectation – they’ve done the hard yards of thinking about what to use, sourcing the ingredients, collecting them, stripping and sorting them out, counting stems and working out quantities of this, that and the other …. participants just get the dreamy bit of floristry which IS lovely and creative, and which IS (or can be) relaxing.
So I’ve decided to offer something new to give would-be florists a truer reflection of the grittier day-to-day reality and not just ‘the dream’. A 2:1 Florist Boot Camp session – an early morning, 9 hour introduction to floristry, where you get the chance to see what the job is really like. From picking at the plot/visiting the wholesale flower market just after dawn (or in winter, just before), working out stem counts, preparing all your flowers, and finally, only then, doing the ‘lovely bit’ of making arrangements. Still interesting, informative and providing the chance to make some gorgeous arrangements but NOT relaxing unless you are by nature a non-reluctant early morning person who loves to get their hands dirty! But a pretty fair taster of what life is like at Tuckshop Flowers.
If you’d like more information about my Florist Boot Camp sessions, please email me.