16 slightly random questions to ask a florist

When a friend of mine asked me if I would answer some questions about myself for an article she was writing I thought “erm… might I introduce you to my business partner, Alan…?!” for you see I am not terribly keen on talking about myself.
However, she persevered and threatened to infect my precious garden roses with aphids if I didn’t comply, so under duress, I agreed.

And I have to say I got a lot out of answering the questions! In fact, they gave me space to think about some really big questions, like: “How did I end up as a florist?” and “What is it all about anyway?” I also couldn’t help but wonder: “Would she really be so mean as to ruin my beautiful roses?”

You see, even when you love your job like I do, and have worked hard to ensure the team you work with are happy and engaged, and even when you are surrounded by beautiful flowers in sumptuous settings, you can still feel, sometimes, that things are passing by too quickly and you may want to stop and take stock. I can think of two significant occasions when I’ve really needed to do this: once when I realised that I’d been a florist for over half of my life, and the second when I turned 40 earlier this year.

The “interview” is below, I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed taking part!

1. Where did you grow up?

Surrey, but I guess I really grew up when I went to live in South East London at age 19.

2. What’s the earliest thing you can remember?

As all good mums did with their babies in the 1970’s, my mum would often plonk me in my pram and leave me in the garden whilst she got on with yoga, or making a pineapple upside down cake… okay, I can’t really remember that bit but I can vividly remember looking up at cherry blossom. Our road in Ewell was lined with the most glorious cherry trees which were full of stunning puffy, pink petals that, a few weeks later would cover the street in beautiful pink snow-like confetti.
I have a tendency now to place my children under random cherry blossom trees every April just to ensure they have similar memories!

3. How much do you think your childhood influences your work:

As a child, I would always draw and paint flowers and I look for ways to show the patterns and shapes in flowers and leaves now, as then. I will always have a soft spot for begonia and cyclamen leaves.

My grandmother loved sweet peas and would display her home grown flowers in her house every summer. The organic mix of so many colours and varied heights always fascinated me. This memory has taught me that flowers, like the sea, cannot, and should, not be controlled too much.

4. What’s the weirdest place you’ve sought inspiration from:

Well! I am often travelling on the train and as a result, I been known to find a lot of inspiration from the verges on railway tracks. Also, as a car passenger travelling on the most boring of motorways I can let my mind wonder and come up with quite a few creative ideas.

5. What formal education do you have?

I have a Ist class BA hons in Communications and Animation from Goldsmiths however, the past 20 years working in the industry has been my biggest lesson!

6. What’s the wisest thing anyone has ever told you?

You’ve got to give yourself a chance to get lucky.

7. As they grow older, what do you think your children will ask you to tell stories about?

I think they’ll ask me about the time I arranged flowers for the Queen’s lunch table. It was very long and very grand! And I expect they’ll ask me about all the different weird and wonderful places Hybrid have been to in London.

Even now, I play a game with my daughter where we look at a sketch map of London that hangs on our toilet wall, and she points to a random location and I have to tell her an interesting fact or story to do with that area.

8. When did something start out badly for you but in the end, it was great?

That’s easy, it was for the first ever hand-tied bouquet I ever made for the first florist I worked for. I had only made a few beforehand and as I was making it I thought ‘Oh my this is going horribly wrong they are going to see straight through me and my lack of experience will be uncovered!’. But for some reason I kept going and realised that perseverance can take you quite a long way and actually I was alright at this flowery stuff!…

9. Which flower will always be in fashion, no matter how much time passes?

Roses: the whole world has spent thousands of years growing them. Just don’t let my friend near them.

10. Which is the most unusual brief you’ve ever been asked to fill?

Flowers to be given on stage at The Royal Albert Hall to a whole host of amazing female celebrities who took part in The Vagina Monologues in the early noughties. The flowers had to be very themed, descriptive and very striking! I was wincing when I was making them.

11. What are you interested in that most people aren’t?

Vans and trucks.

12. What’s the most expensive thing you’ve broken?

Our first van.

13. What do you think you are much better at than you actually are?

Axe Throwing (ask the rest of our team, this was the first part of our Christmas party last year and I was THE worst).

14. Do you think that aliens exist?

Not in the slightest.

15. What movie, picture, or video always makes you laugh no matter how often you watch it?

Am afraid it has to be the bar scene from Only Fools and Horses and the sick caterpillar scene in CBeebie’s ‘Hey Duggee’.

16. What’s the funniest joke you know by heart?

What do you get hanging from trees?…

Sore arms.

The people behind British Flowers Week

It seems like only yesterday that the wonderful people behind British Flowers Week, New Covent Garden Flower Market (known simply as ‘The Market’ to those of us in the biz), asked a select few of their top florist clients to choose a key British flower and create 3 distinct designs around it.

It was a genuine honour and privilege to be one of the chosen florists of 2014, and we haven’t stopped harping on about it since! You see, The Market asked just five of their finest and gave us a whole host of amazing British flowers to choose from.

Their aim?

To showcase great British flowers through great British floristry.

Our choice of British flower came easily: the Sweet William. I agree it’s not the most obvious choice, but we like to be a little different at Hybrid, and the Sweet William is a flower for which our Alan has real soft spot. In fact, the amazing Sweet William is used regularly by Hybrid in all three areas of our work: events, weekly corporate designs and weddings.  Click here to see what we did with the designs.

Now in its sixth year, for floral designers, growers, florists, flower arrangers and customers alike, British Flowers Week is becoming the highlight of the floral year (yes indeed… move over Chelsea….).

So we decided to take a look at how much this amazing floral calendar event has developed over the last few years and asked the brilliant Claire Levi, Communications Executive for New Covent Garden Market Authority to tell us how it all came about.

How was British Flowers Week born?

Here at the Flower Market at New Covent Garden Market, we’ve traded in British grown flowers and foliage for centuries. Up until the 1970s, the only flowers you saw came from flower farmers in Britain. Today, most of the flowers we see used in the floristry industry or for sale in your high street flower shop will have been grown by large scale commercial growers and routed through the Dutch auctions.

We wanted to promote and give visibility to these British flowers, their sellers, growers, and the independent florists championing locally-grown. Although beautiful British flowers are available all year round, we wanted to take one week to focus all our attentions on promoting them, generating interest and press coverage to boost the British flower industry.

Was it solely a Flower Market idea?

The initial idea was solely a Flower Market idea, but the campaign would never have been possible without the support of the entire floral industry.

How has it changed over the last 5 years?

What started as a relatively small project has grown from strength to strength – I think we never really expected how big the campaign would become! – Although our aims have stayed the same.

Over the year’s 25 florists (including yourselves) have created stunning designs using British flowers and foliage that we shared with the press, on our website and across social media as the cornerstone of the campaign. This year, we’ve changed things up a bit, with six florists creating all British floral installations that will be on display at the Garden Museum throughout the week for people to visit.

Social media use has increased so much over the last five years too, that the hashtag #BritishFlowersWeek has grown and grown, with more people getting behind the campaign online. In 2015, I created the website www.britishflowersweek.com too, to act as an online hub for the week.

More florists and growers are holding events up and down the country to celebrate the week too, particularly members of the Flowers from the Farm network who do amazing work in promoting locally grown flowers.

What is the aim for British Flowers week?

We aim to:

  • Showcase great British flowers through great British floristry
  • Raise awareness of which British flowers are in season when
  • Encourage the public to buy more British flowers

Any key people involved in British Flowers week that you couldn’t do without?

There’s so many people who’ve made British Flowers Week what it is today! As I mentioned, Flowers from the Farm are hugely important in promoting British Flowers Week through their network across the UK. The British Florist Association are also great partners in sharing the campaign with their members. They’ve also created some great free posters for florists to use, and the lovely team at The Paper Studio have been providing free posters and gift tags to florists for years.

The whole team at the market, and friends of the market like Rona Wheeldon of Flowerona provide invaluable support too and Liz Anderson was vital in helping with PR in the early years of the campaign.

Ultimately though, British Flowers Week wouldn’t be such a success without florists, like yourselves, who’ve given up their time and effort to support the campaign and continue to advocate for British flowers, wholesalers and growers. We’re hugely grateful to everyone who makes time to support the campaign.

Many thanks to Flowerona, Julian Winslow and New Covent Garden Flower Market for images 

The top 5 Ultra Violet flowers inspired by Pantone’s Colour of the Year 2018

As a florist with a degree in Communications, there is nothing I enjoy more than interpreting a client’s brief using flowers to convey their message, and I believe that the right combination of flowers in a design can send a powerful and long-lasting message to all those who view it. Put another way: flora themed design can be used to strengthen a brand, create an atmosphere, and enhance an identity.

When used in a stunning display, flowers have the power the unleash forgotten memories and create associations and may cause the onlooker to actually feel different. For example, vibrant orange and pink can make you feel a bit wild, happy and adventurous, whilst that same orange with whites and fresh greens will create a more chilled out vibe, reminiscent of summer days.

We often ask clients to give us three key words to describe the ‘message’ they want to convey. We have received all manner of adjectives from ‘sharp’, ‘professional’ and ‘dynamic’ to ‘glamorous’, ‘sexy’ and ‘shocking’. To our design team these three words are the key to unlocking inspiration, permitting us to unleash our creative edge to ensure the flowers we chose are the most effective at conveying this message.

Every year, Pantone, a company based in New Jersey most commonly known for providing a system for matching colours, releases their colour of the year. For 2018, this colour is Ultra Violet. At Hybrid, we eagerly await news of each year’s colour and spend a lot of time discussing which flowers will best match whichever colour it is.

No surprise then that we have always preferred the more florally inspired years:

2014’s Radiant Orchid was blooming ‘with confidence and magical warmth that intrigues the eye and sparks the imagination’ and gave us scope to develop designs with warm deep pink tones.

2017’s Greenery was a ‘refreshing and revitalising shade… symbolic of new beginnings’ and was perfect for so many foliage inspired designs.

However, this year’s Ultra Violet is without doubt, our all-time favourite!  Violet has the power to anchor and give depth to so many other colours and flower combinations. Whenever a brief dictates ‘vibrant, bold and strong’, we think: violet. Right now, spring and summer give us perfect blooms in ultra violet tones.  Violet is a bold and brazen colour and can be used to create the most amazing statement designs, it can also make colours placed next to it come alive.

Ultra Violet is so important that we feel it warrants further praise and reverence, we asked our friend and colour mentor, Applied Colour Psychology practitioner Karen Haller for her view on this colour:

The ultra-violet ray is the last colour before the invisible and reflects stepping into the unknown. It’s the ideal hue to reflect taking a leap of faith and connecting to our inner self, our intuition and taking our self-awareness beyond our current thinking.

The colour’s vibrant namesake, the violet flower, also brings great joy as it is one of the first flowers to appear each year. This little woodland bloom heralds the start of spring with its deep intense colour, its surely one of the most audacious in the natural world with it’s sensual tone hinting at drama and intrigue.

Aside from the valiant yet petite Violet, here are our top five Ultra Violet flowers:

  1. Anemone

Anemone is a spring bloom of an intense deep purple with a black face.  Although its sold to us as being “blue”, we are buying it for its glorious violet colour.

Tip: their soft, long, delicate stems work beautifully in vases of fresh water on their own or as part of a collection, but don’t try and use them in floral foam if you are making over 15 table designs as your team will never forgive you!

Best mixed with: orange roses and cherry coloured ranunculus.

  1. Flag Iris

These shapely tall flowers stand head and shoulders above their smaller cousin, the ‘common or garden’ Iris.  The violet coloured varieties are particularly dramatic and their striking silhouette is simply stunning.

Tip:  don’t cut these stems too short as they are born to be tall, dramatic and glamorous.  Arrange them simply in a beautiful vase with their spear like leaves as the only foliage.

Best mixed with: nothing! Simply place them in front of a plain backdrop to really promote and show-off their shape.

  1. Hydrangeas

As summer arrives, we seek out the violet version of this amazing bloom, each individual vivid floret creates the most striking domed shape.

Tip: these large rounded domes of violet add weight and depth to most floral designs. Use them as a base shape to enhance other stunning summer flowers.

Best mixed with: a blown open cerise coloured peony, or alternatively use bundles of violet hydrangeas in modern vases set amongst matching vases of bold shapely flowers to create impressive colour blocks of flowers.

  1. Vanda Orchid

The assortment of violet tones available from vanda orchid growers is breathtaking.  These striking blooms look amazing under a spotlight at events and their reliable long lasting vase life means they are perfect for weekly vase designs in both offices, restaurants and hotels.

Tip: stems of Vanda orchids can be arranged beautifully at the mouth of tall vases and their individual heads can be removed from the stems and submerged in water, placed into individual tubes of water and strung into tall branches.

  1. Delphinium

Each floret of the vibrant purple delphinium has the most amazing violet tones. Packed together, their impact can be phenomenal! This delphinium is probably one of the most striking flowers available to florists and is one of the tallest flowers around in British gardens at summer time.

Tip: use these beautiful stems to make massive fan shapes of colour in large containers atop striking plinth pedestals.  They look equally stunning in modern glassware in high end modern architectural spaces as they do in traditional stone urns placed in within landscaped gardens at summer soirees.

We hope that you will be inspired by the flowers we have showcased here and that if you are looking for a display that is eye-catching, sensuous and bold you remember these Ultra-Violet heroes, especially if the message you’re looking to convey is one that is punchy, deep and mesmorising!

BTW the most uninspiring Pantone colours of the year were for us Turquoise, Emerald and Marsala. A turquoise coloured flower? Anyone?

The two flowers that make a florist’s life worth living over the winter months: Part Two

As florists buying from London’s biggest flower market, at Hybrid, we know for certain when winter is on its way when we spot the Dutch flower trollies neatly stacked with slim, yet surprisingly heavy, rectangular boxes full of an indispensable floral hero.

Like children opening long-awaited-for presents, we feel a genuine sense of anticipation and awe as we lift the cardboard lid to one of these boxes. Similar to a box of toy soldiers from another era, we are met with rows of individual stems: fresh green, chunky, and topped with full-to-bursting buds of giant flowers resting on pillows of foam. And we rejoice! Our beloved amaryllis has returned!

Without a shadow of doubt, the amaryllis is up there as one of the top two “Florist’s Life-Saving Winter Flowers” (and yes, that is a Thing). We looked at its partner, the cymbidium, in an earlier post, but for this piece, my aim is to create within you the same sense of wonder, respect and admiration that we feel towards the amaryllis. I shudder to think where we would be at winter time without these beautiful, powerful blooms.

Funny How Flowers Do That

To create something spectacular, you need the best, most versatile materials you can find and the amaryllis come up trumps here, giving us the option to use their amazing height and presence to create real impact. We have positioned them in giant fan-shaped vases for high-end hotel lobbies and bound together in ‘wands’ to look like a giant lollipop, which is perfect for corporate reception areas.

Their magnificently bold open blooms look fabulous used completely on their own or when placed alongside other winter and spring flowers set into all manner of simple or striking vases and vessels.

amaryllisinfo.eu

With colours ranging from the purest of whites to the most shocking of candy pinks, with oranges, peaches, reds and almost-blacks, in between, the amaryllis ticks all the boxes.

Marrewijk Amaryllis

As with the cymbidium, in our view, the best amaryllis are cultivated over the water in Holland. Our Dutch friends, Lisa and Arno van Marrewijk have run a family business growing amaryllis since 1994. Despite being growers of the most beautiful varieties of amaryllis, they like to keep the company small so Arno can remain in his beloved greenhouses and not be confined to the office. Lisa also works with amaryllisinfo.eu to promote amaryllis growers in the Netherlands. Together with their three daughters they maintain an inspiring Instagram account: @marrewijk_amaryllis
I asked them a few questions:

Why do we think of amaryllis as a winter flower?

Years ago, most amaryllis were produced in November and December because the flowers were only used at Christmas time.

An amaryllis bulb will stay in our glasshouses for the whole year and, a bit like tulips in the garden, bulbs will only flower when they have been kept for two months at a temperature below 15 degrees. One bulb can grow two or three stems within a year, so we have 6 sections in the greenhouse, each with a different cooling temperature. This enables us to produce amaryllis from September until March.

Just how popular are amaryllis in Holland?

They are popular, but there are still people who don’t know what an amaryllis is! I tell them about the bulb with big flowers at Christmas time in their grandmother’s house. But I really think that their unique selling point is that when you buy them they are completely in bud, and then they change every day and almost quite magically, become vibrant and beautiful.

Perhaps the boldest of all the amaryllis is the red variety but the wealth of colour variation for this flower is truly spectacular. Lisa van Marrewijk loves all varieties of amaryllis, but whenever a new variety is produced it goes to the top of ratings.

In my house I always cut the stems short and arrange them with some foliage from the garden, but in churches and hotels they should be tall to create impact! Amaryllis will open sooner in a warm environment and so to keep them lasting longer, place them in fresh, clean water. Every time you change the water, re -cut the stems.

At Hybrid, it has to be said that the amaryllis can inspire some quite eccentric behaviour in our florists, who may otherwise, on the whole, be quite normal (although who wants to be normal!). Our Creative Director, Alan, adores the satisfying echoey-crunchy sound made when an amaryllis’s hollow stem is cut. I find that painstakingly picking each individual fresh anther from the opening flower bud is just too irresistible (I like to get them just before their pollen turns yellow and dusty!).

However, the effect the flower has on us at Hybrid is nothing in comparison to the Greek myth which tells the story of the amaryllis’s creation! Our resident Greek florist, the gorgeous Sofia, loves to tell the tale of how the amaryllis came to be:

In Greece, the amaryllis symbolizes pride, determination and glamorous beauty.

The story goes that a beautiful maiden, Amaryllis, fell in love with a shepherd called Alteo. Alteo was as beautiful as Apollo, and mighty as Hercules and he had a passion for flowers. He insisted he would only fall in love with a girl who could bring to him a new type of a flower, one that he had never set his eyes on before. Amaryllis was determined to bag Alteo for herself (and wouldn’t you be with those attributes?) and so she turned to the great Oracle of Delphi for advice.

The Oracle told Amaryllis that in order to win Alteo‘s heart, she must wear a white dress and sacrifice her own blood for him. Amaryllis stood in front of Alteo’s house for thirty nights piercing her own heart with a golden arrow (they did things differently in those days – no I guess we’d just right-swipe?). The drops from Amaryllis’s heart fell into the soil and on the thirtieth day, a crimson flower grew where the blood had fallen. In return for this horrific, and no doubt painful, sacrifice, Alteo fell in love with Amaryllis. And maybe they all lived happily ever after!

At Hybrid, we want you too to rejoice in the beauty of the amaryllis and appreciate all the possibilities it has to offer. You won’t need to sacrifice your blood either, amaryllis bulbs can be bought from most reputable florists and garden centres now.

Hybrid Top Tip

As corporate and event florists, often, we want amaryllis to open up as quickly as possible. Key to achieving this is room temperature and we abide by a tip from one of our, now retired, flower market trader friends, who started his career in the original Covent Garden flower market as a barrow boy back in the seventies:

  1. Turn the flower upside down and cut the end of the stems
  2. Fill the hollow stems with warm water
  3. Seal the stem with cotton wool
  4. Quickly turn the flower back upright and place in more warm water
  5. Leave to open in a warm room

Trust us: it works!

With thanks to our friends, the wonderful Marrewijk Amaryllis, amaryllisinfo.eu and Funny How Flowers Do That.

The two flowers that make a florist’s life worth living over the winter months: Part One

A while back, as a welcome break from short, dark, drizzly autumn days the team at Hybrid were given a special treat in the form of an evening at the stunning Royal Observatory Greenwich, where we were lucky enough to be taking part in a venue showcase. We were greeted with the perfect autumnal evening and a magical, starry atmosphere in a truly amazing setting.

It was one of those happy, sociable nights that just fly by and we were so delighted simply to be there, amongst such inspiring people and industry experts (although I suspect the canapes, which tasted sublime, and free-flowing drinks from Party Ingredients contributed!). We found ourselves immersed in conversation with other guests, discussing the merits of London over New York, the trials and tribulations of event photography and loft living in Wapping.  However, the one discussion that really got me thinking was about, wait for it…. flowers!  Specifically:

Which flowers capture the very essence of winter?

We all know that, nowadays, you can get your hands on practically any form of fresh produce, regardless of season. That makes our lives as florists easier and gives us far more creative choice with design. There are nearly as many different varieties of rose available in January as there are in June and you can easily buy dianthus or hydrangeas in your local co-op in March! Nevertheless, I felt the need to dig deeper. Maybe it’s the purist in me. That or the maniacal new-age hipster in search of the perfect sour dough starter. For me, the quandary I wanted to solve was:

Which flowers would completely mess with a florist’s life if they weren’t readily available during winter?

After much thought and more than a little pestering of our Contract and Event Designers from me, the Hybrid consensus of opinion was thus:

There are only two truly magical, wintry varieties that qualify: the cymbidium orchid and the amaryllis.

In this blog I’ll be looking at the cymbidium, a wonderful, fascinating and infinitely adaptable orchid that we never tire of due to its amazing versatility and variety. Hybrid have the privilege of working with some amazing cymbidium suppliers in Holland and their knowledge of this plant is second to none.

Sandra, husband Leo and team have been growing cymbidiums for eighteen years.  They produce some of the highest quality orchids under the brand of Cy More Flavour. Their obsession with the variety knows no bounds.

The longer you work with them the more you love them. When you look at any variety closely you’ll find out that every one of them have beautiful details.

The cymbidium plant originates from Asia and each variety flowers once per year, but we wanted to know why they are a winter flower:

Originally, it is thought of as an autumn/winter product because that’s the time that most of the varieties bloom from origin. It depends on the genes of the variety to which month that is, but a variety that blooms in November from origin is not suitable to bloom in April or May.

The sheer variety of cymbidium is vast, each with unique patterning and colour tones. The name Cy More Flavour reflects the idea: ‘See More Colour’. The food mentioned in the flower’s name represents its colour, with coconut for white, cherry for red and caramel for the brown and oranges.

Andrea Dutton

All these colours give us the most amazing palettes to work with. At Christmas time the green and red tones are very popular, and in autumn the copper and brown colored varieties perfectly represent the season.  And for a winter wedding white is wonderful.

It can be used in so many different styles, in classic arrangements as well as contemporary and every style in between.

Hybrid have used these magnificent flowers in all manner of ways, for example:

  • Showcasing their tall towering stems in event pedestal designs
  • Creating wide fanned shaped designs for tall table centres in hotel ballrooms
  • Submerging the whole stems in clear cylinder vases for weekly corporate reception designs
  • Arranging individual stems into clusters of modern vases to fill luxury, contemporary spaces
  • Hanging them upside down from ceilings and arches at parties and weddings
  • Using the individual heads in vials of water amongst bouquets

The possibilities really are endless!

Growing a Cymbidium is not mean feat and creating such a beautiful plant can’t be rushed, in all, it takes seven to eight years from the moment of cross pollination to harvest! First, the grower selects two features of individual plants that they would like to incorporate in a new one. Pollen is transferred and it takes around 9 months for germination. 400 ‘cotyledon’ can be created from one seed but, incredibly, after three years, only 3 or 4 plants will make it through Cy More’s selection criteria. It then takes another three years before the flowers first bloom. And to think that we get impatient having to wait for them just over the summer months!

Cy More Flavour

I asked Cy More which variety was their favourite, Sandra told me:

The variety “Madelon” is a beautiful deep red and named after our daughter. I think George Harrison “Flying High”, a gorgeous red variety with nicely shaped flowers, could be the new classic.

I asked Sandra which florists, in her opinion, did the flowers the most justice:

There are so many florists from all over the world who create wonderful arrangements with cymbidium. The Norwegian master-florist, and former world champion, Stein Are Hansen, is a real cymbidium lover who designs wonderful arrangements. Mark Pampling, an Australian based floral designer, often works with cymbidium in a very fresh and contemporary style.

Cy More’s recommendations:

  • The orchid is the symbol of pure friendship so they make perfect gifts.
  • Never throw away the lower heads of orchids on a stem, use them in a tiny vase in fresh tepid water.
  • Look after cymbidium by cutting 1 cm off the end of the stem and repeat this every five days.
  • Never use cut flower food and do not put the cymbidium stem into direct sunlight.
  • Avoid touching the stigma as this will accidentally distribute the pollen and the lip from the cymbidium flower will turn red earlier.
Andrea Dutton

All images, unless otherwise stated, are generously supplied by Orchids-Info