Perhaps we need to talk about Valentine’s Red Roses

Red and white roses with green foliage

As I sit and marvel at the price of red roses on sale through our wholesalers at this time of year, I have decided that at Bude Botanical I’m not going to sell them at all this Valentine’s Day. (Other flowers and plants will be available, I hasten to add).

The red rose decision could be a massive error for my fledgling business of course, and one that I might be deeply regretting this time next week. But, here’s my thinking as of now…and fingers crossed, it’s the right one.

I’m not sure that many people actually want red roses anymore

I’ve only have one previous Valentine’s Day under my florist belt and although I did pop a couple of red roses into each of last year’s colourful Jewel Garden bouquets, they were definitely not the main floral star of the show. Nobody who placed orders with me specifically asked for red roses, they were happy sending the bouquet that I had designed for the day, and I got lots of lovely feedback from recipients about their colourful flowers, selected, wrapped and delivered with much care and love.

Our 2021 Jewell Garden Bouquet

Could the red rose for Valentine’s Day be, dare I say it, old hat, and soon to be replaced with less traditional, less red bouquets? Or perhaps there are enough die hard traditional romantics out there to sustain the Valentine red rose for years to come. I’m placing my bets on the former and hoping I dont have to eat too much humble pie next week.

I’m pretty sure they’re not very good for the planet

This is a massively tricky subject for florists to discuss in the UK, as ultimately there aren’t really ANY cut flowers that are great for the planet when they are produced in industrial quantities and transported gazillions of miles around the world. It’s certainly not just red roses that are the villains here. You can see why, therefore, there’s not many florists talking about this. Why would anyone sensible be slagging off their business’s products? (Obvs, I’m probably not very sensible).

In the summer months UK florists can actually choose to rebel a bit against the massive industrialised system by buying British (local if possible) but in the UK in winter we really don’t have much choice but to buy from Holland. We can buy some things in the UK at this time of year (tulip anyone??), but these too are grown in fossil fuel heated glass houses, just as they are in Holland in the winter. Having a label on your flowers in February that says ‘British grown’ isn’t a byword for ethical, green or sustainable I’m afraid. It’s green-washing at best because it’s winter, and winter means that British flowers are gas-powered flowers.

This subject is also tricky to discuss because our three busiest periods (barring wedding season) are in the depths of the British winter (Christmas and Valentine’s Day) and then in early Spring (Mothers’ Day) and for the vast majority of florists, if we didn’t do our flowering on those days, we simply wouldn’t have a business to run. The more we talk about these issues out loud, the more we could be talking ourselves out of customers who previously had no idea about the problems (especially in winter) with the cut flower industry.

So what’s the alternative?

My response may not be perfect, but I am trying to do stuff that make my business decisions around winter flowers allow me to still actually have a business when warmer months arrive. Just by saying “sorry, no flowers until Spring” isn’t going to help me pay the bills.

And so here’s my little list of small actions which I hope will help a bit until wider industry solutions are found and (I hope) mean you would still like to be my customer in the mean time!

1. I’m choosing flowers for this year’s Valentine’s bouquets that yes, have been grown in Holland, but no, haven’t been flown from Kenya, or Israel or Columbia. Again, this isn’t perfect, as I’m mainly basing my decision on reducing the air miles that flowers travel rather than other complicated issues that need a bigger brain than mine to explain here (Kenyan roses are grown with the power of the sun, rather than the gas heated green house, but does that mean that their air miles are ok? The maths is certainly quite complicated). Another blog post on the complexities of the carbon footprint of flowers could follow this, but I may need to up my science skills first. It is a massive minefield and the data isn’t always available. If you are keen to read more about this then I would suggest following Cel Roberts from the Forever Green Flower Company on Instagram. Her recent interview on the GirlFlower podcast is super, super interesting

2. I’m trying to choose more flowers that naturally grow in the winter and early Spring and I sort of hope this means that the heat doesn’t need to be turned up too much in the Dutch Glasshouses. I’m crazy for the chrysanths, that are a winter flower. There’ll definitely be the coolest and classiest varieties of those in my Valentine Raspberry Beret bouquet next week.

3. All my packaging is recyclable in your kerbside collection, apart from the plastic liner that holds the water in place. This is, of course, a handy reusable bag ( I use mine for muddy wellies in the car after dog walks). I am also happy to take back bouquet boxes with their liners to reuse. It’s better than loads of cellophane and tissue paper I reckon.

4. I deliver as many bouquets as I can using pedal power rather than engine power. My Danish Cargo bike is called Beatrice, or Bea, which means ‘Bringer of Joy’. She does seem to suit her name.

5. An alternative way of supporting my business this Valentine’s Day is by buying our British Summer Flower Subscription which I deliver from June to August. We’ll send you a nicely designed email that you can print out and pop in your Valentine’s card (or simply forward on to the lucky recipient) with a little explanation about their subscription and about why British Summer flowers rock.

6. If I’ve put you right off flowers (I hope I haven’t) then we do have Spring bulbs, all planted up and ready to go. They do make lovely, lovely pressies

Peace out, much love and all that

I’m touching a nerve here, I know that. I’m spoiling the Valentine love vibe, with all my eco-warrior stuff. I’m also running a business that is fighting an uphill battle against an not very eco-friendly supply chain. It’s tough.

I’m trying (like all florists) to earn a living, and by writing this post I am by no means slagging off other florists who are selling red roses. I don’t have anyone’s salaries to pay apart from my own, and I don’t have the rent to find on a shop premises. I can take more risks and see whether there is a market for alternatives to the red rose. If it doesn’t work, I should be financially ok. I get that other florists don’t have that privilege.

For now though, I know I don’t have all the answers, but I will keep asking the questions. I think that’s the right thing to do.

And in the mean time, I’m sending love to all my Valentine customers and all my fellow florists too.

Peace out folks, Rachel xx

Booking Bude Botanical as your wedding florist – how it all works.

As a wedding florist, I can often be found at my computer a little bit more regularly during January. It’s always a busy time getting your wedding flower proposals ready for you. New Year for many couples means nailing the wedding admin for their big day, and ticking things off their to do list. Or for some couples they are simply getting excited about their recent proposal and putting feelers out to local suppliers.

As you’re beginning to think about booking a wedding florist for your big (or small) day, I thought it might be useful for you to see how I work, and the simple steps that we go through to arrange the flowers for your wedding day.

A little bit about me

I am a florist working in Bude, North Cornwall, from my beautiful studio in a little Victorian garden tucked away in the centre of Bude. Here I create all kinds of floral arrangements for weddings, delivering them and setting them up in gorgeous wedding venues across North Cornwall and North Devon.

(I am happy to work in Bude and beyond…so if you would like to enquire about any wedding venue, not just those in or close to Bude, then do just holler and we’ll see if it’s something I can do).

Why Bude Botanical?

Well, of course I would like you to choose me to be your wedding florist, but here’s some information that might set me apart from other florists and help you make your decision.

  1. I am a professionally trained florist, qualifying with distinction from the British Academy of Floral Art, learning from some of the most amazingly skilled florists working in the UK today.
  2. I have also completed training in creating large floral installations with the fantastic tutors at the wonderful Bath Flower School.
  3. All my floral work is based on the guiding principle of running a sustainable floristry business. I am passionate that my work has as small an impact on the planet as possible, whilst still allowing my customers to have the most beautiful floral arrangements to help them mark this significant moments in their lives.
  4. I never use floral foam in any of my arrangements. Floral foam is regularly used by florists across the world and it is really awful for the environment. You can read more about it on a separate blog post.
  5. I try to source locally grown flowers if I can. If I do have to source from the flower experts in Holland then I try to source the most ethical blooms from suppliers who care about their workforce and the environment. I also have a little cutting garden, and sometimes my home grown flowers appear in my wedding bouquets and arrangements.
  6. After your wedding day we offer a service where all your blooms and foliages are collected and composted, ensuring they complete their life cycle by being turned into nutrients for next year’s flower crop at Bude Botanical HQ.
A selection from our small and beautiful collection ready for a intimate family celebration.

My process

  1. Do have a little look on my website where you can see my style of floral design and also details of my two different wedding collections (which hopefully will suit the majority of budgets).
  2. Drop me an email or give me a buzz to see if we have your wedding date available in our diary.
  3. If we have then we can arrange to have a longer chat, either in person, via email or on Zoom.
  4. If you choose my small and beautiful collection we can talk about any colour scheme you have in mind, a favourite flower if you have one, and details of the items you would like to order from the list of floral goodies detailed on our website. Prices for this collection are included on the website, which means you can get a sense of the cost from the outset. We them send you a deposit invoice and a booking form in order to hold the date with us, and then you can simply leave the rest up to me – I’ll make beautiful floral arrangements for your wedding day and deliver them to your chosen location. Full payment is requested three weeks before your wedding day.
  5. If you decide to go for our more tailored wedding offering – the big and beautiful collection– then at our first meeting (online or in person) we discuss your ideas, information about the venue, and your budget too. I love hearing about you and all your plans, so I can ensure I create something that will perfectly suit you and your wedding day.
  6. After our meeting I will send you a visual proposal so that you can see what I would like to create, and how much each item will cost.
  7. We usually have a few emails back and forward, or another chat on the phone about the proposal and once I know which bits of it you would like I then create a final proposal with costings.
  8. After this I send you my booking forms and a deposit invoice to hold the date in the Bude Botanical diary.
  9. Six weeks before your big day we meet again (online or in person) and if required we can visit your venue. This allows us to talk through any last minute changes that might need taking care of.
  10. We ask for a final payment 30 days before your wedding day.

On the day

Some couples who have chosen from my small and beautiful collection arrange to collect the flowers from my studio in Bude on the morning of their wedding. Everything is packaged up for easy transport. Alternatively, for a small fee, I can deliver to your address of choice or wedding venue.

For my big and beautiful collection we will agree delivery, set up and take down arrangements at the meeting we have six weeks before your wedding. When I was in my twenties I worked in London, organising huge events for the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum (including some for HM The Queen!) so I totally get the busy nature of event set up and that communicating effectively is key to making everything stress free for everyone concerned. I use this experience to make sure everything is completely organised before your big day, so there is no drama on the morning of your wedding.

Get in touch

I’d love to chat about your forthcoming wedding and your floral ideas. I also get that not everyone is as into flowers as I am, so if you feel like you don’t really know what you want then I can offer loads of ideas and guidance to suit you, your budget and your style of wedding. Almost twenty years ago the only brief I gave my wedding florist was “tulips” and “orange”. The flowers she created for me were absolutely spot on. Her skill was to see me, and my style and the venue we had chosen, and to ask the right questions at our one and only meeting. Then she turned that into a floral reality that still makes me love the thought of my beautiful spring wedding flowers. My plan is to do that for your wedding day too.

And remember the important stuff

A gratuitous if somewhat blurry shot of me on my wedding day. After nearly two decades of marriage, and with very few photos of our wedding day (it was pre camera phone days folks!) the things I remember the most are my orange tulips, which matched the bridesmaid’s dresses perfectly, my fab veil, which reached all the way down to the floor, my dad momentarily losing the car keys to our hired Morris Minor, the poems we chose to read and be read (they were lovely), Mike and I getting a bit emosh when I arrived at the ceremony, the dancing (the hilarious inter-generational dancing will forever make me happy), and the aching jaw the day after from all the smiling.

Planning a wedding twenty years after my big day is infinitely more difficult I think. The bombardment of insta-perfect weddings where budgets seem to be endless and the sun always shines can put a lot of pressure on couples. What I like to think I’m good at is trying to discover what is important to you. If the flower budget is being squeezed because you really, really want the food to be the star of the show, then let’s focus on what we can achieve in the budget you have. If you dream of having a floral arch for the church doorway, then let’s prioritise and shuffle other things to accommodate it. And the thing I often ask couples is to picture their (hopefully not as blurry) favourite wedding photo that they still look at twenty years from now, and to imagine what they see in it. For me the combo of my lovely Mike whispering something to me, and me looking blissed out, in my fancy veil, my Grace Kelly hairdo with my lovely orange tulips always, always makes me smile.

Please do get in touch if you are currently looking for a wedding florist. I’d love to chat about your special day.

Make your own planted Christmas wreath

If you have ordered one of our planted wreath kits, then I promised you a little ‘how to video’ and here it is. Blue Peter presenter I am not!

Anyway, enjoy your planting up. If you would still like to order a kit then they are available in the online shop and I can deliver them in and around Bude, or I can send them UK wide via Royal Mail

Trying to run a sustainable floristry business

If this week’s UN report on climate change didn’t scare the bejesus out of all of us, then frankly I don’t know what will. Mike and I have spent today knocking about with some ideas about trying to do better. Our list is long, some of it is expensive, but we’ll start this month with trying to better insulate our beloved but drafty home ready for the winter. My lovely mam was heading off into her attic this morning to dig out some ancient and heavy velvet lined curtains for us. They are certain to make my design eye twitch a little when they get put up in our bedroom later in the year, but as the world begins to burn, do I really care if they’re the wrong shade of pink? I think probably not.

These are baby steps of course, but surely we all have a moral duty to try anything we can to live much more sustainably. The grim reaper has, via the medium of the UN, actually now spoken.

Words like sustainable, eco, and green are bandied about in many industries nowadays and the cynic in me is always questioning the hows and the whys, wondering how much of it is just PR spin; greenwashing us all into feeling better about this crazy-assed, consumerist society in which we live.

Eco- floristry and sustainable floristry are the buzz words of my chosen industry right now, but if you drill down, below the surface, quite a lot of it is complete green hog washing, and apart from a bit of brown paper and twine, the flowers are about as sustainable as a city filled with drafty houses like mine, with their heating turned up to a million.

Some of it, of course, is far from green hogwashing and is absolutely about doing stuff that is better for the planet, but I often fear it is shouted loudly by those who don’t have to make an actual living from their floral dabblings. I once read something suggesting that florists should try and sell a bunch of snowdrops on Valentine’s day, instead of a bouquet of red roses and it made me a little bit angry – I suspect the completely well meaning person didn’t have a mortgage to worry about or any actual customers that were buying bunches of snowdrops in their droves.

I say that flippantly I know, but really I am ALL up for seasonality, locally grown stuff and finding alternatives to planet damaging traditions (I am certainly not a fan of the Valentine red roses) but I am also trying to earn a living and I need more realistic suggestions that enable me to pay the mortgage, make my customers happy AND save the planet at the same time. Is it any wonder why florists never sleep for thinking about this stuff.

As we try and find the answers as an industry to some of the mind blowingingly complicated questions about how floristry can become sustainable I think that individually as florists we can act now and do better. We can make small changes to our businesses that all count towards the end goal of sending the grim reaper packing.

Here’s a few things that I’m doing to try and make my business a more sustainable enterprise.

No plastic thank you very much

I wrap in simple recyclable or compostable materials – I love wrapping in simple brown paper, tied up with string. There is never any need for the big cellophane wrap (and yes, I know some cellophane is apparently biodegradable), but I just can’t be arsed with it – I think flowers wrapped in plastic just look at bit 1987.

Often my customers are not home when I drop round with their birthday/anniversary/new baby/I love you bouquet and if I can leave it in a safe place I will (saves two journeys). I do then pop them into one of my cardboard vases which are lined with a (very much reusable) plastic bag. Either reuse it again yourself or wang it back in my direction along with the cardboard vase, and I will reuse them again for another bouquet (and give you a little voucher to put towards your next flower purchase too).

Ditching the floral foam

We should all do this because it is hideous and unnecessary. Floral foam is what for about thirty years florists have made arrangements in. It holds stems in place and acts as as water source too but essentially it’s a pretty nasty single use plastic. It’s a petroleum-derived product, which means it comes from a non-renewable resource. It also contains nasties like formaldehyde just to make it really up there in things that you don’t want to be using every day. There is always an alternative to floral foam. It doesn’t make a florist’s life easier, but it does make our businesses so much more sustainable. All of the floral arrangements we make at Bude Botanical are made without floral foam. You can read more about the mind blowing amounts of waste created by the funeral flowers industry in a previous blog post.

Pedal powered deliveries

Since visiting Copenhagen a few years ago I have been a little bit obsessed with cargo bikes. I’ll bore you about them another time but all I’ll say now is that I think they are the answer to lots of our transport problems. Anyway, my beautiful Danish bike arrived a few weeks ago and I am completely smitten. Deliveries are a whole lot more fun and a whole lot more kinder to the planet.

Composting green waste

I stick any of my floral waste straight into my magnificent hot bin – which is a super-fast composter (when I am attentive and put all the right things in it) that I have tucked behind the shed of floral dreams. It turns green waste into fantastic compost, just right for popping onto my veggie and flower beds.

Buying flowers that have the smallest impact on the planet

This is the hardest part for florists I think because we are currently buying without enough information to make informed choices. We need more information from the growers and wholesalers about how a flower is grown and how it is transported. Is heat used, are pesticides used and are the people who do the growing being treated and paid fairly? There are actual PhDs been written about how sustainable the cut flower industry is (spoiler alert: it isn’t). I will continue to educate myself, keep doing the reading, buy locally from British growers when I can, suggest flowers that are in season to my clients and try suppliers that are showing which of their flowers meet which of the sustainability standards at the point of purchase. It’s a minefield people, but I will keep trying to do my best, while hopefully our industry starts to wake up to how important this all is.

Creating the shed of floral dreams – a little photo diary

Last summer, in the midst of the first lockdown, Mike and I decided that after nine years of working off dining room tables or on desks shoe-horned into our teeny, tiny spare bedroom, it was time to try and create a bigger space to work from.

Mike is on the phone ALOT for work and my non-floristry work is (very quiet) research and writing based. It was often difficult to concentrate while Mike talked to clients for a huge part of the day. He’d probably say the same about his inability to concentrate while I listened to endless repeats of my current music obsession.

When the whole world became obsessed with Zoom when lockdown hit, Mike spent so much of his day talking – re-working and re-jigging projects that the pandemic had slightly scuppered. I wore headphones a lot of the time.

We’ve also both hankered for a space forever where we could be creative – me for my floristry and gardening things (then just a hobby and not a real job) and Mike for his music and printmaking. Mike wanted a studio. I wanted a shed a floral dreams.

Over the last six months our good friend Toby has created our exciting space at the bottom of our garden. He even gave us our much desired dividing wall and door. My space is filled with flowers and plants, old furniture and books. It’s the perfect place to run my fledgling Bude Botanical business from. Mike’s half is filled with music paraphernalia and printmaking equipment. Neither of us has worn headphones since we moved in. It’s the stuff that good marriages are made of.

Here’s how it took shape:

The healing garden

Some of you may know that I spent quite a lot of my pre-floristry working life writing for a living. I still do, from time to time, and some of it gets used by my clients, some of it gets published, and some, like this bit here, just floats around on my computer and never really sees the light of day. This is a piece that I wrote last year at the beginning of the pandemic. I was lucky enough to be spending a lot of my time pottering in my garden and enjoying the amazing weather that made the first lockdown seem bearable. I was reading a book called Rootbound, which was about a young woman who’d discovered the healing qualities of gardening during a difficult time in her life and it made me reflect on my own love of gardening and how I came to discover its healing qualities in my twenties, when I was a little bit broken too…anyway, here it is, have a little read if you like…

Sanctuary

We viewed the house at the end of the Autumn. The clocks had changed and the days were getting colder and shorter. We were newly married and had just left London for jobs and a different life in the West Country. A decade or so of house shares and tiny flats was drawing to a close as we set our hearts on a whole house of our own. 

Standing on the back doorstep of the house that Mike and I thought we might buy, I watched as he walked down a narrow and long strip of grass. He returned to say there was a shed at the bottom of the garden and enough space for him to have a small vegetable patch. I took his word for it and returned to thinking about potential colours for the living room and where we might put Mike’s piano. I ran up and down the stairs a few times, shouting to Mike that we might own these stairs soon. 

A month later, and with Christmas just around the corner, those stairs, and the whole house, were ours. We brought with us a sofa, a chair, a piano and a fridge. We slept on an old futon mattress as we didn’t own a bed. We ate fish and chips off our knees on the living room floor. We left to visit parents for Christmas and returned a week later armed with paintbrushes, a ladder, and things to build shelves with.

By April we had painted rooms, lined the walls with our books and had finally bought a bed. We spent our weekends exploring our new piece of the world, revelling in the tree-topped hillsides and endless canal tow paths that seemed to be entwined with the more familiar sights of a city. I don’t have any memory of the garden from this time. We worked all day, went out in the evenings and walked every inch of our new, smaller, greener city at the weekend.

The days got longer and warmer and a week of nausea and dizziness ended on a bank holiday with a positive pregnancy test and an afternoon lying silently on our bed together being completely overwhelmed at the day’s discovery. As the daily sickness took over my world, our weekends of exploring became less appealing and we finally spent time in our new garden. Our parents visited and recited unfamiliar names of shrubs and plants in the borders. They nodded their approval of the south westerly aspect and offered tips and advice as Mike dug a vegetable patch and planted potatoes and runner beans.

Our neighbours passed old garden furniture that they wanted rid of over the fence. Mike slung a hammock between a solitary silvery looking tree and the post which held the washing line in place. I laid in it while Mike gardened and revelled in these moments of rest when I wasn’t commuting or working or feeling unwell.  

As the clock change came around again I was tired and ready to not be pregnant anymore. In two months time we would be parents and we spent those remaining weeks working, scouring baby books and attending antenatal classes. 

Just before Christmas, and three weeks before he was due to be born, our baby made his way rather dramatically into the world. There were moments of danger and distress and long days of intensive care before we were allowed to take him home. It was snowing when we did and the following weeks were freezing and dark. We stayed indoors believing we would never sleep again.

As the Spring rolled around again our baby cried most days. His skin was ravaged with a severe form of eczema and he was so sore and so difficult to care for. For the first time in my entire life I slipped slowly and steadily into a deep chasm of depression. I felt separate from friends, from family, from Mike and from our baby. I dreaded each day and the screaming it would bring. I cried every time that I was alone, afraid that everyone might discover how sad I was and how much I was hating every minute of this.

In May I was handed a leaflet asking me if I was enjoying being a new mum. It said that some mums found things difficult, especially in the first few months. It suggested coming along to a mum and baby group that was starting the following week. There was an email address and a promise of cake and coffee and creative activities.

This insignificant looking piece of paper, handed to me at a cafe in a church hall, turned out to be a tuning point. For six weeks I went along and spilled my guts, eating cake, drinking coffee, and talking, while we fiddled with paint and plasticine. Having a safe space where we were not just allowed but encouraged to be honest about our experience of early motherhood enabled me to talk more openly with those around me about how I was (or wasn’t) coping.

And then a phone call in June pulled the rug from under my feet. My closest friend had died. Without warning a bleed on her brain took her away from us in the night. She was 31 and had a daughter aged four. My reaction verged on the hysterical. The loss felt deeper than anything I had experienced before and I sat dazed in the garden, rocking the baby to sleep in his pushchair.

The funeral was more devastating than comforting. They say this is often the case when young people die. I returned on the train unable to stop the tears, unable to answer the strangers who asked if I was OK. It was a Tuesday, and on Sunday all of our friends and family would be arriving at our garden for our little one’s Naming Day celebrations.

I wandered aimlessly into the garden when I got home. It was still light, the longest day of the year was almost upon us. The garden looked like a place that had not been loved or cared for in some time. The vegetable plot was empty this year and the lawn grew up to meet the hammock, still hanging where we had left it last summer. 

I wandered down to the shed and rummaged around until I found various garden looking tools. I knelt at the base of the hydrangea, the only plant I knew the name of, and I dug and dug at the weeds that grew all around it. My digging was frenzied and it wasn’t long before it was accompanied by my now well rehearsed silent crying. I was so incredibly sad, so unbelievably lost.

The following day I dug again. The baby grumbled in his pushchair and finally was quiet. I discovered later he had managed to pull a low-hanging branch down from the tree and was busily examining the leaves and the bark with his mouth. By Sunday the garden looked better and the sun blazed. Mike bought a gazebo and we all sat under it, drinking tea and fizzy wine, and eating cakes and quiches. It was a happy day and everyone hugged me and told me how nice I had made the garden and how sad they were about my friend.

The summer marched onwards, July blazed in heat and the hospital consultant gave us new creams to try on our baby’s skin. He cried a little less and I did too. We bought a navy blue picnic blanket and laid on it under the dappled shade of the silver birch tree. Some days we didn’t even bother getting dressed. I filled the planters that had been left by previous owners with herbs and flowers. I bought the baby a little watering can and a bigger one for me.

For a whole summer we didn’t stray far beyond our garden. Here we were safe. Here we were happy. Here we could be busy. Here we could do nothing. Here we were finally starting to be OK.

When Spring rolled around the following year my 15 month old boy could, amazingly, walk and talk. His skin was so much better and so was I.  We bought wellies and pottered around in the garden together. We planted some seeds and thought about the vegetable patch again. We laid in the hammock and read books about hungry caterpillars and men on the moon. We planted a buddleia because someone told us that butterflies like those. 

In the Summer, Mike and I talked about having another baby. We planned a bigger vegetable patch, a chicken coop and a sand pit too. We made all of these things happen and more. 

And now, 15 years later, we live in a different house, with a different garden, and all I remember about our first home, the one I bought without even looking outside, is its healing garden haven, and the time we spent in it.

Time for Change?

When I set out on my floristry journey 18 months ago, my tutors at the British Academy of Floral Art will, I am sure, remember me being the chippy one at the back, always asking how something might be done in a more planet friendly fashion. To their credit, they always made time to talk different options through with me and the lovely Karen, who taught me all about arrangements, set up experiments with me, with cardboard containers and agra wool (an alternative to floral foam) to see how well they worked. Thank you Karen.

Experimenting with agra wool while wearing 87 layers of woolly jumpers and scarves in the depths of January!

Kind to the planet floristry

I knew from the beginning that I wanted to run a floristry business that was as kind to the planet as I could possibly manage. I knew I wanted to:

  • use techniques that didn’t require hideously polluting and landfill filling floral foam
  • have the simplest of packaging that did the job of protecting bouquets on the way to my customers, but that didn’t fill their bin with unrecyclable rubbish.
  • discover more about the sustainability of flower growing and where best to source my blooms (that’s a whole other blog post needing to be written right there!)
  • deliver as much as I could by bicycle rather than car.

And now here I am, running my own floristry business and the list is very much a work in progress. I see now that producing things at speed, that can be easily transported, and that are value for money are the things that are at the forefront of your mind when you’re trying to earn a living as a florist. And I see why there is so many unsustainable aspects of this industry.

The planet polluting tools of floristry (floral foam being the main guilty party) were designed for a reason – they make a florist’s life easier. Floral foam lets you make beautiful things, that last really well, transport easily and that can be made at the speed required for a commercial venture.

Floral foam – but what the hell is it?

Developed in the mid 20th century, it was patented as an alternative to arranging flowers in things like moss, or in chicken wire. You may have heard it called Oasis – a brand name which has become the commomally used moniker for any type of floral foam (a bit like how vacuum cleaners of any make get called Hoovers). It is soaked in water before use and that helps the flowers last longer as they have a source of water when they are arranged.

Floral foam is essentially plastic. It’s a petroleum-derived product, which means it comes from a non-renewable resource. It also contains nasties like formaldehyde just to make it really up there in things that you don’t want to be using every day.

Manufacturers like Oasis have tried to make new kinds of foam that are more bio-degradable than the original, but they are still a long way from being truly eco friendly.


Taking the easy route is, well, easier

When I took on my first funeral commission back in December, I had all the new planet friendly tools at the ready, because, yes (!) I was going to be an eco-friendly florist!

And then two things happened…

…Firstly I was asked to make six tributes in the same day (which is a lot for a newly qualified florist), and secondly, I had a big, massive, full-blown panic.

My trial using agra wool (a new alternative to floral foam that isn’t going to trash the planet) a few days before the funeral, went disastrously wrong. I couldn’t get the stems into the wool properly, there was water leaking everywhere and it all was a bit of big mess. While in the midst of my blind panic, I may have (I totally did) order all the floral foam required to deliver what I had promised my new clients. The floral tributes were made, delivered and well received later that week and I was left feeling partly elated that I’d completed my first large commission, and largely deflated that I hadn’t done it in a sustainable way.

Baby steps

Fast forward a couple of months and I am in a less panicky, more confident place. I have taken a bit more time to try using new planet friendly mechanics and have had time to think up some new ideas and try out some new things. I’ve also spent time reading lots and lots of books and websites, and, as always, chatting to other florists, particularly my friend Sarah Penny, who makes the most gorgeous eco-friendly funeral tributes here in Bude. We talk a lot about how a new approach is much needed across the industry.

A new approach

Offer typical floral designs for funerals but ensure they are 100% biodegradable

This heart shaped tribute was made with a cardboard base lined with biodegradable bags (to make it waterproof) and the flowers were secured using
Agra Wool.

What I mean by this is that many clients know what they want for the loved one of their funeral, because florists have been producing the same kinds of designs for funerals, for.like.ever. Common comissions are for things like spray arrangements that sit on top of the coffin, shapes such as hearts or crosses, or a bouquet of flowers (often called floral sheaves). With a little extra effort, these can all be produced so that they will all break down naturally, returning to the earth without any harm.

Offer new types of floral tributes and services to your clients

I read recently that around 600,000 funerals are held in the UK each year and that over 70% of these are cremations rather than burials. If you have organised a funeral for a loved one you’ll probably know that the majority of floral tributes are left at the crematorium after the funeral and (you might not know this) are usually dumped in a bin after a few days.

I get it, of course. There can’t possibly be enough staff to break down the tributes and pop the flowers in a green waste bin, or recycle any of the bits holding the tributes together, but it still strikes me as an inordinate waste – for the planet, yes, but also for the families that have spent money on a tribute. Maybe it’s time for the florists to step in and do something about it.

Bring it home...What about if we suggested to clients that they bring their tribute home after the service. It could be enjoyed in the home or in the garden. The heart design above is now into its third week and is still looking really beautiful. Once it is looking past its best it all can be easily composted.

Make something new…What about if we offered to make a large arrangement into small arrangements after the funeral (perhaps in little vases or jam jars) that could be given to relatives to enjoy at home in the days after the funeral.

Compost and recycle…What about we offered a service where we collected the tribute after the service and composted and recycled everything if the family did not want to have the flowers at home. It would ensure the tribute didn’t simply end up in landfill. And this would also mean that the florist could perhaps reuse the framework of the arrangement (e.g. of you had used bamboo canes to form a cross shape) which would help us start moving away from single use floral mechanics.

Re-usable mechanics…What about if we designed tributes using mechanics that could be used again and again. This week I designed a wreath in a beautiful rattan basket (see below). I designed it to look beautiful at the funeral, but also in the client’s home afterwards. The client could either pay for the basket and keep it (it could be refilled for them for special brthdays or anniversaries or at Christmas if they wished). Or if the client did not want the basket after the funeral, it could be hired to them instead for the service and then collected by the florist and reused for tributes for other clients. We do this for weddings – hiring out vases and containers, so why not funerals too?

And what about plants….as a gardener I am always trying to shoehorn planted material into any design I can. When a client recently asked me to provide a design for a funeral that the family could take home and enjoy afterwards, I immediatley suggested plants. This basket has been enjoyed indoors for the last few weeks and I was delighted when they contacted me to ask where best to plant out the plants in the garden. On the anniverary of their loved ones passing, I am hoping there will be hellebores and cyclamen returning into flower in their garden.

Grannies and Eggs

I’m accutley aware that there will be florists reading this who are like “yeah, ok Rach, tell us something we didn’t know/do already”. But for all those florists I reckon their are another 10 or 20 florists who merrily open another box of floral foam each morning and crack on as they always have. But it seems to me, as people who work with the gloroius stuff of nature every day (flowers, foiliages and plants) we kind of owe it back to nature to find the less easy route, sell the better products and leave less of a giant size footprint than our industry is at the moment.

Rach x

A gardening florist

Anyone who knows me well knows that I adore gardening. My garden is never perfect and will, I think, always be a work in progress. I have gardened for years now, and like most gardeners I have just learnt along the way – my mam is a font of knowledge, as is my friend Kerry. I also love a bit of Gardeners’ World and Gardeners’ Question Time and I’m a sucker for charity shop gardening book.

I’ve killed alot of plants along the way too and had terrible crop failiures in my veggie and cut flower patches. Although these things hurt at the time, they all feed into the gardening knowledge bank that I realise now, all gardeners have built up over years and years.

In 2019 I did a proper horticultural course which had me falling in love completely with growing ALL THE THINGS and also (not planned) a new career in floristy.

Bulb planting in Winter 2019 with fellow gardening students at the British Academy of Floral Art

I think being a gardener definitely helps you be a better florist. For starters it gives you an awareness of seasonality, something thats really important to me when I’m designing bouquets or arrangements. A tulip in an arrangement when it isn’t Springtime just seems to hurt my eyes and my floral sensibilities.

Seasonality also helps with costing – although as florists we can generally get our hands on most flowers and foilage all year round due to hot houses in Holland and flights coming in from Kenya or Columbia – when things aren’t in season, they will generally be more expensive and, sometimes (not always), they will have larger carbon footprint too.

I was chatting to a 2021 bride last week and she was apologising for not knowing much about flowers. I told her that she had nothing to apologise for and that when I was plannng my own wedding (18 years ago) I too knew nothing about flowers. All I knew was that I wanted orange tulips everywhere (it was a Spring wedding I hasten to add). This bride knows that she is keen on ivory coloured roses and lots of green foliage – and that is fine – I can work with that. It was a nice reminder that although it’s important to be a knowledgeable florist, it’s also important not to be baffling your clients with latin names that mean absolutely nothing to them.

It’s January now, and for the lazy gardener (which I certainly can be) it’s always a wonderful month. The seed catalogues begin to arrive and I usually have a bevvy of gardening books received as Christmas presents to get through. It’s when I do a lot of gardening in my head with many projects fizzing around my brain These include the putting straight of my front garden bed that is looking very shabby after the pre-Christmas rebuild of our old and tired Victorian porch.

The front garden dd look like this. It now very much doesn’t look like this, but I am postive I can get it back to it’s beautiful former self.

The restoration of the bottom section of our back garden is also going to be a big project. Due to the construction of my new floristry studio (being built at the bottom of the garden), it is currently looking more like a film set for a trench warfare film than an actual garden. What’s that expression – you can’t make an omlette without breaking eggs??

It will be a brilliant Spring, putting all these ideas into action, but for now, maybe just another browse of the seed catalogues over a cuppa.

Finding the positives

As we wait to see in the new year it’s all gone a bit apocalyptic again hasn’t it? We’d booked a little family day of culture at Tate St Ives tomorrow, a little last hurrah of art and good coffee before we got locked down again. We thought it might help tide us over until we could safely return properly to our beloved realm of galleries, museums and theatre. And then Cornwall was moved into Tier 3 this afternoon and our plans for a little day out unravelled on the spot. Rising infections (which still look relatively low compared to many other areas of the UK) are a problem it seems when you live in a county with barely any intensive care beds.

These little jolts to our little plans seem to send me into more of a tail spin than they might normally. Managing teenagers and their emotions and day to day wellbeing can be difficult during a pandemic I am learning…and even something as small as popping to the Tate can give them (and us) a little boost and some inspiration, both of which felt very much required this week. Some days it feels ok and others, when the boys ask us when we think they might go back to school, or meet with their friends indoors again, it feels a little less ok.

So as I sit here feeling a little doom and gloom about my lack of art gallery visiting and the state of the nation, I thought I might write my first Bude Botanical blog post, looking back at the last flowery twelve months and try to shine a light on some of the positives from my year.

Business as usual

When 2020 rolled in last year, I didn’t think much of it really. I’ve never been massively big on all the new year shenanigans, it always just feels like a nice bonus day tagged onto the Christmas holidays.

On New Years Day we made our ritual ascent of a tor or two on Dartmoor, and probably ate some leftover Christmas cheese as a reward for our efforts. We had a new year jaunt to London. We saw Touching the Void at the theatre, Troy at the British Museum and ate curry in one of our favourite curry houses. The kids went back to school that week, and we went back to our desks, and the world carried on as it had before. For a little while at least.

Dartmoor. New Years Day 2020

A change of tack

in 2019 I had started a new little adventure, taking a day away from my desk each week and heading to the teaching garden at the British Academy of Floral Art in Exeter. I had gone with the intention of learning about growing cut flowers…one of those hobbies you surprise yourself by stumbling into in your forties…and I also wanted to work for four days a week instead of five, and learning something new helped me justify that to myself.

Before I knew it, I had been sucked right into the world of horticulture and floristry and was suddenly, at 43 years old, considering a career change.

Since I was 21 I have worked mainly in the museum sector, doing all sort of lovely roles in some amazing museums. For the last ten years or so, Mike (my husband) and I have been working together, running a small consultancy, working with museums and arts organisations both in the UK, and around the world. Setting up our own business was the perfect way to carry on working with fabulous organisations, alongside rearing a growing family, while at the same time incorporating a little spur of the moment and life changing move to Cornwall. For the last eight years we have lived next to the roaring Atlantic, miles away from anywhere, while still doing what we love doing. Win, Win. And Win again.

Except I didn’t feel much like I was winning at the work bit anymore. Exciting projects would roll onto my desk and I didn’t feel that excited about them. The constant sitting at my desk, in our tiny spare room was becoming less appealing, and I realised that work wasn’t making me that happy.

In January 2020 I decided to take the plunge into floristry and had signed up to begin learning everything I would need to know to ‘do the flowers’ for all of life’s occasions and rituals. I wanted to become a professional gardener and florist and I was making my first baby steps towards this.

My first buttonhole

Wedding floristy

From January to March I learned lots about wedding bouquets, buttonholes, corsages, floral jewellery and floral crowns from the Academy’s Amanda Randell Cox. Tbh, it was worth turning up every week just to listen to all her fabulous tales of floristy from a lifetime of being a florist. Amanda taught me so much about all the seriously amazing floristry techniques but also so much about handling flowers, what works together, and oh my, her colour combinations each week were sublime. Here’s some of what I learned to do:

In February I got to create this springtime floral arch at the beautiful St Enodoc Church at Daymer Bay in Cornwall. It was certainly a floral highlight of my year

Mastering bouquets, pew ends and sheafs

After the long weeks of lockdown 1 (but oh my, that weather!) I returned to the Academy and completed an intensive week where I think I made (approximately) one million bouquets. Due to Covid restrictions there were only three of us in the classroom, and we had an absolute ball, playing with flowers all day, putting the world to rights, fessing up to our current wallpaper addictions and listening to a London Grammar album over and over. Here’s a few of my floral creations.

In September I managed another week away from the nine to five and completed an intensive week of learning how to make floral arrangements of every shape and size imaginable. It was a week when everything fell into place, learning the amazing craft of arranging flowers into things of beauty from the amazing Karen Taylor – floristy teacher extraordinaire and fellow lover of gardening. It was the week that gave me the confidence to nail all my colours to the floristy mast and decide wholeheartedly that this was how i wanted to spend my future working life.

Flowery exams

In October I sat a mock exam, closely followed by the real deal exam. In it you have to make a buttonhole, a posy arrangement and a hand-tied bouquet. My nerves were eased by being in the room with two of my new found flowery friends, Lorraine and Kerry. We were all very relieved when the two hours were up and we retreated from the classroom while our work was marked. In an unexpected turn of events we all managed to bag ourselves distinctions, and in the absence of hugs (damn Covid) we did large squeals of delight and maybe a little happy dance each.

What now?

In November a couple of friends asked me to do bouquets for members of their family, and I realised that instead of procrastinating my way to the new year I just needed to get on with being a florist. Mike helped build me a website. My gorgeous friend Karen – my chief cheerleader and partner in very long telephone catch ups – did some beautiful design work, and my friend and neighbour Suzanne took some fabulous photos of my Christmas collection.

By December I was flowering almost constantly – delivering bouquets, making wreaths, Christmassy arrangements and planted designs. Some dear friends asked me to create the floral tributes for the funeral of their dear mum – something that was so very special to do – and I am deeply chuffed that they trusted me to do this, despite being a complete newbie to all of this flowery stuff.

Despite Covid I managed to deliver a socially distanced wreath making workshop for the fabulous Pearl Exchange – a fantastic new creative facility for young adults here in Bude and I also had a little stall at their twinkly and gorgeous Christmas market.

And so to 2021

After such a busy December I think that the now pretty much lock downed January is going to feel like a bit of a downer, but I have plans afoot. A new flower studio is currently under construction at the bottom of the garden, which I think will make our family life much more bearable – giving the dining room and utility back to eating and laundry purposes. I’m looking forward to getting my cut flower patch going again, and I have a couple of exciting wedding consultations coming up, so lots to look forward to in 2021.

In the meantime I send you all much peace, love and understanding for the coming weeks. Remember folks, as some wonderful ancient poet once remarked, when considering our human condition (not knowing they would be the insta-quote star of 2020); this too shall pass.

Rach x