How to Become a Floral Designer

floral designer

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be a floral designer? I recently wrote a post on the details of being a prop stylist so I thought it would be great to do another about my other career as a floral designer. I’ve had such a love for flowers since the time I was a kid and no matter what turns my career has taken, it sort of just always returns to flowers. It’s a bit of an obsession I guess. And I think obsessions make great careers!

My journey:

I started truly obsessing over gardening and flowers when I was around 12 years old. My mom bought me Martha’s book on gardening, gave me a plot of land, and I grew my first cottage garden. I made little herbal bouquets and generally just read every book I could about gardening, flowers, and floristry. The obsession remained through high school, where I spent most of my time in my garden donning a straw hat and making dried flower wreaths while the rest of the Olympia teenagers were at Nirvana concerts (1992-ish). When I was 18, my older sister got married, and I made her wedding flowers. I was lucky enough to have friends and aquaintences throughout college that allowed me to “experiment”as a floral designer on their weddings!  I generally lost money on these or broke even, as I was just charging them for the cost of the flowers. I always took photos though and was able to build a portfolio. 

Throughout college, I continued to work at florist shops on Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, and Christmas. Sometimes just sweeping floors. I took horticulture and floristry classes whenever I could, even if it was of the old-school variety. I ended up starting a flower business during a summer off of school, doing arrangements for offices and events here and there. I nearly quit school to pursue it, but decided to stick with Art History, though I spent most of my time plotting my flower shop during classes (lecture notes from Greek Art are filled with flower shop logos, and bouquet recipe ideas). My sophomore year of college, I took a semester off and completed an internship in gardening and floristry at The Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island. I learned a lot from working in their flower shop and in their gardens.

After I graduated, totally out of the blue, I landed a dream job with a company in Portland called Poppybox Gardens. Think: Terrain. But this was 2000 so the style was minimal, lots of negative space, and monotype bouquets that were lush and full. Their shops were just stunning and I felt so lucky to learn from the seasoned merchandisers who ran it. There was a gorgeous plant nursery, a cafe, a garden shop, and fresh flowers. We held workshops too. The concept was fresh, forward, and current. Gardening isn’t often presented this way, so it was exciting! I learned so much from my mentors there, about retail purchasing, floral design, houseplants, fresh flowers, design, and styling. I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything, even though it was tough for me to be in a corporate environment. After two years, I left Poppybox and I went to London and trained with Jane Packer and the flower school at Wild at Heart.

I started a flower business shortly after (at 23), working from my parent’s garage. Shortly after, I connected with a local business owner who ran a gorgeous interiors shop (she was from Australia and had the most beautiuful taste I’d ever seen). I had a flower stall at her shop with fresh hand-tied bouquets and stems. I was lucky enough to benefit from her amazing clientele and then shortly after moved into a cottage at the back of the shop and opened a full-service flower studio. I created flowers for the shop that people would walk in and buy, deliveries, weddings, events, and subscriptions. I had great clients with amazing taste that inspired me. I decided to close my shop in 2008 but have done freelance floral design and floral styling, workshops, and writing on flower arranging and gardening ever since.

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My tips for getting started as a floral designer:

1. Read everything you can about flowers, gardening, and floral design. A few of my favorite books:

Flowers for the Table by Ariella Chezar

Wild at Heart by Nikki Tibbles

Madderlake Trade Secrets (two 1970’s designers in NYC who helped transform floral design during that time)

Flower blogs are lovely too. You know them all: Saipua, Amy Merrick, Studio Choo, Floret. There’s a million.

2. Try to help out at a flower shop during the holidays. You might just be sweeping floors, but you’ll learn a lot about how a flower shop runs!

3. Take all the classes you can! I’ll plug my own class here: Flower Arranging 101. You’ll learn the ins and outs of floral design and how to make 4 different types of arrangements. It’s a four week class, available to anyone, any place in the world. More info here.

4. Practice, practice, practice! The first time you make a hand-tied bouquet, it will be tougher than you think! It get’s easier with time. Don’t be afraid to start over! I start over all the time.

5. Develop your own style. It’s great to be inspired by people but find out what inspires you and makes you different. What sorts of art and design are you attracted to? What colors do you love? Pull together the images, books, bits of life that really make you tick and make you different from other people, and see how you can express that through your floral designs. For example I tend to love design that is a bit delicate,  effortless, playful, and doesn’t take itself too seriously. I find a lot of inspiration from the English countryside and I tend to love monochromatic color compositions. My first foray into flowers involved the garden. So for me, I love to make delicate, gardeny arrangements that are a bit undone, use a lot of filler, focus on one color, and aren’t super formal. That doesn’t mean it’s the right way. I am in love with the work of so many designers and they are all totally different! Find your own voice.

6. Be earth friendly! The floral industry actually has a big environmental impact from the pesticides to the shipping. Explore how you can help make this change, and reduce the impact on the environment by sourcing locally, growing your own material, and using organic product.

7. Take photos of your work to build a portfolio but also to be able to evaluate your own work. Learn how to take good photos or team up with a photographer. Your portfolio should have good photography and do the flowers justice.

8. Pin point your goal. There are a lot of different types of florists. You could work for a large event company as a lead designer, you could have your own full-service shop, you could be a by-appointment florist, focusing on weddings and events, or freelance for different florists if you don’t want your own business.

9: Be a morning person! Plan on early mornings and late nights! Flower markets open early! Think: 5 am! You need to be at the market as early as possible to get the best selection. Weddings and events are intense. You’ll spend late nights making arrangements. You are dealing with a perishable product and incredibly high expectations so it can be stressful.

OK, leave any questions you have in the comments! I absolutely loved being a florist and am always in my happy place when making arrangements! The job itself involves an incredible amount of physical labor, planning, and managing clients but it’s a blast!

xo

Chelsea

Top photo by Lisa Warninger. Bottom photo: Chelsea Fuss.

23 Comments

  1. I’m in a very different sort of career, but working with plants and flowers always puts me in my happy place. I’ve always wondered if pursuing it as a career would feel like “doing what I love” or turn something that I love deeply into a chore. I’m excited to check out your reading recommendations! (And Martha’s Gardening Month-by-Month was one of my first, as well!)

  2. I am sitting in my office dreaming of a career change to floral design and came across your blog. I loved reading this and made many notes. It’s only the beginning of this journey I think… but I suppose we shall see. It seems like there is some patience involved in things like this 🙂 Thank you for sharing.

    • hi there I am thinking of the idea of doing floral freelancing. I actually don’t know what its called. but I live to work with flowers and I am a flower sales rep. I have this urge to take some projects on and start to show my work? but afraid. were do I start, I only want to desing and be creative , not really certain I could to this. but if I start small and see maybe I could, what would be your advise to stir me in the right direction.

  3. Hello Chelsea,

    Thank you for sincerely sharing your experience. You seem to have been focused right from childhood. Like Sue said in her comment, I too am sitting in my office dreaming of a career change to floral design but didnt know where to start. Your article is inspiring and I hope to derive something out of it.

  4. Hi 🙂 – love your blog.
    I’ve just trained as a florist, and I’m looking to start freelance as my contract has ended.
    But really unsure on where to start?

    Any advice you have I’d be so grateful

    Kerrie x

  5. okay i may sound stupid but i really need help. i really want to become a florist but i have no idea on where to start. i dont know what classes to take in college or what the degree is even called. i tried looking for as much information as i can but it just leaves me with even more questions. please someone help me.

  6. Hello Chelsea,

    I am so what an in between (not a beginner but not an expert) floral designer. I started my event design business about a year ago and I feel like just giving up. I can do some floral designs. But, I do feel like I need more experience or training. I tried interning with another floral designer/wedding designer, but I found myself doing more setup for weddings than actual floral designing. Also, I work a full-time job, so I wasn’t able to be there during the day to help with floral arrangements. I really really love designing, but I know I need more training. I tried looking at books, but they really don’t teach you what you need for the wedding industry and many are just full of pictures. Then I tried looking at DVD’s and they are so out dated. I’m trying to see should I just walk away from my design company or keep trying. Any suggestions would help on how to become an excellent designer. I just want to be able to be confident in my designs. Thanks in advance!

  7. Thanks for sharing your story! I was wondering, when you take on big events like weddings, where do you get your flowers? Do you have a license to purchase wholesale flowers? I am wondering how much red tape (if any) you have to go through to be able to purchase enough flowers to be able to do bigger events if you only have a flower stand or work from your garage? Thank you!

  8. Hi Sarah! Great question! You need a license in most places to shop at the wholesale market. It varies city to city. In some cities anyone can go to the market during certain hours, while other hours are reserved for only businesses. In Portland, you need a special license and it’s quite a bit of paperwork. You’ll need a business license, agriculture license and it’s a 6 month trial period.Portland is one of the more difficult places. But yes, I always buy wholesale when working as florist! You’ll want to contact your local city small business office as well as your local flower market to get the low down on paperwork in your area. Hope that helps!

  9. Thank you very much for this article. I have been a LMT for over a decade and am wanting to change my creative skills, channeling them into a tangible reality. I am excited to start my career as a freelance artist! It’s really seems like the universe makes all the doors open when you know what you want! I will post when I come up with my ideas on my own business! Love, Ren

  10. Hello!
    I am a certified wedding planner and I love doing layouts for brides wedding decor/centerpieces. I’ve been asked a few times if I will do their flowers but I decline due to not having any formal classes. I love flowers and I love the tips you gave for getting started. Do you need any type of official certification to be a florist and does it vary from state to state?

  11. Hi there

    Great advice. I’m currently at college and have some experience. I’m working in a shop but I’m not enjoying it, it’s the people I’m working for they expect me to know it and aren’t showing me how. I want to specialise just in wedding work but I feel I need to stay in a shop to gain more experience. Are all florists shops the same! Finding it difficult. Future would like my own online wedding business

  12. Hi I have enjoyed your blog. Lots of great information Sounds like you have had some wonderful experiences. I to love flowers and gardening. I am a dried floral designer, but absolutely love fresh flowers too. It’s great when your job is also your passion.

  13. Although flowers are naturally very beautiful on their own, they become so much more when arranged by florists into floral masterpieces. I have dreamed about becoming a floral designer since I was a little girl. Thank you for your article that gives me the steps to make my dream a reality! Your experiences are truly incredible and inspiring to me. I will start by reading up on flowers like you said.

  14. I love the new generation of floral designers.
    I would like also to add that it is very important before you start your floral designer career: to visualize a theme and choose a color palette.
    I would like to open my owm online floral business so I could bring people more joy to their event.

  15. Hi Chelsea,

    I am a a sophmore in high school right now and plan on becoming a florist and would love to own my own flower shop. I have always loved everything about flowers and nature and I love making tiny bouquets with wildflowers. I have had a tough time trying to figure out how I can become one though and what classes I would need to take in college. I would really love to pursue this and I would like to know what you would recommend.

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