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!
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.
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!