It’s the busiest time of year for florists. RACHEL JONES finds out how they’ve been gearing up for Mother’s Day.
It sounds like lovely work, spending your day surrounded by the dreamy scents and vibrant colours of a sea of flowers.
Hay fever sufferers aside, who wouldn’t want to go about their tasks among the sweet-shop shades of tulips, the exotic scents of lilies and the gentle presence of pink roses?
But when you’re dealing with more than 10,000 of nature’s dazzlers, cutting every stem and sorting each bloom into new bunches, the job doesn’t seem quite so idyllic.
Of course florists and flower wholesalers love supplying beautiful bouquets for weddings and special events like Valentine’s and Mother’s Day. But at this time of year the industry goes into overdrive and the business owners and workers are up to their elbows in foliage, buds, blossoms, ribbons and cellophane.
At Nursery Fresh in Horndean, the team are taking deliveries of more than 10,000 blooms and are cutting and sorting to supply annual Mother’s Day event Florimania at Hampton Court Palace.
The orders have been placed by members of the National Association of Flower Arranging Societies, who will turn Nursery Fresh’s flowers into stunning displays.
‘It’s really hard work. We get them in and sort into individual orders. The whole place is covered when we have the deliveries. And we keep at it all day. It takes four of us about nine hours and that’s working pretty solidly,’ says Sally Waddington, who runs Nursery Fresh with husband John.
She’s standing in the flower store at the company’s premises, a room so cold her breath is visible when she talks. The explosion of blooms around her include yellow narcissi, purple statice, pale blue delphinium and mauve freesia.
Then there are the bouquets supplied to individuals and the wedding season is just about starting. Nursery Fresh supplies to events like Florimania and Chichester Cathedral’s Festival of Flowers, individuals and weddings through its various websites, explains John.
Perhaps most importantly, the team are making up two dozen orders from armed forces personnel serving around the world. The company offers customers in the services a 15 per cent discount, something that Sally was keen to introduce because her late father John Covell was captain of HMS Sultan and her brother-in-law is a submariner.
‘Because I’m from a services family, I realise how important it is for the people back home to know their loved ones are thinking of them,’ she says.
‘And it was also an area that nobody else was really serving, so it made really good sense,’
Of course most people, whether at home or abroad, want to spoil their mums on Mother’s Day and as the traditional way is with flowers, local florists are rushed off their feet.
‘It’s easily our busiest time of year, much busier than Valentine’s Day or Christmas,’ says Sam Bulbeck, owner of Carol Moore Florist in Portsmouth.
The team at Carol Moore worked from about 8am until 11pm yesterday, preparing orders and conditioning flowers (cutting stems and stripping them of thorns and excess leaves), and are working from about 6am to 8pm today. They’re also open tomorrow for last-minute shoppers but finish just after lunch.
The business brings in extra shop staff for the event, as well as drivers who will make about 300 deliveries today.
Their own supplies come from wholesale firm Flowers of Quality and deliveries are made very early in the morning.
‘The shop floor is absolutely covered and your heart does sink a bit,’ says Sam. ‘They have to make a walkway for us to get in. And usually for Mother’s Day we hire another unit in this road as a storage and preparation area.’
The volume of work is daunting but the staff have a great time too. ‘It’s a lovely job although people seem to think it’s really relaxing, just standing around playing with flowers,’ says florist Victoria Taylor. ‘It’s really not like that, especially when the pressure is on. But we do have a good laugh and it is a nice thing to be doing.’
The staff love supplying customers with gorgeous flowers and are happy to help out those who have left it to the last minute.
‘It’s usually young men coming in on the Sunday,’ laughs manageress Debbie Eades. ‘Not always, that sounds bad. But it is true. I suppose they’re being practical, getting them on the way to visit mum.’
And of course she welcomes the business. ‘It’s nice that people are still going to their local florist instead of supermarkets.’
But the beautiful displays and bustle of the shop floor are just the tip of the industry iceberg and only part of the story.
Most of these gorgeous blooms come from the big flower auctions in Holland, although Nursery Fresh receives some species from Colombia and Kenya.
‘We try to source what we can in the UK,’ says John Waddington. ‘But we can only do that while flowers are seasonal. People talk about the carbon dioxide issues of deliveries from places like South America and Africa but a lot of energy would be used to grow some of these things in the UK climate.’
Holland remains flower central and Nursery Fresh has a Dutch-based company that snaps up supplies but John has been over to the huge warehouses and auctions and says it’s an amazing experience. ‘At the auctions there’s a real buzz, with a big clock set to the highest price which drops down to lower prices,’ he says, adding. ‘Well there used to be a buzz. A lot of it is done online now.’
And then there’s the vastness of the warehouses.
‘The buyers can go and see what the growers have brought in beforehand. Then they have some idea of supply and demand. But these places are so big that they cycle around them. It’s an incredible sight.’
Throughout the industry everyone is working frantically to keep the nation’s mums happy. But come tomorrow they’ll be able to put their feet up, which is only fair considering many of the workers and business owners have children too.
Sally and her mum and daughter will be heading to Florimania at Hampton Court Palace.
‘It’s time to relax and see the results of our work,’ she says.
Sam and Debbie at Carol Moore are also mums and are looking forward to a well-deserved break. But there remains one problem. ‘Nobody ever buys us flowers,’ says Sam. ‘They think we won’t want them but we’d love them.’