During these incredibly uncertain times, my aim is to continue to help inspiring and supporting you as best I can by creating, compiling and sharing useful, inspiring and relevant content for the floristry community…now more than ever.
Instead of the usual Sunday blog post, today I’ve switched things up. During the week, I reached out to several people in the industry and asked them if they’d be so kind as to share their thoughts on the current situation and the impact on their business.
Thank you so much to all five florists and flower school owners listed alphabetically below. I hope that their words provide reassurance, comfort and inspire you during this challenging period.
BRIGITTE Girling | Moss & Stone Floral Design | SUFFOLK
‘Really from early February, it was apparent that this year was going to be a little different for my business. Planned workshops focussing on overseas students particularly from the Far East were being cancelled, and slowly as travel bans progressed all my overseas one-to-one classes were cancelled or postponed. This trend has now followed through to weddings and other events planned for the first half of this year.
Fortunately, most things have been postponed rather than cancelled so thankfully there is still plenty to look forward to as this situation improves. Like everyone else, I now find that my very busy diary is completely empty. Weirdly, I’m taking much comfort from the fact that this is utterly out of my hands…and putting aside all the obvious worries about the financial impact, the state of the industry afterwards and rebuilding my business, all of which I have no answers to or control over, I feel strangely liberated despite the opposite actually being true!
Time is always such a precious commodity. There’s never enough time for the garden, family, friends, planning, thinking, relaxing and just enjoying the luxury of having nothing pressing to do. I may not have wanted this luxury out of choice, but I find I’m determined to make the most of it now I’ve got it. I’m already chatting much more to my family through video calls, checking in on elderly neighbours by phone and enjoying the camaraderie of Instagram even more than usual.
I’m weather watching daily – this decides my day’s activities. Rain signifies paperwork…sorting out my tax affairs for last year, updating my website, perhaps a little baking and finally tidying my wardrobe. Fine weather means an outdoors day…sowing my many packets of seeds in a relaxed, enjoyable way – I have packets going back years that never saw soil which always makes me feel so guilty. Even they may get sown this year.
I’m reimagining my garden and finally sorting it out. Similarly, I’m finally painting a new studio backdrop for floral photography. This has been a project in waiting for at least 18 months. The canvas is huge – the height and width of one of my studio walls. So, I’ve stretched it out on the grass in the sunshine as it’s much easier to do there, although Hettie my young Labrador isn’t as helpful as she believes she is! I’m really enjoying spring this year.
Each new day brings an exciting fresh leaf, flower or bud to admire. I’m choosing bits from my garden to create with everyday…losing myself in a process I find most therapeutic and calming. I feel this is an opportunity to really reassess, re-imagine and redefine where I’m going and how I live. However, rather than over-thinking it all, I’m just trying to take each day as it comes, move to a slower rhythm and see what percolates through. I find great solace in the unfaltering momentum of the seasons.
Yesterday, I spent some time just observing the bees busy in a lovely white cherry that has blossomed in the last two days in my garden, listening to the hum of their activity right up into the high canopy. I ate my lunch on a bench in the sunshine and just sat there for some time with my eyes closed listening to the birds, chattering, whistling and chirruping around me.
I know some days I will probably feel overwhelmed with anxiety and worry. Not every day will be easy. We will get grumpy, bored and irritable as a household, but I’m determined to slow down, take stock and try to just be. We can’t change this situation. We’re all in it together, right across the world. It won’t last forever. It will end. We will rebuild our businesses, enjoy our loved ones more and hopefully appreciate our freedom to choose the life we want to live.‘
RACHEL WARDLEY | TALLULAH ROSE FLOWER SCHOOL | CUMBRIA
‘The immediate impact of the coronavirus on my flower school is course postponement. All April courses have been postponed and we’re now working through May. The good news is that all postponed courses have been rescheduled and students are happy to move with us and have, in their words, “something to look forward to”. We’ve had such heart-warming replies to what amount to quite disheartening emails. We WILL get through this and everyone it seems wants to hold onto their floral dreams and passions. Our future Career Changing students all agree that their enthusiasm for a new career won’t be dampened by COVID-19 and their love of flowers won’t disappear! All very encouraging for us to hear!
Our priority is to keep our Tallulah students supported both emotionally and practically. We’re hosting Tallulah (virtual) Coffee Breaks to bring those that want to be together an opportunity to do so. Being able to chat and see one another really helps everyone to feel less alone. It’s an opportunity to share ideas and make suggestions that will help us all to make our way through this time with positivity. We’re taking this gift of time to add more Student Stories to our website to encourage those that are thinking of making a career change to show them that it’s still a wonderful industry to enter into.
We’re featuring some of our graduated Tallulahs on Instagram next week asking them questions posed by our followers, ‘Tallulah Talks’. And finally planning, planning, planning! There will be an end to our current situation and we want to be ready when it arrives. We’re scheduling our 2021 courses and making them available to book now so everyone has the chance to plan a little further ahead than perhaps they usually would.
My advice to florists during this challenging time is to set yourself a routine and the right environment to do it in. Lots of you won’t be used to working in your home environment, let alone sharing your space with others. Set up a dedicated area, a table perhaps, after all most of us will be desk bound for the next few weeks. Create a mood board filled with flowers and put it on the wall in front of you so that you’re still amongst the beauty that you’re used to.
A daily routine is vital to keep the momentum we need to achieve. Your brain is most active in the morning, so tackle emails then and leave social media until later. Face those difficult tasks head on, your first job of the day should be to ‘Eat that Frog’. Take time out for lunch and if you can, sit outside in the fresh air or take your daily exercise around this time and avoid the afternoon slump! Sign up to webinars and learn something new. You can still move your business forward even though it feels like you’re standing still. Make a list of three things that you want to achieve each day. If you achieve more great, but three is your goal!
Use this time to tackle the things that you’ve been putting off for way too long, accounts are usually the answer to that! There are lots of things we’d much rather be doing right now, but imagine how good you’ll feel if you come out of this time having nailed the one thing that you always, always put off. Switch off at the weekend and maintain a balanced working week and if you have childcare and home schooling to factor in then just reduce the number of goals. Make it achievable!
Above all, stay positive. Take this time to rest and repair or to spend time with you children. We’ll all learn things about ourselves and those we cherish the most during this time. So let’s turn that into a positive and come out of COVID-19 with a greater appreciation of the simple pleasures. 2021 will be a bumper year for wedding and event florists, two years into one. So hold tight. It will all be ok…‘
SARAH STATHAM | Simply By Arrangement | Yorkshire
Obviously at the moment I’ve stopped doing all workshops/classes (which is the majority of my work). And my next wedding, which is a large one in June will almost certainly be postponed. So far, I’ve been very lucky and classes are being re-arranged to later dates in the year. But of course that means I won’t be able to take on extra classes later in the year as I had planned. So, the impact will be considerable in financial terms.
For the next three weeks, I plan to talk lots more to guests who should have been here for classes. They can have a phone chat to ask questions and for a couple already I’ve actually set them a few things to do at the minute, so, they are developing skills and have something to keep them sane over the next few weeks. Flowers definitely provide a good escape for a short period of time. I’ve also had lots of phone calls and virtual cups of tea (maybe I’ll change this to gin soon) with other florists and growers. Nobody else but a fellow florist/grower is going to understand the impact on us, so I think it’s important to talk regularly and provide some support for each other.
I’m obviously assuming I’ll get lots of extra jobs done and that my garden and allotment will reach Chelsea standards ????. But, in reality, I’ll be taking the dog on some very long walks in my own attempt to stay sane after looking after 3 sets of neighbours and my parents who are all over 70. My main wish is to see one neighbour reach 90 and we might even get the whole place looking so good that there can be a party in the barn. I’ll also, hopefully, get at least half way down the towering book pile. I’m writing a list too, of all the places I’m going to visit. It starts with cheese on toast in the local cafe, goes on to Cornwall and ends in Florence, with a few great gardens in between. So….lots of daydreaming!
I’m not sure I’m qualified to give advice at a time like this. We’ll all be affected, and each of us in different ways. I would suggest that if at all possible we keep ‘doing’ or growing flowers just because I know they provide an essential way to switch off. Taking photos is another good way of escaping. There are lots of online video tutorials too. But actually, staying fit and keeping healthy will be extremely important not just in the next few weeks, but for the future because I hope that we will all be exceptionally busy once life gets back to normal. Above all, I’d say just look after people in whatever way seems right to you.
SHANE CONNOLLY | SHANE CONNOLLY & CO | LONDON
At New Year, I remember saying how much I’d like to take a sabbatical…a few weeks or even a month off after over 30 years working full-time in flowers. Be careful what you wish for eh? This current state of enforced sabbatical is not at all what I had in mind. In the space of a week, everything…absolutely everything…in our diary was cancelled or postponed. Indefinitely.
I feel profound shock and great sadness for all my friends in the industry….the designers, those who grow flowers and the market traders both here and around the world. The waste too breaks my heart….all those plants being grown for nothing. Though obviously that is irrelevant in the battle to halt the spread of the coronavirus.
I got out of London before lockdown and retreated to the country where I have been a weekend gardener for over 30 years as well. The garden which never had enough attention from me is now all I have. And suddenly, almost embarrassingly, everything seems ok. And I know why: I have my hands in soil every day. I am sowing seeds and growing vegetables and best of all, I can see my garden daily for the first time. Watching things grow and flower; seeing buds and, if it goes on long enough, seeds too. The complete cycle of life.
Nature and growing things were the whole reason I ended up doing what I do. Yet the disconnection between commercial flowers and their origin in nature has bothered me. A lot. And I’ve been very vocal about it. So I intend to make that connection again for myself here in isolation. And I would urge my fellow florists to use this time as an opportunity to do the same. In the Garden Museum, there is a scrapbook of dried flowers sent from the trenches of the Somme by a soldier to his fiancé back in England. I’m sure that each flower meant the world to the fiancé, but it probably kept him sane and full of hope too.
So, in a similar way, I urge florists to try to reconnect to nature. Oh I know there will be a chorus of “ it’s all very well for you…” and they’re right. I AM lucky to have a garden I can work in. But I know that you don’t need a garden to sow seeds. Or to tend a plant. A windowsill or a balcony is completely enough. Just get your hands into soil every day (wash well afterwards of course!) and it will put things into perspective, give you hope, and help you cope with the storm raging about us all.
SIMON LYCETT | SIMON J LYCETT LTD | LONDON
The coronavirus crept upon the world as I was in Los Angeles filming a TV Show for HBO Max – a floral competition show, with me as Host Judge. As I was enjoying probably some of the happiest and most exciting, invigorating days of my working life, I was also aware of the terrible damage that the COVID-19 pandemic was starting to trigger across the world. I felt as if I was playing around with flowers and TV cameras, whilst my team back in London were attempting to hold things together – when actually there was simply nothing to be held onto.
Having injected my savings into the company, it became clear it was to no avail. To write to them all from a hotel suite in Los Angeles telling them that there was simply no work for the foreseeable future and that the company couldn’t afford to pay any of them their full salaries for much longer was probably the worst day of my business life. Having pressed send on the final email to people who were and are my business family, I cried and cried, feeling an utter failure.
The next day, as COVID-19 arrived in California, all filming was halted and the production company managed to book me onto one of the last flights out of Los Angeles. Reclining in my flatbed, I couldn’t have felt more guilty, reflecting as I headed home that the business which I and my amazing, dedicated, talented and loyal team had worked for 25 years to create, was crumbling before my eyes. I arrived back to an immaculate, empty flower-less Lycett Towers. Team Lycett were all to stay at home, both for self-isolation and also because there was simply not a thing for them to do.
Thankfully the next day, during his evening briefing, the Prime Minister announced the Government Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, with the government committing to pay 80% of all furloughed staff salaries. Again I cried, this time with relief that at least my incredible brilliant team were going to receive some money – more than the company could afford, and with the certainty that it would be sustained payment until such time as they were able to return to employment.
On Monday, I closed up Lycett Towers, bringing back all necessary files and papers so that now I’m able to work from home, something I have always avoided as preferring to have a “place to go to work”. Otherwise the tendency is to never quite clock off – not that I really ever do these days – with emails on smartphones all too tempting to deal with at any time of day or night! How I and many others will now be longing to have that as a problem again soon in our lives!
So, now I’m working from home, finishing off a few projects and working on some exciting future events, as well as creating a set of Botanical Guidelines for a wonderful luxury brand with whom I’ve been working for a while now to create sustainable, soulful floral and plant-based inspirational information. In addition, I’m enjoying sharing on social media some of what I’m up to in my garden.
I’ve always found solace amongst flowers, and gained comfort and fed my soul by growing and nurturing seeds and plants within my tiny London garden. Now more than ever, I feel that immersing ourselves amongst some foliage and flowers will be one of the most worthwhile investments we can make in our wellbeing and maintaining our mental health.
As I write, New Covent Garden Flower Market too is slipping into hibernation and I will really miss the excitement of spring unfurling there. Knowing how much other people enjoy my early morning Instagram posts of what I’ve been tempted and inspired by on the assorted stands, I will be reading extracts from my recently published book The Flower Market Year, written month by month, giving my thoughts and commentaries upon what I was seeing and how I was feeling as the year rolled by.
I’m also planning and plotting to see how I can get more flowery content onto BBC Radio and TV – I will be popping up on BBC Radio London from time to time with flower-filled fun, on the Jo Good Show. And, AT LAST, I’m attempting to teach myself to edit videos and sorting, filing, deleting and tidying the 48,790 images that are at present upon my iPhone!!! It will be the BEST use of my time EVER!!!
To florists up and down the country and indeed across the globe, I say, rest and relax, offer yourself up to this hiatus that none of us have chosen, but to which all of us must submit. Take time to take stock of all the incredible things that have been achieved within your businesses, and your lives. Realise that this will not last forever, that the work and the business, and the orders will come flooding back in, eventually.
Plot and plan, become the most organised that you can be, and also just enjoy the opportunity to be with friends or family and with yourself, to read and watch telly, to enjoy late nights and lie-ins, for I can guarantee you, this time next year many of us will be looking back in an almost wistful way at the calm and quiet of these COVID-19 Days. Keep well. Keep safe. Be kind to one another and yourself. And remember, All will be well.
I hope you’ve enjoyed the invaluable insights from these wonderful florists and flower school owners from all around the UK. I can’t thank them enough for their contributions.
P.S. Have you seen my new Floristry Industry Resources page?