We recently designed the flowers for this charming Greenhouse luncheon designed by Kristy Rice of Momental Designs. Photos from the luncheon were just published in Utterly Engaged Issue 25. Click here to see more of this lovely afternoon.
To say that our visits today to the Flora Holland auction, a major exporter we use often at Flower School and a 100 year old lilac farm were mind blowing is an understatement. Coupled with the jet lag and too much wine at lunch, my head is literally spinning.
Thursday is the quietest day at the auction, which means maybe 15 millions stems are sold as opposed to 20 million. The Flora Holland company is owned by the growers, over 6,000 of them. There is so much product it’s hard to photograph because its all packed together in trolleys that are wheeled in front of the buyers who rapidly purchase the lots they need at the best possible prices and thousands of stems are sold in seconds.We were given a fabulous tour by a staff member and I highly recommend a visit if you are in the flower trade.
The logistical systems, rigorous testing for quality and vase life and the principle that the 3rd party auctioneers level the playing field for growers large and small by dictating the minimum prices based on supply and demand are completely fascinating. It also takes a lot of the romance out of flowers, they are a commodity like any other produce here. The offerings were pretty basic-hydrangea, fillers, roses, tulips but again it’s the quiet day. For the NYC florists, the big Wednesday plane loads are bought at auction Monday/Tuesday.
Our group then crossed the street where the trolleys of flowers go via a refrigerated conveyer to the major export companies for sorting, packaging and then travel. We saw the vast cold room facility and saw all the blooms destined for the US customers. We saw thousands of perfect hydrangea, super closed peony and what seemed like millions of tulips. The exporters all test the flowers for quality as well. Our group of floral designers and enthusiastic hobbyists didn’t want to leave the cooler but we eventually had to lest we get run over by one of the hundreds of good looking Dutch guys trying to pack up orders. I did feel like I was cheating on my beloved Dutch guys on 28th St.
Our next stop was in a residential area of Aalsmeer city, the lilac and viburnum farm. I have visited some US growers and I was expecting an open couple of acres with plants. This farm is compact, efficient and a lake divides the two growing areas. A series of buildings, greenhouses and tiny canals are used for the currently growing plants while the plants that have been cut wait in small fields to be shuttled across the lake by flat boats and rested for 2 years before they will be bloomed again. The plants themselves are not dug into the ground but rather rest on beds of rich black soil and in some of the houses they are given water every hour.
Only 7 employees tend to 120,000 plants each year and each flower is sorted by hand number of heads, stem length and quality. A machine cuts the stems to length and binds them. Then they are sleeved and sent to auction and direct exporters daily. The owner & grower grew up doing this, his grandfather started the farm and he took over from his father. It was incredibly charming and impressive at the same time. They produce over a million stems each season and rarely replace plants. Their soil comes from the lake and they graft plants to 80 year old root stock. Most surprising to me was the efficient use of space, how they can grow more in smaller houses, it takes no time to move around the property and that they only grow two types of flowers. They prefer to specialize in their plants rather than diversify crops. Together with two other farms, this groups supplies 25% of the market supply and for you florists this lilac is carried at Dutch Flower Line, Harvest, G Page, 28th Street Wholesale, DV and I’m sure Mayesh and Florabundance. I will never look at lilac the same way.
I have been fascinated with the process of flower distribution since I started designing. I sometimes feel prices are too high for some wholesale flowers but when you see the number of hands that touch each stem and move them you start to understand where the price is impacted. The standard of quality from the grower down ensures really beautiful products. We wrapped up our long day with a fabulous lunch at Restaurant De Kas which grows their own veg and herbs in greenhouses on site and an evening cocktail class using floral infusions at our lovely College Hotel. Tomorrow we buy flowers, have a workshop in a 150 year old garden filled with Dutch heirloom varieties, shop for vases and flowers for a little wedding at the Hotel that Matthew Robbins is designing for a lucky couple and a boat ride to visit the lilacs and other fields on the other side of the lake. Time to rest up.
We’re so happy to announce that we will now be offering online ordering in addition to our great phone ordering experience. We know how much everyone loves to chat with us and we really do love hearing the details of who and why you’re sending flowers but we also recognize that it’s not always feasible to pick up the phone for a 10 minute chat with your favorite florist.
Soon you’ll be able to securely process your online order directly from our main navigation and we couldn’t be happier! For now you can use this link here…
We’re also available to help you send flowers around the country and internationally via a consortium of hand selected florists around the world so you’ll know you’ll be sending the same innovative, high quality flowers just like ours anywhere you need them.
We just completed major construction at the studio, we got a new ceiling (yeah!). We also basically had to move out for close to 2 weeks so we spent most of this week settling back in and redoing the showroom area of the loft. Here’s a peek:
Friday around the studio vine.co/v/btYhg162u7q
— Sullivan Owen (@sullivan_owen) April 12, 2013
Have a great weekend everyone!
This year I was delighted to be asked by the Philadelphia Parks Department to provide the cut floral for their annual display at the Philadelphia Flower Show. The talented team who is responsible forone of our favorite wedding venues The Horticulture Center in Fairmount Park came up with an award winning concept and display. They created vertical garden walls that were designed to show the layout of Philadelphia and William Penn’s 5 Squares which are City Hall, Rittenhouse, Logan, Franklin and Washington Square.
I was given free reign with color palettes and I chose based on the foliage plant featured in each vertical garden. My signature color palette can be seen in City Hall but I loved Franklin Square with is unusual mauve, plum, cream tones. A definite new favorite color palette.
While the show is hard work and a looooong 11 days, going to do maintenance at night when the show is closed is my favorite. At night I can take my time looking at everything and seeing the other teams interpretation of the theme. In my opinion a lot of the actual floral designs at the show are outdated or too theme-y but I still think it’s worth a stroll around.
I’m very excited that in just 2 short weeks I’ll be on my way with the study abroad Holland & Paris trip with Flower School NY. Our guest master teacher is Matthew Robbins and I couldn’t be happier to take a few classes with Matthew and our Parisian teacher Christian Tortu.
Honestly the trip couldn’t come at a better time. I’m desperately in need of some new inspiration and between the flowers of Holland and the fashion of Paris I know I’ll come home refreshed and excited. Our wedding season kicks in to high gear in May as soon as I return.
I believe that no matter how long you’ve been practicing your craft or how of the moment and trendy your designs are there is always something to be learned. I choose to take classes with any designer whose work I find interesting even if it’s not my style or what my clients are asking for. Trends and styles change and I think it’s great to be well versed in different design styles.
What artist or designers do you admire and whom would you like to study with?
This is a personal post, not flower or wedding related.
Very early on Wednesday morning I lost my best friend of 17 years, my beloved cat named Mouse.
I found Mouse when I was going through a lot of transitions, though when you’re 19 years old and just dropped out of college, freshly fired from a job you loved and homeless due to losing said job and moving back in with your mom you might just say things were pretty shitty.
This was 1996, before we had camera phones to document every life event but I think it was July. I was still hanging out with my art school friends but by the end of summer that would change. I would say we grew apart but I put distance between us because I was secretly jealous that they were still in school and seemed to have some direction while I was so lost and struggling to figure out what to do with myself because college wasn’t working for me.
My friend’s car had been stolen and the police found it and called us to go get it. We went to pick it up at the South Philly police station but the ignition had been punched out and we had no way to turn the car off so we just drove around for a while. We ended up on Montrose St and 10th I think, we were hoping to find this friend who was a bike messenger and would have a big screwdriver to turn the car off but he wasn’t home and we were sitting on a stoop just waiting. Someone heard this squeaking noise and we found a tiny kitten shoved up in the bumper of a parked car right in front where we were sitting.
We eventually got a screwdriver so we could turn the car off and went to eat at the Melrose Diner, I brought the cat in with us and the notoriously surly waitresses gave us a saucer of milk and we tried to feed her drops of milk. She was maybe 3 weeks old and she had been abandoned by her mom for being a runt. She was the scrawniest little cat I had ever seen and she was all gray with a pink nose who squeaked instead of mewing. I called her Mouse.
Mouse and I returned to my mom’s apartment at about 3am where I had been living again for about 4 weeks with her, my younger brother and their 2 cats. My mom concluded that at 19 I was far too old to be bringing home animals but we agreed to go to sleep and take her to the vet the next day and go from there. I made Mouse a tiny litter box out of a quart milk carton cut in half and Mouse slept in my Adidas shell toe sneaker (this was the 90’s) but in the morning she was curled up with me. The next morning, my mom and brother were as smitten as me and we decided I would keep her but I would be responsible for all the vet expenses and her care. Responsible was not a word often used to describe me in those days but I took her to the vet and though she was underweight, something she would be for her entire life she was otherwise healthy and needed to be separated from the other cats until we could get her tested for FIV at 3 months. Mouse moved into my room and our life together began. After 3 months, she learned to coexist with the elder cats and earned the nickname Monkey for her ability to scale furniture, drapes, walls, paintings and back loofah brushes. It was not uncommon to find her stuck dangling from something with no idea how long she had been like that.
Mouse was the smartest, funniest cat I’ve ever met. She had facial expressions, including a smile that I loved to see and she had a way of looking at you that said she was sizing you up and passing judgment. If you didn’t pass, she’d let you know with a swipe but if she liked you-she could be the most affectionate, loving cat ever. Mouse helped ground me and helped me find my direction in life when I was pretty lost though it took a really long time to find my true direction. Mouse taught me to be a grown up and to take responsibility for a life other than my own. To not come home at all hours, to work hard so I could take care of her and her expenses. After about a year at home, we moved to our own place and Mouse was lonely without my mom’s cats for company. I adopted a 6 month old stray named Jack who was found by a friend of a friend. Mouse didn’t click right away with Jack but then she discovered she could boss him around despite being half his size and that’s the way their relationship has been for 15 years or so. Jack is as heartbroken as I am and I’m glad he kissed her goodbye before we went to Penn.
Mouse loved me through the ending of a serious relationship, my consequential move to Texas after the breakup where she loved the weather in Austin, she was happy with our eventual move back to Philly and loved our sunny loft on Bainbridge Street. Mouse was suspicious of Tim when we started dating, she wouldn’t let him pet her but she loved to sit on his lap when he wore his vintage cords. Mouse eventually grew to love him as much as I did. Tim already had 4 cats when I moved in and it was a rough transition for everyone. Mouse grew to love being a suburban cat, especially our sunny patio that I built. Our big cat family was a handful but my time with Mouse was always special. Mouse tried to take care of Tim and spend extra time with him when we said goodbye to Lydia, Joe & Pepper over the last few years.
About a year ago Mouse was diagnosed with a type of lymphoma, I was devastated because I thought she would be one of those cats who lives to 24. Her disease was controlled for a while but recently she started to wind down. I would tell her all about our new house and how much I wanted her to live there with its big wide sunny window sills and warm radiators. We moved in exactly one month ago and she spent every day curled up near the radiator, in the window or on her favorite furry blanket. It’s been really hard to let her go and I know she was hanging on for us. I came home a little early on Tuesday to spend some time with her and we spent the afternoon and evening curled up together trying to say goodbye. I was hoping for one more night so she could get some sun in the yard Wednesday morning but at about 2am it became clear that it was time to say goodbye. We were able to say a proper goodbye and I believe she knew how much I loved her and how special she was.
Setting your budget for floral and decor:
Setting the budget for your wedding is an important task. It’s about finding the balance between the wedding you want and the wedding you can afford. If you don’t love flowers, well you’re probably not reading this blog so let’s focus on you brides who love flowers and more specifically my designs which are lush, textural and full of all kinds of seasonal and interesting flowers.
You’ve got your date, the venue, the photographer and the dress. You might have even used one of those handy wedding calculators to help you budget. Well, it’s been my experience that those work just fine for those brides that don’t really care about flowers. But that’s not you. You found me because you saw my work in a magazine, on a wedding blog or one of the vendors I work with often raved about me and my team (because we are super awesome to work with by the way) .
Let’s go back to the calculator, sometimes those calculators spit out downright unreasonable numbers, like $500 for a reception with 25 tables. I don’t know a florist in Philadelphia who can do a centerpiece that looks like something on my site for $20 each. I’ve seen those calculators suggest that the floral budget should be 4-8% of the overall budget. When you work with a creative designer who works in season with an abundant and lush style, that budget percentage may go to 10-12%. If you want custom designed ceremony backdrops, a lavish chuppah or suspended floral designs or full towering tall vase cascading above your tables then you might be closer to 20%.
My suggestion is to get an idea of pricing for your florist before you’ve booked every other vendor. Sometimes when brides come in 4-6 months before the wedding, the only place left to cut is floral and décor and we hate to be the bearer of bad news. And if you’ve had to cut you floral budget, you might not be able to have everything on your wish list. It’s about adjusting your expectation along with the budget.
Book your appointment early, I’m happy to give you an estimate a year or so before your wedding that way you can have the look you love at a price that works with the rest of the wedding. I think it’s better to have all the information first and then you can make your decisions. We also book up early for key wedding weekends so this way you can make sure we’re available for you as well. As always, don’t hesitate to reach out if you have questions about your wedding, we’re happy to help!