I grew up in Leigh-On-Sea in Essex, by the seaside. I had a wonderful childhood growing up with 2 sisters and 2 brothers, though my brothers are a lot younger. Tragically my older sister passed away when she was only 20 years old which was quite a shock to us all as she died very suddenly.
We had a lovely big house with beautiful, natural laid gardens. My father was a builder and was a very practical man. He fitted a swing to a branch on a tree and there’s a photograph of me on the swing – I loved it. My love affair with flowers started when I was about 4 years old – I was first captivated by flowers be it dandelions, buttercups, daisies or pretty flowering weeds growing in my mum and dad’s garden. I would pick little bunches and present them to my mum as if I’d found treasure.
I would do this all day long. She would have empty jam jars all around the kitchen which would have these ‘pieces’ of flowers in them. I was fascinated by their life cycle. As soon as they started to die and their petals began to fall, I would go and pick some more. She would always smile benevolently while I arranged them in jam jars.
So from a young and tender age I had a real interest in flowers. I think it was the living things in the garden, the trees that you could see and didn’t necessarily have to touch them or do anything to them, they were just there naturally. I was fascinated to notice in the autumn and winter they would lose their leaves and become bare. A few months later, all of a sudden in spring they would be bright green and start coming back to life and that intrigued me, that cycle of natural life. The flowers of spring would all appear in the garden and I would go and pick everything.
Although I’ve developed my artistic skills, when I was young at school, I was more academic. I can’t paint at all. My younger sister is a great artist but I don’t have that ability. The only prize I ever won at school was flower arranging when I was 11 years old. I cut blossom branches in the garden and made an arrangement in a yellow teapot. I remember it vividly.
When I left school I had a yearning to go into the hotel industry. I took a management course at college and then started to work for a hotel group called Centre Hotels at that time and later became Queens Houses. When I was going through the management training, I spent a lot of time in banqueting. I was taught by a wonderful lady to produce beautiful flower arrangements as we were involved in a number of floral events. Sometimes the arrangements were 20-30 ft high sculptures, for me the bigger the better. I loved to gather the various flowers, other bits and pieces to add to the arrangement, and create something completely different and make people smile. It was wonderful and I loved it. It felt as though I had magic at my fingertips, creating almost anything!
Happy days on my swing in the garden
When producing a large floral display, it begins with the mechanics, the basics. So when making a 20ft high column of flowers for example, at the entrance of an event perhaps, either scaffolding, stepladder or pieces of wood are used to give it height. When I first started, we would use chicken wire, which is easy to mould to a shape.
We also used glass (not plastic) test tubes in those days, to put flowers in to provide a water source. These were placed in the chicken wire. We still use test tubes but they have to be plastic ones now. Having made the construction and placed chicken wire around it, a little flower stem, with its water source would be put in place. Foliage would be added and placed into the structure almost like ‘building a tree’ and all the flowers added imaginatively.
This wonderful lady, my mentor, gave me good instruction and demonstrated how to break down the process and build all the elements together. To begin with I doubted my ability but she gave me confidence to try and once I began it all grew from there. I never took a formal flower arranging course, I was taught by the head florist from the hotel group.
Nice and simple, flowers in a jam jar
The theory behind any artform is all very well, we all know how to condition and work through theory. But in my opinion, there’s nothing like actually doing it. When you’ve got to produce something for an event, whatever that is, and there’s a time frame to work with because flowers only last so long, it has to be produced and inevitably it gets done.
I continued in this job for 7 years and then I got married. My husband didn’t want me to work in the hotel industry because it involved working weekends and nights, so reluctantly I gave it up and decided to re-train. I studied Interior Design, with a speciality in Islamic and Arabic design. I worked for 3 years in London for a guy who had a business in the Gulf States. My husband and I split up at this time. I began to travel in 1987 to the Gulf States which I thoroughly enjoyed.
I worked with various architects in different countries on interiors for palaces, yachts, hotels, planes and other high-profile areas, it was very well paid. I went into business with one of the architects I met and we worked together from 1987 through the 1990s. Our business did really well.
A floral table arrangement
I met my partner Andrew, who was an architect, in the 1990’s and we became a partnership in 2003. We formed a business together incorporating three disciplines Architecture, Interior Design and Manufacturing. We opened a very successful showroom in Chelsea Harbour Design Centre and had a manufacturing unit in Kent. Andrew was diagnosed in December 2013 with a very rare cancer named Medullary Thyroid Cancer which was already at stage 4C, there was no chance he would survive, there was very little they could do, it was just a matter of waiting for the end. Sadly he passed away end of 2015.
It was a very difficult period of time but we kept working, travelling to the Gulf States, designing and manufacturing unique products for our clients in Oman, Qatar, Kuwait, UAE, Moscow, St Petersburg, Paris and London. However, one of the worst aspects of this cancer was the disintegration of his bones, his spine fractured from top to bottom, he was in excruciating pain and in bed at home for the last 6-7 months of his life because he simply couldn’t move. I was caring for him 24 hours a day
I worked from home and my brother Damon worked at the manufacturing unit trying to hold things together. At that time, July 2015 I knew Andrew was going to die fairly soon, he knew too. I realised at that time I couldn’t run the business anymore, I had to go back to something that would rest my brain and make me smile. I had been involved in design and manufacturing for some 28 years, it was time to re evaluate.
Floral archway for a wedding venue
I recalled the daily struggles that faced Andrew when we realised how ill he was. In contrast I felt inside myself the hardness of the commercial world. Every 6 weeks or so I was travelling to the Gulf States, juggling so many things 24 hours a day. I asked myself “Do I actually want to do this?” Looking at someone getting worse by the day with no chance of any life other than lying in bed with fractured bones and many other problems waiting to pass. He would pull at my clothes and beg me to end his suffering – I could do nothing. I thought many times “Do I want to continue in this commercial world?” I came to the conclusion very quickly that I did not. There was more to life than trying to make sure a bath gets made in the right colour and on time!
I discussed the situation with my brother Damon who is also a designer. The events in my life forced me to examine what I was doing. It would be true to say I had a ‘light bulb’ moment – I yearned to return to my love of all things floral and fauna.
After a lot of careful thought, Damon and I decided to join forces and create a new company called ‘THE EDGE OF THE FLORIST’ here in Smithbrook Kilns, at the end of 2016. He works with me and what we do is very much a team effort. My work, my business really brings me joy, it makes me smile, it makes my clients smile.
Why is that? Here is why – People have been giving flowers for thousands of years – there is written evidence that ancient Greek, Roman, Egyptian and Chinese Civilisations all used flowers to communicate feelings, meanings, thoughts.
Flowers have both an immediate and long-term effect on mood. One reason is probably due to colour. Flowers affect moods in different ways.
Pinks, peaches and warm colours tend to provide a feeling of nurturing and are great for people who are unwell, grieving, depressed, while reds and oranges are known to be colours of passion love and sensuality. Blue and purples promote relaxation and tranquillity whilst bright contrasting colours signal happiness, celebrations and fun. White, cream and ivory flowers play their part for weddings, christening and funerals.
And there is the wonderful fragrance – fragrant flowers elicit feelings of happiness. Aromatherapy has been used in homeopathy for a long time. A chemical in roses that gives them their famous scent has been shown to elicit feelings of happiness and love. So I guess taking the time to “stop and smell the roses” is well worth it. Some of my favourite floral perfumes are gardenia, freesia, hyacinth, narcissus, lily of the valley, lavender.
Table vase and floral centrepiece for a wedding reception
We are THE EDGE OF THE FLORIST essentially because we are “cutting edge” in the floral industry – we are not a traditional florist, we are floral designers.
We hold flowers and foliage in our hands, we treat every stem, flowerhead and leaf with the respect it deserves and create a beautiful design be it a bouquet, a glorious floral wedding arch, a casket spray which reflects the life of a loved one who has passed or a floral arrangement in celebration.
So here we are in 2020 with a new kind of test. Many of us finding COVID has challenged aspects of our lives, of our work. In Lockdown everything stopped, everybody was scared. We didn’t know what lay ahead and we had no control over COVID. We are not given any control because it’s so new and random.
THE EDGE OF THE FLORIST was closed for 2 weeks. Then we opened behind closed doors because people were phoning wanting us to deliver gifts of flowers to somebody who was either sick, had lost a loved one, anyone who was alone or celebrating a birthday or anniversary. We would hear these people’s stories and they often cried into the gifts of flowers as they received their friend’s gesture, trying to bring a little joy into their life. It would mean so much to them, at a time when they couldn’t see anybody. When you turn up at someone’s door with flowers and they’re already feeling emotional or lonely, they often want to talk. It takes time to listen but it’s worth it. We always remember their stories.
I met a lady in Cranleigh in her 80’s who lost her husband to COVID. They’d been married 62 years. I delivered flowers to her from a member of her family who couldn’t visit her, because he had COVID, so she couldn’t be near him and he was in hospital. I gave her the flowers and she asked if we could talk for a few minutes. I sat with her and she sobbed, she said “This is the first time I’ve cried since my husband died, because I wasn’t able to go see him. He’s in the morgue now and I can’t see him there. We’ve been together 62 years what am I going to do with my life?” That is incredibly hard. I still visit her. If we have some leftover flowers at the end of the week, I give them to her. She’s doing quite well.
It’s reminds me of when my partner passed, the flowers were my solace and life. The most important thing being life. His funeral was just before Christmas, and my sister and I made the flower arrangement for his casket from what was in the gardens.
Islamic interior design project concept drawing
Looking back over recent months we had the first peak of the pandemic in May and after that it flattened. The summer was quite gentle, and now were in the COVID 2 cycle. I relate it to nature. Summer was a time when things were freer, we could go out and do things, even if in a restricted way. Now we’re in autumn and things have closed down again. It’s almost as if autumn is shutting us in, the days are growing shorter, the leaves are falling off the trees. COVID is like the seasons in my opinion, as we come into winter it may be tough. As we come out of winter it will get warmer, we’ll enter spring and I hope COVID will have a different effect and cures will be on the way. New shoots will begin to show again, the spring flowers will appear and breathe life, I see COVID like the seasons.
Someone once said to me when you look at the trees in winter, they look bare, they seem dead. But that’s not so, everything is just resting, life is just under the surface.
Nature is so clever; all the flowers and trees have to rest. Just like we are now, we have to rest. Care for the planet and it will care for you. When you look back when this situation began early this year, dolphins were in the bay of Venice, the Ozone layer repaired. I know people have tragically lost loved ones, I’ve seen it. It’s the force of nature and destiny. It’s been a really strange time for us all but I believe there is a reason for it, we’ve reached the edge of the forest.
A floral display in our Smithbrook Kiln shop
With our business we can contribute to lifting the situation throughout these seasons. The fact that someone cares enough to send flowers is enough to make anyone happy! Flowers create an ambience of thoughts, sharing and welcome; connecting with friends and family in these difficult Covid times by “FILLING THE DISTANCE WITH FLOWERS” it bridges the widening gap of difficult, silent non visits.
At THE EDGE OF THE FLORIST we are beyond passionate, we want to create the very best we can for our customers, their family and friends. Our celebration bouquets, Christmas arrangements, wreaths, floral gifts are the talk of the locale. You just have to read our Google reviews written by clients who care as much as we do about the beautiful necessity of flowers.
I always try to arrange flowers the way they grow, to reflect their habitat and it’s shows them at their best. When there’s a sterile funeral arrangement, the flowers look plastic, there’s no movement in them and they have no life. Death is part of life, ashes to ashes. It comes full circle, from when we’re born and then we go back into the earth. Flowers and trees start shooting again after the months of bareness in winter, the circle of life is in nature as it is in each of us.
Our shop interior at Smithbrook Kilns
And so I’ve come back full circle to that little girl on the swing, creating beautiful flowers for people, and I love it. I almost meditate when I’m arranging. I have Beethoven or similar playing and I completely lose track of time and work with beauty. I can layout the flowers but I didn’t create them, they’ve done it themselves. Flowers are living, moving, and that’s how they should always be, why try and change their nature.
We love being surrounded by flowers at work and in our homes…they make us smile, diffuse stress and create a harmonious atmosphere of love, joy and caring.
*Medullary thyroid cancer is a form of thyroid carcinoma which originates from the parafollicular cells (C cells), which produce the hormone calcitonin. Medullary tumors are the third most common of all thyroid cancers and together make up about 3% of all thyroid cancer cases.