Anyone who works with flowers is used to emotions; a laugh, a smile or a tear is never very far away. Thanks to the lockdown, however, life has been even more of an emotional rollercoaster that usual.
While some florists, wholesalers and growers are discovering new lands of opportunity, others are on a nail-biting journey through the yawning chasm created by the total loss of the weddings and events market.
“If you’d told me as I flew to LA in February that the world as I knew it would not exist by the time I got home, I wouldn’t have believed you – but that’s what happened,” says florist Simon Lycett, who counts royalty and celebrities among his clients. He has had to furlough his staff and is keeping business going by doing bouquets, InstaTV and virtual appearances from his tiny back garden in south London.
Mothering Sunday is traditionally the opener to the events and party season but this year, the flower-coolers were switched off, shops and stalls closed and the flower industry went dark. “The lockdown came at the end of what had been a big, very emotional week for all of us,” recalls Nikki Meader, retail director of the British Florist Association and owner of West Malling Flowers in Kent. “Borders had been closed on the Continent and the Dutch market had collapsed. We still had flowers but no way of selling them. It was terrible.”
The Government’s furlough scheme has been a lifesaver for many, and large wholesale growers such as Sue Lamb of Lamb’s Flowers were eventually able to restart delivering British cut flowers to the likes of Waitrose and Morrisons, but New Covent Garden Market remains closed to the public for the first time in centuries.
“Order flowers if you can and buy locally” is its message.
“The moment lockdown began, I started my ‘Field to Doorstep’ delivery service" said Oxfordshire-based wedding-flower grower Rachel Siegfried. "Flowers don’t wait and mine were spring bulbs, the most expensive part of our annual investment. The response was amazing; regular customers wanted to make sure we stayed in business and florists have been ordering buckets of local, seasonal blooms.
“Demand is very high but the weather can change any time and take out a load of my flowers, which means I’ll struggle to fill orders the following week. I’ve been in horticulture for 25 years and doing this for 12 so it’s armed for me times like these.”
“My first thought was ‘We’re all doomed!’ said grower Linda Clarke. "But then I put some flowers outside the gate and within an hour, they’d all gone. I posted a notice on the village Facebook page offering to do a different delivery route each week and the requests for funeral and sympathy flowers started to come in, many from overseas, people who’d lost loved ones here in the local area.
“Thanks to social media, I’ve discovered the joy of entertaining others with my flowers and the level of work is crazy but wonderful. My daughter helps me with the deliveries – ‘Sanitise, deliver, sanitise,’ she chants – and it’s so lovely, seeing the joy on people’s faces as they receive the flowers.
“Follow-up business is coming through too, so we can plant more for next season and I’m also offering monthly flower subscriptions; interestingly, more men are signing up for these and giving them as gifts.”
The early days were quite shocking, recalls New Covent Garden Market luxury florist Neil Birks. “All our business is in hospitality and within days, our events were cancelled or postponed and our hotel and private members’ club clients closed. All I could do was head home to north Essex and keep the weeds down in the field.
“I grow thousands of scented roses for my florist business and to sell to my wholesaler, Zest Flowers. I’d been planning to start selling some of them to local florists this year and I’m hoping that will still happen but I’m also going to give some of them to NHS staff as thank yous.
“The initial easing of the lockdown has been a game-changer. It’s time to shake off the holiday feeling, set up new routines of working with social distancing and plan for new sources of work.
“Of course, the virus may change everything again but for now, July is crucial and I’m full of ideas and vigour, although I hope we learn from our lockdown experiences and that a less ostentatious way of living comes out of this.’
Source: The Telegraph