Professional development

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The U.S election result has been a stark reminder of how rapidly change can happen, bringing with it knock-on effects for all of us. So, as early winter can be one of my more quiet times, I’ve been thinking this month about my business in the wider context. Whatever line of work you do these days, a rapidly changing and competitive world means it really does pay to try to stay ahead of your game. The best way I’ve found to do that is through continuing professional development. This has been CPD month.

Technically, it all started at the end of October when I went to a workshop which explored ways of working with ribbon, following on with attendance at Fleurex, The Annual Floral Fair for today’s Professional Florist at the Chesford Grange Hotel, Kenilworth. I was particularly interested in watching two outstanding demonstrations, one by Laura Leong (who I have mentioned here before) and the other by Annette von Eimen. Wonderful work. The British Florist Association, who organised the event, has posted one of Annette’s displays on Facebook, so if you would like to see a florist working really fast with flowers, have a look here. 

If someone had told me when I left school how many more qualifications, workshops and CPD events lay ahead of me in my lifetime, I wouldn’t have believed them. But I’ve been lucky enough to have had a varied and interesting career path so I’ve taken part in plenty of fascinating, enriching, challenging, difficult, frustrating, and fabulous professional development events, which have all added up to bring me to the point I’m at today – running my own floral design business and loving it.

When you’re working for yourself the demand to create fresh business and meet orders is always there, on the calendar, right in front of you, and it might seem tempting to put CPD on ‘the back burner’, especially when you are building the business, but I’ve found that CPD activity goes hand in hand with those other vital parts of the business cycle.

Attending courses and professional events away from the hub of your SME cave can feel like a luxury but as much as technology is altering the way we do business (yes, even in floristry) it can also help save on costs by bringing CPD to your desktop. The growth of online forums, social media, webinars and e-newsletters all make it easier to take part in training, even from home.

That said, I do like to get out and about, so my final CPD for 2016 was a trip to a special workshop on floral ‘mechanics’ with Laura Leong. I returned with a box of interesting structural items in autumn and winter colours to inspire a variety of glittery, light-reflecting creations perfect for winter work.

As to be expected in November, there are fewer weddings at this time of year, but I will mention one commission from last month I particularly enjoyed. The bouquet for the couple is featured at the top of the page. As you can see, the bride and I settled on an arrangement suited both to the season and to the couple’s choice of venue, Knightor Winery, with its wild winter garden and Cornish granite outbuildings and barns. That combination allowed me to use those freshly honed CPD skills and draw on recent inspiration for ways of mixing beautiful winter textures and colours.

Lastly, before we start to prepare for Christmas, I’d like to say thank you to all the brides and grooms who voted for me in the Simply Wedding awards. I didn’t win, but I really appreciate all the support that made me a finalist. Thank you!

Key dates are going fast

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Well, it’s finally September and for the first time in months I have had a chance to draw breath and think about what’s coming next. Up until now, this summer, I have been flat out ordering flowers, conditioning flowers, delivering flowers all over Cornwall, every weekend right through. But this coming Saturday, there’s a signal that summer activities are coming to an end. I will be making up bridal flowers for the last wedding to be held at Trenython Manor before the hotel fills up again with its seasonal time-share customers.

With a seasonal business like mine, where there is such a need to plan ahead to get everything in place in good time for the Big Day, the work ebbs and flows with the calendar like this, and all seems part of a cycle. A quick glance at my diary confirms it – already, key weekends and Bank Holiday dates next year are filling up fast. Even for initial consultations, I’m now taking bookings for January 2017. It’s odd to think that the date for that year will take on such a special significance for 2017 brides and grooms. For some of them in my diary, as yet unknown, I will be confirmed to play a small (floral) part in this cycle of life.

Bridal flowers may form a just a part of the whole, it’s true, but I was reminded again recently how important a part that is, when, back in August, one of my 2016 wedding couples took the time and trouble to nominate me for a Simply Weddings award!

Simply Weddings Award 2016 are looking for small to medium-sized enterprises who:

“work so hard to create the most amazing wedding day and…. really will inspire and assist, and also deliver beyond all expectations”

So you can see why I was chuffed to be nominated – and now I’m through to the finals! (Although chances are against me winning are slim, anyone who does want to vote, voting closes on October 16th so just click on this link and submit your details.) [17-10-16 Update: competition now closed, the page has gone]  Thank you!

And on the subject of planning ahead, if you are starting to plan your wedding and would like to see what’s on offer to help create a fabulous event, Floral Creations St Austell will be showcasing bridal flower creations through October at various venues, so do try to catch one for ideas and inspiration.

On Sunday 2nd October the stunning Pengenna Manor will open its doors for the third year running for ‘A Most Marvellous Wedding Experience’ from 11am – 4pm.

A Most Marvellous Wedding Experience is a fantastically fun, wildly engaging interactive wedding showcase packed full of beautiful, quirky and slightly different wedding suppliers.

On the same day, I will be in attendance (along with some beautiful flowers of course!) to answer queries and provide advice here:
Sunday 2nd October
And the following week, I will be available in person to take bookings for initial consultations and chat through the bridal displays here:
Sunday 9 October, 11am – 3pm for a day of wedding inspiration
So, summer may be ending, but I’m going to be busy right up to the end of October, and with a recent reminder in the shape of two orders for Christmas wreaths (!) I’m already starting to look forward to my November holiday.

Honour and remembrance

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Did you know, the Gladiolus is the flower of the month for August?

If you pass cottage gardens on your travels you’ll spot why, as these tall elegant spikes – often known as sword flowers or sword lilies (from the Latin for sword, gladius, like gladiator) – are in full flower at the moment. Gladioli come in a range of lovely colours from acid pinks and yellows to soft pastel shades, often planted at the backs of borders for structure and impact, they make a beautiful display in summer. They are particularly popular as cut flowers, long-lasting, and continue to open down the spike whilst in the vase. I love them.

In the language of flowers, gladioli stand for honour and remembrance (more of which later) and strength of character, faithfulness, sincerity, integrity and determination.  So I’ll start with honour. I’ve been lucky enough this month to have been honoured in a couple of ways. Firstly, I had a glowing testimonial full of kind words for my work as a result of a collaboration at Boconnoc with renowned event planner, Simon Nickell.

Secondly, I’ve also been nominated for a Simply Wedding Award! The nomination came out of the blue, one or more of ‘my’ brides or grooms must have nominated me for their  wedding flowers, so I’d like to say a general thank you to whoever it was. Previous Brides and Grooms from 2015/16 only can vote for a business and voting opens on September 1st, so I’ll be posting this again, no doubt, and keeping my fingers crossed for the result.

Thirdly, another recent honour, my flowers on the front cover of Pure Weddings magazine! My bouquet sits in the centre of a colourful feature on ‘The Gypsy Bride’. The bride is seated on an old folk-art decorated caravan wearing a Romany style wedding dress – really pretty and unusual. This was a team effort*, great fun to be part of, and I’m still excited to see the picture made the front page.

Lastly, though, I must just make a short mention of remembrance – at home we lost two of our dogs this month to heart cough, my dog, Buster, and my son’s dog, Neo, my dog’s father, both at a young age. Pets become like one of the family and because they have such a short life-span compared to humans, they can make us mindful of mortality and the cycle of life. This too, of course, is part of my work. I’m reminded of another honour here, that it is a special role to be asked to create personalised memorial flowers for clients who have lost a loved one and thereby to play a small part in the passing ceremony.

To end on a brighter note, again in honour of the vivid and cheerful gladioli, all in all, August has been a busy month. I’ve been able to add some fresh pictures to my Wedding Gallery include some very positive feedback to my portfolio, and have two weddings coming up this weekend. Every Saturday until the end of September, I will be busy with wedding flowers to finish and deliver, and meanwhile, my workshop is in the process of being transformed, more of which next month…

…………………….

*’The Gypsy Bride’ team credits
Photography, Julia Mcintosh, juliamcintoshphotography.com
Dresses, Christine Trewinnard Couture
Make up artist, Sally Orchard
Hair, Claire Pascoe, number8hairdressing.com
Flowers, Floral Creations St Austell
Jewellery, gemheaven jewellery
Location, Outlandish Holidays

Beautiful Cornwall

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This is the season for flower shows, first The Royal Horticultural Society Chelsea Flower Show and then, closer to home, The Royal Cornwall Flower Show.

I’ve been lucky enough to squeeze attendance at both these two important flower shows into my busy schedule this year. I say important, because as a floral designer, visiting flower shows ticks a few boxes for me: professional profile (I get out and about and plenty of chances for good chats with other professionals, potential clients, and suppliers); industry insider tips (lots of great design/materials ideas to take back to my workshop for upcoming commissions, weddings, and formal displays); personal pleasure (last, but not least, because I just love flowers!).

So how were they? Well, Chelsea was spectacular, always inspiring, amazing, a phenomenon really, but if I am perfectly honest, the stress of getting to the venue, the time it takes to gain entry and the sheer physical slog of going round with the throng has to be set against that. I loved the work on display (what I could see of it) but this year the sheer numbers of people present were off putting. There was an amount of pushing and shoving, straining forward to see the stunners and the winners, and for me, ‘elbows out ladies’ goes against the whole idea of what flowers and gardens should ideally be about – harmony, balance, relaxation. Flowers and floral design  should bring sensory delights – colours, smells, textures – and also elements which are spiritually uplifting. This year, at Chelsea that was not so easy to find.

Royal Cornwall, however, was as ever, a delight. As the website says, Royal Cornwall’s event is:

A flower show that prides itself on a well-earned reputation for being one of the country’s best. It attracts trade exhibitors from far and near and they compete with each other to mount the finest displays.

And once into the whole event, it’s free. I’d recommend going, every time.

I had a great day looking round, and the flowers were excellent, really stunning. For my competition entries, I had two good results overall: a second prize and a ‘Highly Commended’ in the imposed class. For this last challenge, a race against the clock, they say working under pressure can bring out your best qualities… although it never feels like it at the time.

Reading that paragraph above back, I think my perspective on those shows boils down to the fact that Cornwall is such a great place to live, the pace and quality of life here are just hard to beat. I love going on trips ‘up country’, London even, but at the end of the day, I love good old Kernow and all it has to offer, more. I love the lifestyle, the views, the coast, the mild climate (most of the time), the unspoiled areas, the sub-tropical flora, the list goes on. Cornwall is such a fantastic venue for weddings, for anyone out-of-county looking for a truly beautiful and magical location, Cornwall is so unique and memorable, it has some wonderful spots, and if you have the right contacts (like yours truly :), you can find the same tip-top professional services in this  county as anywhere else, the only difference is, you will be happier with what’s left in your pocket.

Case in point, I have just had a booking for a wedding next year at Cornish Tipi in St Kew, “the closest you can get to an outside wedding in the UK”. With such beautiful wild woods, woodland streams, a wood, willow and canvas Pavilion, tented spaces, tree arbours, fire pits, charming outdoor accommodation in Tipis, where else could you find a lovely location like this, except Cornwall?

Further on this local theme, it gave me great pleasure this month to install my first  church flowers – either side of the altar at the chapel of Carclaze Methodist Church. It was the Sunday School Anniversary that day and as it so happened also the Anniversary of the date of the first Chapel ever opening. That morning a special anniversary service was planned and the flowers were there to add an especially colourful celebratory touch.  

Also on a local note, LOCAL FLOWERS ARE NOW AVAILABLE! Sorry about the capitals, not meaning to be shouty and all that, but last week was British Flowers Week, and not only did the event make it to Countryfile, (read all about it here) I just had to announce that this also marks the key week for the plentiful availability of local flowers here in Cornwall. Locally grown flowers are fresh, sustainable (no air miles), great for the local economy, beautiful, traditional, and, more importantly, affordable – so get some while you can.

And finally, if you’re interested in seeing some more pretty pictures of weddings in Beautiful Cornwall, look out for Floral Creations St Austell’s contribution to the photo shoot with Jules Mackintosh in the upcoming July issue of Pure Weddings.

Flowers across the world

Outside the French Embassy in LondonI wanted to start with this picture – the display is not one of mine, but one of the floral tributes laid outside the French Embassy in London last week.

This beautiful arrangement of white lilies with the red, white and blue tricolor ribbon, simply placed on the stone steps against the backdrop of all the terrible news and commentary, says so much about those recent tragic events. It reminds me that although context and timing are everything, a floral gift is such a strong but gentle way of sending a message.

A good florist is called upon to bring skills and imagination to all occasions, good or bad. Our abilities to create stunning displays for important moments, such as world faith festivals, like Christmas and Hannukah, are another example, and like any professional, we love to gain industry standard recognition for the gentle arts of our trade. So last weekend I was excited to follow the fortunes of some my florist friends competing for the title of Chelsea Florist of the Year 2017. Tina Parkes and Caroline Crabb did especially well with very high scores.

The first heat was in the South West in Bath and there will be further heats with another held in Birmingham next month, and a couple more more in the New Year. Another category of competition that has just taken place was called ‘World Skills’ and this month, the title for the theme was ‘The Festival of Lights’, or Diwali.

November has been a busy month so far, following up on booked consultations from the season’s wedding fayres as next year’s brides start planning their Big Day for 2016. The last fayre this year is on the 29th November at Carnglaze Caverns, Liskeard so if you’re a b2b (bride-to-be) and want some inspiration to keep you going over the winter quarter, do come along, these events have a lovely buzz, free samples, and they’re great for ideas and contacts.

On my own networking front, I attended The Cornwall Wed Meet Up at Alverton Manor in Truro, recently. Not only did this showcase a beautiful wedding venue, two of the key note speeches were just up my street, ‘Becoming Self-Employed & Staying Sane!’ by Kirsten Butler, and ‘Digital trends affecting the wedding industry’ by Tina Reading. Plenty of food for thought, thank you, both.

Upcoming, watch this space. I’ve just heard that some of the photos of my floral work from a wedding shoot earlier in November will be appearing in Vintage Life magazine next week. I can’t wait to see which ones they’ve chosen. Vintage Life has everything for the followers of this fashionable trend, from vintage-style 1950’s themed day trips, to whole weddings decked out in Downton Abbey style  clothes and accessories. The photo shoots are hard work, but they always result in some fantastic marketing materials. The professional photographers I’ve worked with are so talented at showing wedding flowers (and cars and clothes and hair!) to their best advantage, they give new brides a truly glamorous glimpse of what can be done on the day.

Back in Time

backintime2Florists, like gardeners, often take their professional inspiration from the pioneers of the past. We love the colourful personalities from history whose skill, flamboyance and determination popularised the gentile arts, like floristry, for the masses. Nowadays, beautiful flowers are part of all our occasions, from weddings to funerals; they’re not just a luxury for the wealthy.

Constance Spry [1886-1960] was one such pioneer, a successful businesswoman and entrepreneur in the world of floristry who drew inspiration from the Dutch 17th and 18th century flower painters [and used]…. unusual plant materials to offset her flowers”.

Her life and work was the key note for a well-known local Spring Flower Show this month, held each year at the Georgian country estate of Boconnoc, not far from where I live, near Lostwithiel, in Cornwall.

I entered three competition classes titled ‘Fun with Flowers’, ‘Inspired by Candles’, and ‘Back in Time’ and was thrilled to be awarded a Commended for my Fun entry and Very Highly Commended for my tribute to Constance Spry (a woman after my own heart known to raid attics, hedgerows and vegetable gardens for pieces to include in her work) ‘Back in Time’.

After a busy build-up to the Easter weekend with my flower orders (flowers are so much a part of spring), the end of the month was quieter, so I took the chance to get the mop and duster out and give my workroom a good old spring clean in preparation for the summer wedding season.

RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show

Our work is driven by our simple love of plants and the belief that gardeners make the world a better place.” [The Royal Horticultural Society]

It’s a simple statement, but as anyone who has been to Hampton Court, or the Royal Chelsea Flower Show, or taken part in ‘Britain in Bloom’ knows, the RHS encompass a huge and renowned range of initiatives and projects. They’re involved in everything from plant and pest research to international garden design, from providing primary education resources to support for professional courses, from local conservation drives, to world famous competitions showing the finest produce – including the best of the floral arts.

If you’re a gardener or you work in the floral industry, like me, the RHS are the important and prestigious ‘go to’ organisation. They set the standards for our industry, judge our efforts and give our work that all important stamp of approval. And yesterday, I went there – or more precisely I went to the RHS Hampton Court Flower Show to take part in the first year of a new competition, Floristry College of the Year.

I was one of the team who created the competition entry on behalf of The Academy of Floral Arts in Exeter, where I trained. The Academy was among the finalists and we had a nail-biting few hours whilst our piece was judged.

However, there was plenty to see to take our minds off the judging. The arrangements in the floral marquee were stunning, and we were busy networking, taking pictures for inspiration, shaking hands with fellow competitors. It was only really on the way back home, after a long but exciting trip, after the publicity photographs, the congratulations, when our team had time to absorb the results of the day’s efforts.

We won GOLD. As you can imagine, all of us are delighted with having the standard of our floral design and creation work recognised with such a prestigious award.

RHS Floristry College Gold Award

 

Competitions

contemporary wedding bouquetAs with all creative professions, there are different styles of working, and floristry is no exception.

Alongside the highly respected international names (Dutch, German, Japanese and American) who put a strong stamp on their work and host demonstrations of their art which influence us all, there are of course talented home-grown designers coming forward contributing to new trends. With each season, inspirational designers find fresh ways to include new floral materials in their designs. Some cutting edge floral creations are like the fashion catwalk, a little difficult for most of us to wear, but the trends trickle down, mellow and mature, and influence the high-street. Before long we all want that new style.

Competitions are where this all comes together. Aiming for prizes challenges our creativity and gives the industry stamp of approval to our professionalism. Entering new work is daunting, but it’s an important way to stretch our talents, develop, showcase our credentials and let our clients know we’re up with all the latest trends. (Brides, in particular, know about up-to-the-minute fashions in bridal flowers and we have to keep one step ahead!)

So this is a roundabout way of telling you what I’ve been up to lately. You guessed. Developing new work for competitions.

Last week I took part in my first Royal Cornwall Show and entered some new work in 4 floral art classes. There were some amazing designs from some very talented people and the ‘Imposed’ class (where you get a bag of materials you open when they say ‘Start!’) was great fun.

I was very pleased with my results. I was awarded a 4th in one class, and two Highly Commendeds, including one in the ‘Imposed’ class.  The constructive feedback from the other two classes was really helpful.

Congratulations to all the winners. See you next year!