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Philadelphia's most creative floral studio

Continuing Education

Sometimes people ask me why I continue to take classes and workshops in floral design. I have always been most drawn to a designer’s process and I learn the most when I can watch them assemble a design in front of me. I’ve taken dozens of classes with florists, some of whom are now my peers. I’ve taken some lesson away from each experience whether it’s a small technical tip or a life changing view of a color or flower that I had previously overlooked.

It’s so easy to fall into a familiar style of design when you do it day in and out but in order for our clients to want something new, we have to show them something new. I’m grateful that earlier this year I was able to take 3 very important classes with designers that I admire and that have informed my career in various ways.

In February, my friend Christian Tortu came to Flower School New York to teach a class that he had never taught before on wedding design. He showed us images of some of his weddings that no one will ever see due to exclusivity or privacy and then we made two designs, a bridal bouquet and centerpiece. The techniques I took away from the day are firmly in my back pocket for future practice as I learn to make his techniques my own. It was a lovely experience and he is truly a wonderful teacher. This was my 6th time studying with Christian and I was inspired in part to write this post because I used a technique he taught me 18 months ago just last week for the first time!

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photos by Flower School NY & Sullivan Owen

In early March, Charles Masson taught his first master class in quite a while at Flower School NY and I was able to attend. A photo of one of Charles’ designs used to hang on the wall at the Tudor City location of Flower School NY and when I went for my very first class I was so charmed by this design. The design was so charming, slightly disheveled and imperfect but clearly thought out and composed. That picture came to symbolize what I wanted to find in myself, my own style of design that blended all these aspects of designers that I admired. Charles was the only master designer at Flower School who was left on my wish list and I was so happy to meet him and make a design reminiscent of that photo I fell in love with 5 years ago.

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photos 1 & 2 Flower School NY, photo 3 Sullivan Owen

In mid March, my friend Jennie and I had a fabulous day studying with Shane Connolly. I’m happy to say that the designer who did the wedding of the Duke & Duchess of Cambridge is completely charming, amazingly talented and incredibly humble. We made a bridal bouquet and centerpiece during the full day class. We  learned so many new techniques and also met some great designers! 

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photos by Flower School NY & Sullivan Owen

It seems like almost every floral studio offers classes these days and while I do think it’s great that there’s so much interest in floral design, as a very experienced “student” one of my biggest takeaways is this: The design that you make in class is to teach you that designer’s technique. That design does not become “yours” just because you put the flowers together. The teacher in fact did the design for you when they chose the flowers, the vase and the skill they wanted to teach. To grow as a designer and to truly learn you must take these techniques and practice them until they become your own. And practice some more. What I admire most about the 3 gentlemen I studied with this year is that their designs are completely original and their own. That is what we should all aspire to as designers.

Year Three

Today marks three years since this website went live. Of course Adriene and I were working in the studio three days prior to the site going up but no one knew we were there. So today is the date that I officially count as the business anniversary. Every year I think about throwing a grand party to celebrate. I think that’ll probably have to wait till Year Five; fingers crossed there won’t be a polar vortex in two years.

Year Three was full of ups and downs. Despite some personal challenges and growing pains, I would say that I did some of my best work this year. Year Four is looking fantastic and it’s easy to forget the tough times when things are great, but I’ve learned some valuable lessons in the management of my business in 2013.  They are:

  1. Edited for negativity
  2. Edited for misanthropy
  3. Edited for being nihilistic
  4. Edited for general bitchiness

 (Edited by Bridget our web content controller and general happiness enforcer)

In summation, I’d like to say that despite dealing with vicious copyright infringement, proposal theft and website plagiarism, I’m so happy that our clients continue to allow me and the team to keep doing the best work we can for them. Though we are a talented bunch, part of the reason we continue to develop as designers is because our clients trust us to keep amazing them! Thank you clients!
xo,
SO

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photo of our very first delivery arrangement on February 7, 2011

Holland Day One

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. 

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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.  

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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.  

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The Business of Flowers

Continuing Education

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?

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Working with your Floral Designer

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!

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Business of Flowers

So, you want to be a florist? My friend Eileen of Flower School NY and I both believe that “florist” is going to be the next “chef” as far as career choices go. It seems everyone wants to be a floral designer these days which is exciting and also sometimes a little frustrating. Don’t get me wrong, choices and competition are great for the industry. The onslaught of new forward thinking florists around the country are rapidly changing the 100 year old standards of the old school family florist and the wire services. It challenges growers and suppliers to be more creative as well ensuring better products and more choices for us as designers. But, it’s really helpful to know that being a floral designers is not all picking wildflowers in a field in cute Hunter boots. It’s a little less glamorous then most would believe and a lot messier.

A great way to take a look into running a floral business is the Flower Shop series at Flower School NY. We get into the specifics of what your business is going to be about, pricing your work, making a profit and marketing your brand. The next class is 3/25-3/26 and you can register here.

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Magnolia bouquet by Sullivan Owen, photo by Sullivan Owen