Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A Florist's Valentine's

For those of us in the floral world, Valentine's Day ends up being more about work than love. I started at a flower shop in Bellingham nine (!) years ago and have worked every year since then except 2005 when I was in Mexico, and last year when I was in Australia. Last year was probably the best Valentine's Day I've ever had: no long work hours, just summer in February, a trip to an animal sanctuary, wine tasting in the beautiful Yarra Valley, then a Melbourne bike ride to a gastropub for dinner where I had my first taste of kangaroo alongside roasted beets and a glass of red wine.

But I digress. This year since I'm in Seattle it was an easy jaunt up to Bellingham to jump in as holiday help and hang out with some of my favorite lady friends and coworkers. It's also really fun to be back among the flowers and the chance to be creative with that medium. Sometimes customers are very specific about what kind of arrangements they want, but a lot of the time we just have free reign within a certain price range. The dialogue at work gets very specific, and I find myself saying things like, "this tropical arrangement could use some leucadendron!" or "seeded eucalyptus with waxflower can go from gardeny to weedy real fast, huh?" or "agonis [dark red foliage] makes everything look cooler!" or "Should I add curly willow? Do you think she's a twigs-with-her-flowers kind of lady?" It's a good feeling to get lost in the details of design.
Now don't get me wrong- I don't love the over-commercialization of Valentine's Day, the crappy chocolate, the expectation to get something for a sweetheart, or feeling lame if you are single. But like any holiday, it can be whatever you make it. And that's partly what I enjoy about working at the flower shop- you get to help customers express something heartfelt, meaningful, and specific to their special some one.

The clientele consists of a huge range of ages, styles, and budgets. One man was a metal-shop teacher at a community college, and wanted to put together a bouquet that would go in a vase with black stones at the bottom, and welded roses he had made. I thought that sounded awesome. Another guy professed to not know anything about flowers, but with a little help picked out amazing red dragon cut orchids and burgundy calla lilies that any one would have loved to receive. A woman wanted to get one big unusual flower for her partner, and got wide-eyed at a huge, fuzzy protea. We backed it with kangaroo paw and a piece of tropical foliage, and it was a totally weird and really cool bouquet, something unique that I personally would enjoy getting. "It looks prehistoric, like a caveman flower! Uh, in a good way, " I said. I really liked helping a 20-year-old skater/punk boy who hand-selected a gorgeous, though surprisingly traditional bouquet of oriental lilies, bells of Ireland, stock, and mini gerber daisies. Another man knew that his girlfriend loved orange asiatic lilies, and wanted a bouquet of those mixed with other flowers. I put something together that was nice, though subdued and very natural. He looked at it sheepishly and said, "I don't know... I just think she'd like more color. But you're the expert, it's fine!" I assured him it wasn't about being an expert, and he was the one who knew her so he should go with his gut. I redid the bouquet with bolder, brighter flowers and he was much happier. This type of floral design is like a social experiment in collaborative art- gauging the customer's opinions and time constraints with their vision and price and still making something beautiful. It's a tiring but rewarding few days of impromptu art with strangers.

The most amusing love advice came from a well-dressed, middle-aged man who came in to order flowers for his wife. "Sometimes I'm still amazed she married me," he said. "When a man meets a woman he likes, he's like 'Wow' and gets totally intimidated. When a woman meets a man, she's like, 'Yeah... I guess I can work with that'." I was cracking up as I wrote up his order.

The most puzzling card message I filled out was from a man sending roses, who proclaimed his love but signed his full name.
"I love you. -Jerry Miller"
I mean, it just seemed a little strange to have to put your last name on a romantic gift. Was she getting love notes from more than one Jerry or what?

The most epic order came from a man who wanted to send flowers to a woman he had recently "messed things up with", and wanted to completely overwhelm the porch of her cute county home with cut flowers and plants. He knew she loved yellow and blue, so we did live daffodils, hydrangea, and flowering jasmine, plus arrangements of sunflowers and lilies with pussy willow. Apparently my boss delivered all this, first setting up everything nicely on the porch before ringing the doorbell. When the woman opened the door she was speechless at first, then nodded slowly. "He listened," she whispered. I don't know anything about those people, but I sort of hope they got back together.

And so it is, every year Valentine's Day is totally different and sort of the same. We worked long days, ate at the shop without sitting down, did multiple coffee runs per day, rocked out to good music, and got the usual delivery of special heart-shaped bagels from the Bagelry.
After the madness was over, I even found some energy to volunteer at the Everyone's Valentine show at the Bellingham Circus Guild. I could not think of a better way to spend my Valentine's Day night than seeing a bunch of old friends and watching hilarious, artful circus performances.

I hope you had a Valentine's Day full of love and silliness, whether or not you are in any kind of romantic relationship. Signing off with a little Rumi wisdom:


ElizaBeth said...

You totally brought back all my memories of being a florist with this post! I'll never forget stripping the thorns off a thousand roses one Valentine's day. Literally one thousand. But you're right, flower arrangement is an under-appreciated art form and it is so satisfying to bring someone's vision to life in a bouquet. No matter the reason people are buying flowers - to express love, to give with an apology, to lay on a grave - they usually feel good afterward. That was probably the best job I ever had.

Karen N-N said...

treBeautiful Amber! Love the Rumi quote.