The Florist & The Gardener
Late last month Angie Thomas of Ode Ceramics and Sophia Kaplan of The Secret Garden Blog made a visit to a succulent nursery and a flower market to explore the different journeys a gardener and a florist go on when seeking and arranging plants and flowers. The process was photographed and recorded, as an exploration of the differences and similarities between these two interactions with flora. This is how it went:
How do you find or search for plants / flowers
SOPHIA: My secateurs can often be found in my handbag, and I’m always looking for plants- on the street, in abandoned blocks, and in my friends and family’s backyards. A trip to the country is never complete without returning with an armful (or car load) of something or other. I do think it’s important to take sparingly though, to respect the plant and save some of its beauty for the enjoyment of others who may pass by.
ANGIE: I too am always searching, looking for, and studying plants. It’s like my radar is always on to find something special. And that something could be an exotic shape, contrasting textures, or surreal colours. Fine details spark my imagination; I often wonder how on Earth some plants came to evolve in such peculiar ways.
I too ‘re-distribute’ plants from the street, friends gardens, and once even from a restaurant that was laced in vines. As a result my home is a cornucopia of plants in different stages of striking, growing, pruning. No two plants are the same, each has it’s own story and vibe as I nurture it.
SOPHIA: Your house really is a jungle of botanical beauty! At the flower market it’s a bounty, so it’s important take a breath and do a loop first to get a good idea of what’s available – then you can go wild.
ANGIE: I wish I had your discipline at the flower markets! I get so hyped by the feeding frenzy, it makes me what to buy it all! Yet it’s tinged with a touch of sadness because all those extraordinary flowers (excluding gerberas) will die, their life has been cut short to be put on display.
SOPHIA: When at market I think it’s important to buy locally grown and in-season flowers, best from the seller who grows their own flowers. Flowers should be handled like a small fragile child. They’re supposed to attract attention, to be consumed, and taken elsewhere. I don’t feel sad about it, it’s how nature intended.
How do you choose or hold plants / flowers
SOPHIA: I choose flowers on the street often for their abundance. It’s so beautiful coming home with a massive branch of wattle or giant sprig of wild fennel when they’re exploding like crazy. I also love edible things, and having fruits or berries in an arrangement is pretty special. There is often a pull in me between the romantic and weird-tangle alien like flowers.
ANGIE: I was so surprised to see what you gathered from the flower markets, very brave. You’ve redefined what it is to be a florist in my mind as my reference was always ‘they work with flowers’. Your repertoire captures the lifecycle of flowers, from growing vines to the fruit they bear. I also love how you mix it up with succulents, the alien like flowers make the display surreal!
Succulents themselves feel surreal. Their skin can feel cold and clammy, or the furry white ones that feel like a fresh-trimmed beard. This adds a deeper dimension to the idea of ‘plants’ because the 3D textures, colours, and movement create such peculiar specimens. I’m really particular about touching them though…to the point I get upset if visitors touch my plants. The idea of hand oils or pressure damaging a succulent’s skin is devastating!
How do you prepare or groom plants / flowers?
SOPHIA: It’s slightly different for each flower – roses must be de-thorned, and hydrangea cut up the stem, for example. All flowers need to be re-cut after market and placed in fresh water, removing all leaves below the water line. There are also lots of little florist tricks that you pick up along the way, like blowing gently into roses to open them wider, and pouring hot water on poppy stems to make them pop out of their shell.
ANGIE: I think the act of preparing plants for re-potting or planting is the same, but the environment you create for them differs. I too cradle them like a small fragile child, teasing the roots and protecting the stems and leaves from damage. Practice (and many mistakes) has taught me how to line pots, add appropriate mix of gravel and sand, when to mulch or not to mulch. To the point I make my own compost and mix in different organic fertilizers like Charlie Carp or chicken poo to optimize nutrients in the soil. Watering is the number one thing I do, daily. It’s my meditation where I zone out and just be with nurturing beautiful things.
How do you arrange or construct plants / flowers?
SOPHIA: It’s difficult to describe this process. It’s important to start with a nice vase and chicken wire and foliage to create a base for the flowers to sit amongst, but the rest is just feeling. I try not to think too much and let the flowers themselves guide me.
ANGIE: I’m too particular to just rely upon feeling when arranging plants. I have to consider depth of the area to allow for root growth, space for leaves to breathe, or proximity for sunlight. The hardest thing about constructing plants is patience, giving them time to grow. I’ve learnt not to be too quick to up-root them to re-arrange in perhaps a better position. While I apologise every time I move them, it retards their growth for another couple of months. Letting them grow naturally over a long time without my tampering is a daily practice.
How do you set or style plants / flowers?
SOPHIA: I like a wild, natural style. This seems like a bit of a contradiction as I’m aware that the arrangement is being engineered, but I think it’s important to reference the way flowers might appear in nature, whilst putting a human touch on it. I love bunching different sized arrangements together to give the feeling of flowers en masse, taking over the room.
ANGIE: The pot has to trophy the plant, yet the wild, natural style needs to shine through. I agree with referencing nature, so I often mix two or three different species together. I push my arrangement so it feels like what you’d find in a rainforest or scrub. It’s weird though because I trim, tie and encourage growth according to what I think looks nice. To the point I’ll tend the plant to the point of ikebana to exaggerate it’s beauty. Such extremes turn my plants into an eclectic display of gardening styles.
Why do you work with plants / flowers?
SOPHIA: There is something so special about the natural world. Being able to play amongst it every day is such a pleasure. I find the process of gathering and arranging very soothing and always finish a day with flowers exhausted but oh so happy.
ANGIE: When I garden my world is quiet and kind, filled with beauty. The act of caring for something without any other reward than letting it blossom feels wonderful. I know my garden makes others feel happy, they step away from their frantic world into a place of pure joy.