Image by madwblog.
Earlier this week, I had the absolute pleasure of spending an hour with Emma Sheffield – Creative Director, Florist and Owner of Floral Exuberance – an award-winning Clayhanger business.
As soon as Emma opens the front door to her home, I know exactly why her customers like her and return again and again. She smiles and stands back from the door ‘Come in, come in. Do you want a drink? Tea? Coffee?’ Ahhh bliss, I’ve just come from work. I accept eagerly.
Emma ushers me into her ‘inside’ working room. ‘This is supposed to be where we eat,’ she explains. She means the four of them, Emma, her husband and her two teenage boys, ‘That hasn’t happened in a while,’ she sighs and sets about making a brew.
Image by madwblog.
I stand in the room absolutely fascinated with the paraphernalia around me. Every surface and inch of spare floor is taken up with silk flowers, jewels, wire, packing boxes and work in progress. This is where Emma makes her silk arrangements and meets with clients. Later, I find out that Emma can spend 2 to 3 hours with a bride getting the choices just right. These bouquets adorned with jewels and crystals really are a work of art. Emma sources silk flowers and ships them to brides in the USA and Europe.
Image by madwblog.
Emma returns with mugs of tea and we sit. I ask Emma how she came to live in Clayhanger. ‘We moved here 17 years ago. When the new houses were built.’ Why Clayhanger? ‘We liked the house and the area. It has a real village feel about it.’
‘So, how did you get into floristry Emma?’ I ask. She sits back and reminisces. ‘I went to floristry college at 18 and studied for three years,’ she explains, ‘It’s my trade and I worked as a florist for other people.’ As many other mums have done with their careers, Emma left floristry when her eldest child was born. Out of necessity, and what seemed an obvious business path, she became a child-minder. Now the boys are older, she has returned to her first love – creating beautiful arrangements with flowers.
I bring up the small matter of the award presented by The Best of Walsall for ‘friendly service and a high level of customer feedback and satisfaction’. Emma is coy about this. I encourage her to tell me about the award – none of us are very good at celebrating our successes. She finally admits ‘Customers have written some great reviews on the ‘best of’ site. They comment on the quality of the flowers and the service and that we are friendly and we go the extra mile for them.’ Emma will be presented with her award from the Mayor of Walsall later this month. Look out for her in the Express and Star.
I ask the next question, ‘What’s the worst thing about being a florist?’ and am totally taken back by the answer. I expect Emma to say ‘being on your feet all day in the cold’ because I know flowers need to be kept cool, but there is more. A lot more. ‘It’s a dirty job. My hands are constantly green and dirty from the stems. My fingers get torn by thorns. My garage floor is dyed green even though I scrub and bleach it regularly.’ Emma goes on explaining how physical the job is. ‘You have to hold a large bouquet in one hand while you make it. You know the size of those ones which are presented in boxes? A florist makes that holding the whole thing in one hand and adding flowers with the other.’ Goodness. I sneak a look at Emma’s hands. They seem so small! I’m beginning to realise how physical the job is, ‘So I imagine that’s a lot of strain on your shoulders and arms?’ Yes. And still there’s more.
Image by madwblog. I visit Emma today (Saturday) and she shows me her poor hands!
‘The big tubs I keep the flowers in until I use them need to be emptied and refilled weekly. They are very heavy when the are filled with water. Once they have been emptied, I bleach them to get rid of bacteria and then refill them.’ I am now thinking about floristry in a whole new light. It really is a labour of love for Emma.
Image by madwblog.
Squeezing past hubby’s motor bike, we take a trip outside into Emma’s garage or ‘outside’ working area. It is packed with all the stuff every family has in the garage plus all the tools and stock a florist needs. The photographs don’t do it justice. There are drawers and boxes squeezed into every nook and cranny filled with ribbon and lace and wire.
With Mother’s Day approaching, I ask Emma what her order book is like. Hectic, she replies. Daft question, I think. She explains that she will place her order with ‘The Dutch Man’ tomorrow (Tuesday) to cover the Mother’s Day orders and a little extra for last-minute requests ‘I never turn an order down’ she says, ‘even if I haven’t got any flowers, I will go to the Birmingham wholesalers for 6am to get what I need, then come home and begin working again.’ Emma regularly works into the small hours of the morning, catches a few hours sleep and then begins again. ‘Florists don’t get a Mother’s Day,’ she muses.
Image by madwblog. photograph taken toady (Saturday) as Emma works away at Mother’s Day orders.
Having now had a real insight into just how hard this job is, I ask, ‘What’s the best thing about being a florist?’ Surely nothing can make up for the physicality and lack of sleep? ‘Seeing a customers face on delivery. The look of surprise. You can’t beat that.’ I get it. The reward for those hours spent quite literally labouring is not financial. It’s the reward of knowing that you have made a real difference to a person’s day.
I am suddenly struck profoundly by the importance of flowers in significant events in our lives. Flowers are there when we are ill or celebrating, getting married or mourning a passing. There is a florist behind those flowers. A florist who not only has the gift of creating beautiful arrangements but one who has the gift of giving so much to get every arrangement just right.
Whether you are giving or receiving flowers this Mother’s Day, remember to thank the florist.