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14 Behind-the-Scenes Secrets of Florists

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Florists know all about caring for and arranging a variety of flowers, but they do more than put pretty flowers into a nice vase. After talking to a few, we got the dirt on the job, including how they find the best blooms, which household fruits are the enemy of long-lasting bouquets, and why the holidays make their feet ache.

1. THEY’RE (VERY) EARLY RISERS.

Being a florist means getting to work early, as the team at Miami Gardens Florist tells mental_floss: “You have to be in by 7 a.m. so that the first batch of flowers is ready for delivery by 9 a.m., when most businesses start to open.” Florists use those early morning hours to cut and process flowers, organize orders that came in overnight, and prioritize which arrangements to work on first. And when they buy flowers at wholesale flower markets, some florists wake up even earlier—around 3 or 4 a.m.—to find the best flowers at the market before they sell out.

2. FINDING THE RIGHT FLOWERS CAN BE INCREDIBLY TIME-CONSUMING.

To assemble complex floral arrangements and mixed bouquets, florists typically need to search for flowers and plants from a variety of sources. Depending on their clients’ wishes and what flowers are in season, florists may purchase directly from local farms, wholesalers, or flower auctions. Some florists even grow their own flowers or import them from countries such as Holland or Colombia.

3. FLOWERS ARE HEAVIER THAN THEY LOOK.

“Being a florist is a lot more labor-intensive than most would assume,” says Lauren Ghani, the owner of Nu Leaf Design, a floral design shop in Los Angeles. “We have to pick up and transport all the flowers, clean and process them (which can take hours of being on your feet!), decide on a design, and then clean up the extensive amount of leaves and debris,” Ghani explains. Florists must also have strong arm and leg muscles to unpack large shipments of plants, lift heavy buckets of water, and arrange large branches and other foliage for display.

4. TIMING IS EVERYTHING.

Because flowers only last so long before they wilt and die, florists are in a perpetual race against the clock. They must properly time purchases and deliveries, making sure that buds have bloomed by the time they arrive at a client’s door. To speed up or slow down the blooming process, florists use a variety of tricks. They may condition flowers (get them ready for display) by cutting or splitting the stems (trimming them at a 45-degree angle increases the surface area for water absorption) or dunking the blooms in cold water. Storing the blooms away from direct sunlight is also key. To ensure that flowers for weddings look fresh and open, Ghani keeps them in a refrigerated environment and makes the centerpieces the day before the event.

5. HOLIDAYS ARE HARD ON THEIR FEET.

Because flowers are perishable, florists can’t get too much of a head start on making arrangements for high-volume days such as Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day. “During our high seasons, every flower shop becomes a factory where all we're doing is trying to get as many arrangements out as possible,” the Miami Gardens Florist team explains. Although most florists find working with flowers to be generally relaxing, holidays require them to stand on their feet for eight to 12 hours per day, often for several days in a row.

6. ALLERGY MEDS ARE THEIR SECRET WEAPON.

If flowers are your life’s work, daily sneezing fits and a constantly itchy nose aren’t ideal. While most florists don’t have a problem, some, unfortunately, are allergic to pollen and plants. How do they cope? Some take daily allergy meds, get allergy shots from their doctor, or try to avoid working with especially problematic flowers. For most, the benefits of the job outweigh the sneezing.

7. THEY WISH CUSTOMERS WOULD TAKE BETTER CARE OF CUT FLOWERS.

If you lament that your bouquets only last a few days, educate yourself about how to properly care for flowers. Florist Brad Weinstein told mental_floss that water is key to helping flowers last longer. “Remember that the more flowers in the arrangement, the need for water will increase,” he said.

To give your cut flowers a long life, check the water level daily, use the packet of powdered flower food that came with your bouquet, and make sure you put your flowers in a clean vase. And don’t forget to keep your flowers away from direct sunlight, heat, and fruit—the ethylene gas that apples and pears emit can cause your flowers to quickly wilt.

8. SUMMER IS THE BEST TIME TO BUY FROM THEM.

Although people might primarily associate buying flowers with Valentine’s Day, February isn’t the ideal time to shop for blooms. The best time to order from a florist is during the summer months. According to the Miami Gardens Florist team: “They’ll have fresher flowers, they’ll be able to take their time to make something beautiful, and you’re more likely to get a discount.” Good news for anyone with a summer birthday.

9. THEY MAY USE FLOWERS IN THE KITCHEN.

Besides looking pretty in a vase, flowers can be used in your kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom. Florists may use flowers (such as chamomile or hibiscus) to make flower tea, add dried flowers to oil to make soap, or use pressed flowers to decorate homemade candles. Some florists who enjoy cooking also substitute tulips for onions in certain recipes, such as stews and pastas, and garnish dishes with chopped (edible, pesticide-free) petals.

10. THE MARKUP THEY CHARGE IS WORTH IT.

Depending on where you live, you may be able to buy discounted flowers at a wholesale flower market. If you buy flowers from a florist, though, the flowers may be marked up 2.5 to 3.5 times what they really cost. Florists say that markup is there for good reason. “In all honesty, the prices are justified. You’re receiving a work of art that takes a lot of hard work and effort,” the Miami Gardens Florist team says. Besides labor and time, the price you pay a florist may also include ribbons and other accessories, a vase, and delivery.

11. THEY DEAL WITH MORE THAN JUST FLOWERS.

Most florists don’t focus solely on making flower arrangements. They also take orders over the phone, answer customer questions, and make sales. If a florist owns their own shop, they must also hire employees, fill out tax paperwork, and manage the store's finances. Some florists also branch out (pun intended) by teaching flower-crafting classes, working with wedding planners or interior designers, and writing articles or books about flower care and arrangement.

12. MARTHA STEWART IS A POLARIZING FIGURE.

Ron Mulray, who owns the Philadelphia Flower Co., told the Philadelphia Inquirer that Martha Stewart is a polarizing figure in the flower world. In the 1990s, Stewart began educating people about flowers, teaching her audience how to design their own beautiful floral arrangements. According to Mulray, floral designers took firm pro- or anti-Stewart positions, with some florists praising her for promoting flowers as an art form and others criticizing her for revealing florists’ trade secrets to the masses.

But whether they love her or hate her, florists admit that Stewart exposed people to the simple joy of flowers. “We could never sell 36 open roses in a hand-tied bouquet before Martha. That was really what she did,” Mulray says.

13. THEY GET TO PARTAKE IN YOUR EMOTIONAL MILESTONES.

Whether they arrange and deliver flowers for weddings, funerals, births, anniversaries, or proms, florists often work with clients who are emotional about recent (or imminent) life changes. And florists aren't immune to the impact—conscious or subconscious—of the heightened emotions surrounding weddings and funerals. One florist writes about how creating floral arrangements for a funeral sparked a recurring dream: “In the dream, I woke up the woman that died to ask her if she liked the flowers. Her answer was no. She informed me that she had always hated flowers … I remember feeling silly and spooked at the same time.”

14. MOTHER NATURE DELIGHTS THEM.

Many florists are drawn to their profession because they simply love flowers. “Flowers are nature’s art. They’re beautiful, strange, and each one is so different,” the Miami Gardens Florist team says. And working with flowers is an artistic outlet that lets florists express their creativity, working with a variety of colors, heights, textures, and scents. “I love working with flowers because with every season comes a different palette of colors as well as types of flowers …The creativity associated with flowers is part of what keeps me intrigued and excited about my work!” Ghani says.

All photos via iStock.

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This Is What Flowers Look Like When Photographed With an X-Ray Machine
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Dr. Dain L. Tasker, “Peruvian Daffodil” (1938)

Many plant photographers choose to showcase the vibrant colors and physical details of exotic flora. For his work with flowers, Dr. Dain L. Tasker took a more bare-bones approach. The radiologist’s ghostly floral images were recorded using only an X-ray machine, according to Hyperallergic.

Tasker snapped his pictures of botanical life while he was working at Los Angeles’s Wilshire Hospital in the 1930s. He had minimal experience photographing landscapes and portraits in his spare time, but it wasn’t until he saw an X-ray of an amaryllis, taken by a colleague, that he felt inspired to swap his camera for the medical tool. He took black-and-white radiographs of everything from roses and daffodils to eucalypti and holly berries. The otherworldly artwork was featured in magazines and art shows during Tasker’s lifetime.

Selections from Tasker's body of work have been seen around the world, including as part of the Floral Studies exhibition at the Joseph Bellows Gallery in San Diego in 2016. Prints of his work are also available for purchase from the Stinehour Wemyss Editions and Howard Greenberg Gallery.

Dr. Dain L. Tasker, “Philodendron” (1938)
Dr. Dain L. Tasker, “Philodendron” (1938)

X-ray image of a rose.
Dr. Dain L. Tasker, “A Rose” (1936)

All images courtesy of Joseph Bellows Gallery.

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125 Million Years Ago, One of the World's Very First Flowers Bloomed
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iStock

Ferocious dinosaurs roamed the Earth during the early Cretaceous Period (145 to 100 million years ago), but beneath their giant feet, a tiny—yet important—evolutionary movement was beginning to take root. During the previous Jurassic Era, the world had been filled with ferns, conifers, and cycads, and nary a flower bloomed. This changed around 125 million years ago, our fossil records show, when one of the word’s very first flowers, Archaefructus liaoningensis, sprouted in what is now northeastern China. This preserved plant marks the beginning of angiosperms, which are fruiting plants that rely on animals to spread their capsule-enclosed seeds.

In the video below, PBS Eons explains why angiosperms were so important to early life on Earth, and how they took over the world to eventually account for more than 80 percent of the world’s terrestrial plants.

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