…but you have no idea what is involved other than playing with beautiful flowers in a hip studio, making people smile and following your passion. I’ve been there. I remember. And then the rest of the story slowly emerges…the not so glamorous work of cleaning buckets, sleep deprivation and frustrating flower orders. If your passion overrides the nitty gritty daily trials, you have a shot at a successful business.
Recently, I read a blog post written by a woman starting a new career in floral design and working as an intern while breaking into the flower scene. Her description of a floral designer’s day-to-day schedule was captivating because it was so accurate. I found myself thinking that every person contemplating a career in floral design should read through the post to get an idea of what lies ahead…the fun parts as well as the challenging parts.
Thankfully, Kristi from OperationUnUnhappy has graciously agreed to let me share her post with you….enjoy!
“Is there more toil? Since thou dost give me pains, let me remember thee what thou hast promised, which is not yet perform’d me.” ~William Shakespeare (Henry IV, Part I – II, iii)
Seven weeks into my nine-week internship, I thought it might be interesting to document a week in the life of a floral design company intern…give you a glimpse into the daily toils that take place behind the scenes in order to make the magic happen, as it were. And as I begin to write this post, it serves another purpose – to prop my eyelids open and keep me awake until I have to report back to work for a late-night cleanup at 10:45 PM tonight.
(Work schedule background: usually we work 9:00-6:00, but some days are shorter, some longer, for reasons described below. Most days that I work at the floral company, I start the day by waking at 5:45 AM and doing an hour on the treadmill before getting ready for the day; the only days I don’t do this are when I know I’ll be doing a late-night cleanup and need all the sleep I can get to prepare.)
Alright, so here’s the Sunday-to-Sunday lowdown on the inside scoop of working for a high-end floral design company (specifically, this past week, which has been pretty challenging)…including what it looks like when a bride spends $15,000 just on her wedding flowers. Yes, $15,000 – that’s not a typo.
Sunday – Sundays are anything but relaxing in the floral world; they are usually heavy-duty clean-up & prep days. On this day, I:
- Traveled back to Saturday’s venue site in one of the company vans with coworkers;
- Unloaded dozens of empty boxes and crates and carried them back into the venue;
- Loaded and re-packed the dozens of vases (and the flowers), candles, candlesticks, candle pillar vases and all other materials back into their boxes/crates and into the van;
- Unscrewed hundreds of mini-light bulbs from the bistro-style string light cords and placed them back in their cases (I only broke one);
- Upon arrival back at the studio, unloaded everything to bring it back inside;
- Threw away used candles, stored away the votive containers;
- Sorted through all the leftover flowers to pick out the good ones to arrange for a wedding planner’s photo-shoot request and threw away most of the rest;
- Cleaned and packed up the vases and candlesticks for pick-up post-honeymoon by the bride (they were her containers that she provided, which is not common as we usually use our own containers);
- Windexed dozens of candle pillar vases and other glassware for next use and stored away;
- Swept the floral studio at least twice and took out several full garbage cans;
- “Pulled” (got out of storage and set aside for use) materials for upcoming weddings, which can include vases, containers, ribbon, candles, etc.;
- Cut flower foam (“oasis”) to fit vases/compotes for the next weekend’s arrangements;
- Helped to label and set out over 100 buckets (in a small work space which used to be a two-car garage) for the next delivery of flowers, put powdered flower food in each one, and filled with water from the hose outside (this takes FOREVER by the way);
- Made several paper flowers to use for wall decor in the newly-renovated “bridal bathroom” at company HQ;
- Participated in company brainstorming/planning meeting for a styled professional photo shoot the following week using leftover flowers from one of the weddings.
- I worked the full 9:00-6:00 day this day.
Monday & Tuesday – OFF! (But not really, I work at my other job on my days off, so…)
Wednesday – Wednesdays are flower-shipment receiving/prep days. On this day I:
- Opened & unpacked many cartons of flowers that were shipped to the studio (which by the way are usually NOT packed in water; rather they are dry-packed with sealed bags of ice and water just tucked in around the stems, and remain this way for sometimes up to two weeks from the time they’re cut by the grower to the time they finally arrive at the designer’s or shop – it’s amazing isn’t it?!);
- Removed (by hand) all foliage/leaves from the lower parts of stems (the part that will be underwater) and then cut the stems from many dozens of flower bunches before putting them (still bundled) in the water buckets; this can take a very long time for each bunch, especially for the very thorny roses;
- Swept the floral studio at least three times and took out several full garbage cans.
- Worked 9:00-12:00 this day and then left to work at my other job for the second half of the day (ate lunch in the car on the way).
- Removed all remaining leaves and foliage from all the flowers (by hand) and unbundled the packages of roses and other flowers for the Friday, Saturday and Sunday weddings. This is extremely tedious and took several hours even with many of us working on the task. (You will rarely see any leaves on any roses or other flowers used in wedding floral arrangements unless requested – otherwise those stems are as naked as we can get them…)
- Made two bridesmaid’s bouquets for Friday’s wedding:
(One of the bouquets I made.)
- Wrapped all the bouquets in ribbon and attached with pins;
- Attached “bling” (clip on crystal earrings that remind me of my grandmother) to tall stemmed votive cups wrapped in champagne-colored chiffon ribbon;
- Made 15 boutonnieres for one of the Saturday weddings; this involves putting together very small pieces of foliage and small flower buds (in this case we used astilbe, silver brunia and scabiosa buds), wrapping them with floral tape, and then wrapping them with ribbon;
(This is silver brunia – it’s a weird but textural foliage with silver gray buds and alien-like tentacles.)
- Continued to “pull” and prep materials for the weekend’s weddings;
- Swept the floral studio at least four times and took out several full garbage cans.
- I worked the full 9:00-6:00 day this day.
- Made several large “drape-y” centerpieces for one of the Saturday weddings; making each one of these can take 30 minutes or more each. You have to check the list of what goes in each one, pull those flowers & foliage from the buckets, cut each flower & foliage piece to size, then arrange it in the foam and container accordingly.
- Made more centerpieces for the other Saturday wedding, this time in trios of gold-leafed compote vases;
- Wrapped more bouquets in more ribbon, attached with more pins;
- Accompanied small team to the Friday wedding venue to deliver those flowers & set up; for me this involved delivering the bouquets and boutonnieres/corsages, placing centerpieces and candles on all the tables, etc. It was an easy set-up, compared to most.
- Returned to floral studio and began making centerpieces for one of the Saturday weddings; each of the 15 or so centerpieces was a trio of mint julep containers, and each was to get a certain number of different flowers and foliage. The easiest way to do this is to assembly-line it: foliage first, then hydrangea, then we each take a flower type and start placing them: cherry brandy roses, pink spray roses, rococo tulips, mango calla lilies. When there are a lot of these, it can take quite a while – and takes a lot of space for all those containers. Which we don’t have. We are literally tripping over each other, floral buckets, already-made arrangements, boxes of materials, and trash cans all day long.
- As arrangements get made and flowers get used up, I consolidate the remaining flowers into fewer buckets and haul heavy buckets outside to empty the water; I can do this a dozen times a day, easily. I keep waiting for my back to go out as I’m in the process of dumping a bucket in the rosemary for the 500th time.
- Swept the floral studio at least five times and took out several full garbage cans (on a day like today when we are prepping for three more weddings, the floor of the studio quickly becomes a mish-mosh carpet of stems, leaves, petals and trash as we just rapidly cut and discard, cut and discard…the trash cans fill up within minutes sometimes and the rest of it goes on the floor…);
- Examined multiple boxes of crystal candelabra parts to make sure intact and ready for Saturday wedding, load into van;
- This day we all worked an hour later than scheduled to try to finish most of Saturday’s arranging, so I worked 9:00-7:00.
Saturday (I’m tired just remembering this one. I make it a point on Saturdays to caffeine up at Starbucks, wear moisture-wicking material and apply extra deodorant, but it seems to be a losing battle.)
- Allowed myself to sleep in until 7:00 because I estimated I wouldn’t get home until 2:00 AM this day; two big weddings today, both downtown, and flowers still need to be made for Sunday’s wedding. I’m on duty for the biggest one – the one where the bride has spent $15,000 on her flowers. Extra help is called in today from two ex-staffers to manage the madness, bringing the total team number to eight.
- Helped load two vans for each of the two weddings with supplies, materials and rental equipment. Flowers won’t go until later, closer to the wedding start times. Headed downtown for Trip #1 to wedding site to begin set up:
- Unloaded all items from vans to carry up to third floor wedding site, either by narrow, un-air-conditioned staircase or in tiny, slow service elevator (which we use only when have heavy items on a dolly/hand truck). I’m guessing that between five of us at this site, we make approximately 8 trips each up/down. The sound of my crunching knees up and down the stairs provides a consistent and cheery soundtrack to the team’s manual labor marathon.
- Assembled ten lead crystal candelabras, which come in 12 pieces per carton and cost over $400 apiece. Then you have to attach votive cups to the arms and place the candles in each cup. This takes quite a while for each one, as you have to work extremely carefully and gingerly (or least you do if you’re a klutz like me).
(Crystal candelabra in process of being assembled.)
- Placed dozens of votive cups with candles around the ballroom and ceremony site;
- Headed back to floral studio, scarfed lunch down in a brief 15-minute break;
- Loaded both vans up with all flowers and remaining materials for Trip #2 to wedding site:
- On the trip down, in the van, wrote out all the corsage and boutonniere ID tags (this makes me slightly carsick);
- Couldn’t use dollies this time to transport crushable flowers, which means carrying all the heavy crates and bins full of arrangements up the three flights of stairs. Did I mention the stairs are un-air-conditioned? (It should be a crime in Austin for ANY publicly used space to not be air-conditioned.)
- Filled up huge four-foot tall hurricane vases with water up to the brim, for centerpieces (this means filling up the watering can about twenty times in the ladies bathroom and going back and forth to fill the vases on tables, as the vases are too big and would be too heavy to carry if you filled them up in the kitchen first);
- Placed all those centerpiece trios of mint juleps and gold compotes on all the reception tables and other areas; refill with water to make sure flowers thrive and survive (my only real mistake of the night came at this point, when I accidentally tipped over a vase and all the water spilled out and completely soaked an entire cocktail table’s rented linen…I tried to soak some of it up but then left it to evaporative nature and the wedding planner to deal with);
- Affixed all the ID tags to corsages and boutonnieres to give to wedding planner; the most uncomfortable moment of the afternoon comes when I have to walk my odoriferous bedraggled self into the room of perfectly manicured groomsmen and ushers to deliver them to her. Eye-contact is avoided at all costs as I scurry out.
- Tucked the “blinged” stemmed votive cups and regular candles amongst draping liquid money (otherwise known as Phalaenopsis orchids) on the fireplace mantle in the ceremony ballroom and light them just before the “First Look” photo moment (don’t get me started on that).
- Loaded all empty boxes/containers to take back down the stairs to vans, head back to floral studio. It’s 5:30 PM – we get to go home now for a few hours before late night cleanup. I take a shower (the best shower of the whole week), eat dinner, watch an episode of The Office to decompress, and start this blog.
- Left my house in a torrential rainstorm, arrived at floral HQ at 10:45 PM call time to find one of the vans has gotten stuck in the mud and we can’t get it out. We unload the van of some of the heavier items in hopes that will help, but it doesn’t. We try to pull it out using a truck, but the tow strap snaps from the force. It’s for the other team, and they leave it behind, taking a personal car instead. Our team heads down to our site for Trip #3:
- The rain gratefully seems to abate as we arrive at the hotel. We unload and carry up all those empty cartons, crates and boxes to load everything up. The wedding reception is still going in full force, but the ceremony room has been emptied and we use this as a staging area to start bringing things in to pack up.
- This is one of the most bizarre parts of cleanups to me; we try to dart inconspicuously between guests to gather up candles and flowers and vases, gently pushing the sea of empty beer bottles and drink glasses aside as we go and skirting around wobbly-heeled dancing women. No one ever acknowledges us or says anything to us; it’s as if we’re this weirdly invisible force of hunters and gatherers, and our camouflage is the spirits-induced blurry vision of the patrons. We’re not the only ones; hotel staff is stacking chairs and pulling linens, musicians are packing up instruments, but the hangers-on are determined to look through us in order to party past their allotted time.
- I spend almost an hour disassembling all those lead crystal candelabras, packing them back up, and wrapping each votive cup in packing material to protect them.
- As we take the first loads back down to the vans, it starts raining again – pouring, actually. And the service alley that we’re parked in has become a river, for this is where the roofs of the hotel and neighboring buildings drain: we sludge through several inches of water on the ground and walk under waterfalls pouring off the roof to get the materials to the vans. We quickly all look as if we just crawled out of a swimming pool. We have to carry and load dozens of cartons, huge wooden risers, crates of flowers, and everything we took in the previous two trips back into the vehicles.
- We head back to the floral studio to unload all of the flowers in the van – we’re using them for a styled photo shoot on Monday and we have to save them. The heavier huge centerpieces that were setting on top of the hurricane vases weigh about 50 pounds each and there are seven of them to carry inside, plus all the other smaller centerpieces we brought back.
- We finish unloading at 1:30 AM. I get home at 1:45 AM. I fall into bed at 2:00 AM. And then by some cruel joke of the “clean-up second wind” phenomenon, I lie there awake for another hour, unable to sleep even though I’m exhausted, and every muscle aches, and my head pounds from dehydration.
Sunday – Oh Sunday, how I used to relish thee…now I just dread you and your clean-up requirements. We arrived back at floral HQ just a few short hours later at 11:00 AM as required. The van is finally unstuck from the mud. We take all the vans back to the floral studio where I:
- Unload several trips worth of flowers from the other Saturday wedding, vases, greenery, supplies, buckets, and rental equipment;
- Toss used candles and store votive cups;
- Throw away leftover flowers from the other Saturday wedding;
- Windex many glass vases tall and small;
- Scraped wax out of the candelabra votive cups with a kitchen knife and loaded them into the dishwasher;
- Begin disassembling the 50-pound centerpieces to sort them into flower-specific containers for use in Monday’s photo shoot;
- Delivered all flowers and rental materials for the Sunday wedding to the venue site and along with a coworker, set everything up; I did not make any of these flower arrangements, they were made on Saturday by one of the extra staffers that was brought in to help while the other teams were setting up. It was thankfully a smaller job with not many arrangements or materials.
- Swept the floral studio at least twice and took out several full garbage cans;
- Hobbled home at 6:15 PM to collapse on the couch.
Whew – so there you go. I’m afraid 95% of it isn’t very glamorous at all, despite the outward flowery appearance of the wedding industry. Most of it is dirty, sweaty, manual labor. It’s crawling in and out of vans over and over, it’s lifting and carrying and packing and unpacking (and this wedding described above was the first one in seven weeks where we used the dollies/hand trucks, prior to this weekend we carried every single thing by hand no matter how heavy). And I only get to actually “make” flowers (arrangements) one day a week usually, although I understand this is the nature of the floral work week that revolves around a wedding. There is much more to the floral industry that does not revolve around weddings, and I also hope to experience and learn about some of those other opportunities as well as time goes on.
There are also a LOT of flower items that have been made by the more experienced staffers during my internship that I’ve wished I could observe and try my hand at – like those 50-pound massive centerpieces, floral head wreaths, huge foliage tree-type arrangements that are built on-site, floral cake decorations, garlands, and bridal bouquets, to name a few. Most of the time however, it was just so crazy-busy with me assigned to do so many other duties that I didn’t get to observe how those items are made or have the chance to try them myself. The learning aspect was unfortunately and significantly overshadowed by the sheer labor requirements, at least during this experience. Maybe it will be different in the future with other outlets…we’ll see.
I haven’t forgotten that I promised you pictures of the wedding I worked on and described above, so here you go. Here’s a glimpse of what it looks like when the client spends $15,000 on their wedding flowers & table designs:
What do you think? It looked beautiful, but it sure was a ton of work.
And with that I’m off to work again – most of those flowers you see above are being used again today in our styled publicity photo shoot. It’s rare for wedding flowers to get to serve a dual purpose; usually it’s just a sad toss into the trash bin, so I’m glad we got to save these ones. Eleven more work days left in this internship – I’m taking wagers on how many more times I get to sweep the studio floor and empty the trash cans in that time. Winner may just get a free bouquet of flowers, on me.
À la prochaine!