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The Real Poop

If you are a lover of flowers, this career path could be Heaven-scent.

Flower Power is so much more than it seems to outsiders. The work is hectic as all get-out, with strong and potentially conflicting personalities all around you. Schedules are tight, both because flowers are perishable, and because the events and holidays that they are intended for are time-sensitive. To make matters worse, the pay is not all that great. Yet, there are not many unhappy florists, or floral designers, out there. There must be something about floral design that draws its victims… er… career oriented floral designers in, and keeps them going in the industry instead of moving onto something that might have them seeing more green than merely that of the rose stems.

The work can be both hectic and tedious at the same time. The hectic aspect comes from the “hurry up and wait” nature of the commodity involved. Larger projects for weddings and other events may take months of planning, but because flowers need to be fresh on the big day, the floral arrangements cannot be completely assembled until only a few days or hours before they are needed. Then, after waiting to get started, but just before the tedium of assembling all those flowers comes in, there is the big rush to get the job done. It sure would be nice if more people used fake, plastic flowers in their weddings – that way, there would be no last-minute scramble. But then you’d be out of a job. On second thought, maybe the scramble isn’t as bad as it’s cracked up to be. (Is anyone else suddenly hungry for eggs, or is that just us?)

Okay... must just be us.

Flowers for funerals seem to make a mockery of planning for weddings, since they somehow get done when needed, even without months of planning. (If someone does come to you with a flower order for the funeral of someone months before their actual death, you may want to alert the authorities.) This is possible because the arrangements are more standardized to fit any venue. Standardizing instead of customizing is a practical compromise for not being able to plan ahead, but does not alleviate the weird combination of rushing and tedium that floral designers experience with their more interesting jobs.

Floral designers have perfected the techniques of thoroughly mixing the two opposites of “hectic” and “tedious.” Ironically, the most rewarding projects can be the most hectic and tedious because of the quantities of flowers involved. Commissioned to build a float for the Rose Bowl? You’re going to work yourself silly, but boy will it be worth it when you hear it being complimented on national television by… Al Roker. Ah well. Beggars can’t be choosers.

Weddings, funerals and all sorts of other big events pop up throughout the year. Random mixed bouquets and bunches of seasonable flowers can be boring, but reliably bring in a bit of much-needed retail sales. In between these opposites are many and all sorts of holidays that demand “themed” floral design. You’d better have all hands on deck when Groundhog’s Day rolls around – that shop of yours is going to be a madhouse.

Themed floral design is neither as exciting as the big jobs, nor as dull as the common mixed bouquets. Planning for them is easier because they all have specific dates on the calendar, as well as specified colors. Some even have specified flowers. Certain holidays demand potted plants instead of cut flowers, such as poinsettias for Christmas, Easter lilies for Easter, and Venus fly-traps for Administrative Assistants’ Day. (That last one has been unverified.)

Mothers' Day is the biggest one for cut flowers, and demands more red roses than any other holiday, as “single” roses, in bunches and in elaborate bouquets. In fact, it is the one holiday that sustains the rose growers on California's central coast. Roses continue to sell the day after, but are neither as crucial nor as lucrative. They are mainly purchased by awful, shameful sons who had to be reminded by their fathers and still didn’t get to your shop until it was too late. And after all she’s done for them, tsk tsk.

Other holidays have their own specifications. Valentine's Day gets red roses, as well as pink and white, before Mothers' Day. Green carnations (which are actually dyed white carnations) are needed for Saint Patrick's Day. Red, white and blue summer blooming flowers of all sorts come in on the Fourth of July. Halloween demands orange lilies and black carnations (dyed of course). Thanksgiving gets orange, yellow and red chrysanthemums. Ah, flowers. Nature’s swatchbook.

We’d rather be pullin’ daisies than pushin’ ‘em.

Scheduling is important all the way around. The flowers need to be ordered from growers to arrive at the design studio when needed, then arranged on schedule, and finally delivered to their venue or made available for retail sales fresh and right on time. There is no room for error. Lives are at stake. (The lives of the flowers, anyway.) Even random mixed bouquets and bunches of flowers that are not designed for any particular holiday need to be sold as soon as possible after being assembled or brought into a florist shop. Like any other fresh produce, they are perishable. Although not nearly as delicious as a Granny Smith.

To complicate things, flowers have minds of their own. They do not care about your schedule. Although many are available all year long, many bloom in their own particular seasons. They are sometimes less expensive when weather creates gluts on the market, but they become more expensive as they are less available later in their respective seasons, and eventually become unavailable. Don't be a sucker for those pesticide laden, third world (or fourth world) flowers from Chile, Bolivia or elsewhere. Besides being “unclean,” they are partly spent by the time they arrive. (Interesting how those impressively plump rose buds on stocky stems just nod over without ever really opening…)

1-800-FLOWERS helps even out the cut flower market by working with seasonal flowers and concentrating on those that are experiencing a glut. Many of their products feature only a few specific cut flowers with a whole lot of other goodies that happen to be abundant at the time. They help the floral designers use what the growers have available. Growers waste less. Floral designers get more for their money.

Floral Designers are like grocers who work with perishable fresh produce. They are also horticulturists, working with horticultural commodities. They need to be good at retail sales and business. Yet, most of all, they are artists. Believe it or not, floral design is an art form. In fact, it is probably the most artistic of the horticultural art forms, precisely because it is so perishable. What would be the challenge if those puppies (poppies?) lasted forever?

It may seem a tad grandiose to refer to them as artists, but it actually makes sense. Bonsai, the other great horticultural art form, involves a plant that is intended to last for centuries. Landscape design, although regarded less as an art form and more for its function, should actually function as intended, as well as last. No other horticultural discipline is as fleeting as floral design is. It is like a muralist or baker who pours their heart and soul into crafting a beautiful painting or cake (respectively), and then has to see it be painted over or eaten (also respectively).

The difficulty with artists is that they are strong willed. The best artist can be the worst to work with. Tolerance of strong personalities pays off in the end, since the strong wills sustain the rest of the floral design studio. Their artistic abilities and expression bring out all the really cool colors, textures, forms and innovation that floral design needs.

The other difficulty with artists is that they get paid like… well, like artists. There is not much money in the floral design industry, even though it is a bit more lucrative than other horticultural industries. Floral designers do what they do because they enjoy it so much. It would be difficult to argue that the work is not fun, despite all the rushing, tedium, potential conflict with strong personalities and potentially low pay. Really, how could anyone be unhappy working with so many flowers? (Flower-haters, hold your tongues.)

Clearly, the ultimate goal is to one day own your own flower shop. Working for someone else in an industry that already pays bupkis is not where you want to be. When you start out working in your first studio, you either want to be assured that there is the possibility you might be given a managerial (or ownership) position there some day, or that you might be making decent enough money that you could turn around and start a shop of your own one day in the future. It doesn’t have to be immediate, but you don’t want to while away 20 years in a dead-end job, regardless of how good it smells.