Sweet Lilacs Musings

 I started another instagram hashtag #sweetlilacsmusings  to force myself to dabble in other mediums.  I am starting to feel anxious again. I am not good when I feel complacent. 

I  just finished teaching art CLASS for the year and the kids and I finished so strong.  We did these gorgeous colorful masks out of model major clay.  I could have taught this project all year. I discovered something about myself.  I lost the joy in discovery.  I got caught up in “the final result” and “completing the project” and “producing”.  

5th Grade - RLA student

5th Grade - RLA student

I thoroughly enjoyed watching the kids play with the clay.  Some wanted to just roll them in their hands the entire class period.  Some wanted to toss them around like rubber bouncy balls.  Others wanted to mix the colored clay together and discover new color variations.  I could have stayed in this moment of discovery all year long.  Experimentation, discovery, learning, creativity, reflection and growth.

I am so thankful I got to witness this moment.  I realize that I need to get back to this place and play here for a while.

Read: The Language of Flowers

When I read the Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh, I got swept up by the romanticism of our floral industry for the second time in my life. When you’ve owned shops, been involved in over 1000 weddings and events, picked up rental items at midnight, wondered if you’ll ever have clean fingernails or questioned how much longer your legs will hold out by standing all day; a floral designer gets pretty burnt out. When I left the floral world in 2004, I said I was done.


Then…..I read a book that pulled my right back into this addictive world of flowers. The Language of Flowers is beautifully written by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. According to Vanessa, the main character Victoria exists entirely on the periphery of society. So much is out of the scope of her understanding--how to get a job, how to make a friend, even how to have a conversation. But in the world of flowers, with their predictable growing habits and "non-negotiable" meanings, Victoria feels safe, comfortable, even at home. All this changes when she learns that there is more than one definition for the yellow rose--and then, through research, realizes there is more than one definition for almost every flower. In an effort to "re-order" the universe, Victoria begins to photograph and create her own dictionary, determined to never have a flower-inspired miscommunication. She decides to share that information with others--a decision that brings with it the possibility of love, connection, career, and community.

The book takes place in San Francisco. I remember the SF Market. I remember those neighborhoods. I remember when I lived and breathed horticulture and floral design. I embraced every floral class and I was in awe with all the floral designers. All I ever wanted was a flower shop to call my own. Then, of course, reality hit. Our industry is hard work. No one sees all the work that goes into creating of a stunning bridal bouquet.

I got burnt out and this book sucked me right back into this world. In hindsight, I don’t believe I ever left. I was merely taking a much needed break. I opened Sweet Lilacs in the summer of 2014 in my terms. I want to do good floral design work, provide a good quality service and work at my pace. I am addicted to exuberance, excitement, romantic ideas and creativity. In this world, I feel relevant and I feel I can bring joy.

Dahlias, Dahlias, Dahlias

Summer is the time of year where dahlias are flourishing, abundant and readily available.  Dahlias are native to Mexico and declared the national flower.  Dahlias need a sunny location to thrive.  An area that receives at least 8 hours of direct sunlight is best.  For me, dahlias remind me of Dutch flemish art paintings: a romantic, flourishing, abundance of flowers in a vase. 

Cut dahlias are sensitive to climate.  During the wedding season, in the foothills of California, where the air is very dry and the sun is very hot; in a matter of minutes, we can watch cut dahlias wilt right before our eyes.  Cut dahlias thrive on the coast where the temperature is mild and the air is very humid. 


So what is a florist to do when a bride requests those exciting dahlias?  We learned the hard way and even then, it is not 100% foolproof.  We receive our flower order in the mornings when the temperature is nice and cool.  We re-cut the dahlias in hot water and hood them using a plastic bag. We allow them to drink this hot water for an hour and then place them directly in a cooler.  Our reasoning, we are trying to re-create a coastal effect.  When we are ready to design with these dahlias, we cool the studio, design with them, and once again hood them with a plastic cover and immediately place in the cooler. 

In the hot summer wedding months, we are successful setting the dahlia arrangements on the tables or delivering the bouquets looking beautiful.  Unfortunately, no matter how many warnings signs we post all over our packaging to keep the flowers cool and in water we cannot fool mother nature.  These smart dahlias react to their surroundings and do not like the hot dry heat.  Sometimes, they throw a temper tantrum and quickly shrivel up in minutes.

So, if you request dahlias during these hot summer months and your event is in the California central valley, foothills or mountains; know that the longevity of dahlias is short.  As much as we love these little wild gems and they are grown in the hot sun, be prepared that cut dahlias may wilt quickly and not hold up in time for that walk down the aisle.  

Flower Wholesalers and Growers

I absolutely love our industry.  I love the growers, the distributors, the wholesalers, the bucket shops, the florist shops, the grunts and the designers.  When you research the history of our industry and how we grew to global distribution, it is simply mind boggling.  The number one question most people ask me is, "How do flowers survive being shipped across the globe and delivered right into the florist shop looking fresh?".  Yes, those tough little blooms travel the world overnight. They manage to survive, bloom and thrive just for your enjoyment!  Flowers are amazing.

I am fortunate to learn all about our industry right in San Francisco.  The San Francisco flower market is steeped in the florist history.  It is one of the few wholesale markets in the United States that was owned and run by flower growers; immigrants of Japanese, Italian and Chinese descent.  For me, the SF flower market reminds me of a great big farmer's market.  

The SF market is located on Sixth and Brannan Street, right next to a homeless shelter.  Before Pinterest headquarters moved in across the street, there were abandoned warehouses, sleazy night clubs and dark musty drinking bars located in that area.  I remember driving to the market at 2:00am on wednesday, market days, and hoped my old beat up car would make it into the gated parking lot before breaking down.  I wished to find a parking stall; but, if not, I double parked and left my key in the ignition for some other florist to move if they had to leave earlier than me.

You see, the SF flower market was based on an "old boys" and a "hand shake" industry.  You walked into the flower market, the size of football fields and visited the stalls of growers and distributors.  One person specialized in tropicals, another in greenery and another in roses.  Some would have a large variety of flowers and foliage.  Those guys are the big distributors that have the buying power to purchase from many different farms. 

45+ years in the wholesale flower business (Joann and Ken)

45+ years in the wholesale flower business (Joann and Ken)

Cash was king at the SF market and you can bargain for the whole lot of (for example) red roses if you paid in cash.  The best quality flowers went to the "old boys" network.  The people that came every week between 1:00-4:00am and built those strong "face to face" relationships.  Those are the weekly flower distributors that drove several hundred miles every week to supply materials to rural flower shops.  Their routes covered Clear Lake to Yosemite to Bakersfield and to Santa Barbara. They have that special bond of hard work ethics, the knowledge of an unassuming industry and the weekly gossip of growers, distributors and florists.

A florist is only as good as their wholesaler.  They can make or break a florist.  They can bring you bad moldy roses, broken stems, flowers that never bloom or flowers that shrivel up the following day.  They can even forget to bring you important flowers for a bride or change the color of flowers for that special order.

On the other hand, the best wholesalers can provide credit for a struggling shop before Valentines Day.  Or carry the note for a few months to help a new floral shop get established.  Even better, they can watch the fluctuation of prices, negotiate the best price for you or go to bat when your special order is slapped with an outrageous price.  Better yet, they can bring you the best quality flowers on the market every single week; reject bad quality; second guess a flower substitution when the first request is not available; and hunt everywhere to fill your order; all just for you.

The best wholesalers know the ins and outs of the market.  They have seen florists start and bankrupt their business, growers sell their land to tech companies, semi trucks break down filled with red roses for Valentines day, airlines cancel flights with tons of flowers on board.  And still, no matter what, my flower order is intact, complete and received just for my customers.

So you see, the wholesalers and growers really do make or break a florist.  The good ones, well those are the keepers!  That is where my loyalties lie.  

They are simply the foundation of any good florist.


First Post

Christina Kelleher

Today is Christina's birthday.  What a great day to launch my first post!  Everyone is always reflective on special occasions.  Here is where we started and launched the image of our florals.  This sepia toned photo at the Indianapolis Museum of Art at 8 years old.  Very very cold temperature outside and she was a trooper.  We tried to throw a puffy coat over Christina in between shots so she didn't freeze.  We had 2500 flyers made, 25 large posters, new business cards and she was recognized everywhere.  This was it!  This is where the branding all began.