Time travel of a different kind

Courtesy of Pottery Barn ad

Courtesy of Pottery Barn ad

Walking through the door, I was transported to a different time in my life. It was the smell of flowers bringing back my days as a floral designer. It was so real, I checked to see if I wore my ugly sensible sneakers with my protective smock. Nope, I had my regular clothes on.

I looked around for my best buds Mitzi and Rosie. They weren’t there. That’s when I realized that I was in a very vivid reverie. It was very intense and it wasn’t a result of any drugs!

I had stopped at a local garden center to pick up cat grass. (Yes, I do spoil them but they don’t get treats, just grass!) They have a large fresh-cut flower section and everyone was in top speed gearing up for Valentine’s Day.

In between corporate stints, I worked in floral design. It was the hardest work I ever did for the smallest salary. Not all of it was creative. Lifting heavy objects, carrying displays, cold coolers, carrying buckets full of water, cement floors, and chapped, splitting hands were all a part of those days.

Next week is Valentine’s Day. There were tons of potted plants with plastic hearts stuck in the pot sitting on shelves in the store and cut flower arrangements in the cooler. They also had all kinds of ticky-tacky to buy your beloved.

Some people think that flower shops smell like funeral homes. Truth is that funeral homes smell like flower shops. It’s the flowers, not the dead bodies, that smell!

Working in floral design is not as glamorous as it sounds. It is rewarding and pleasurable when you are creating your own designs at your own pace. That’s less than 10% of the time.

Gearing up for a tacky holiday is not fun. Whipping out hundreds of vases of red roses gets old fast. Sometimes it felt like there was a rodeo cowboy with a bullwhip cracking saying faster, faster.

Clients get tedious too. Florists make their money between Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day. That holds them over financially during the slower summer months. Designers are banging out arrangements as fast as they can.

Then you get a client that wants something different…for $20. It takes them the better part of 20 minutes to explain that they don’t know what different is. You nod and note on the order, $20 arrangement. They will get the standard with a tacky gewgaw (a nice one — you want to keep your customers) stuck in the container.

Employees will work around the clock to fill the demand. Designers stand all day, mostly on cement floors buffered by a thin rubber mat with their hands in cold water, visiting the walk-in cooler every so often for supplies.

Everyone gets crazy. Employees start walking around with containers on the head and exist on potato chips and M&Ms washed down by diet soda.

Everything becomes funny. It’s surreal. Either that or you get really cranky.

I left to go back into the corporate world just as I was getting cranky. That and the cats were worried about a steady supply of cat food. I couldn’t disappoint them.

Going into that business and leaving it were both great decisions. First I have my sanity, sort of. I made some really great, crazy friends and I have my memories.

Then I went back to my career with a better sense of satisfaction that it was the right one for me.

Some things are meant to be hobbies and not careers.

The lesson is knowing that the grass isn’t greener on the other side. If it is, there is a different kind of fertilizer you have to put up with.

Created by John Wagner for Hallmark’s Shoebox Greetings

Created by John Wagner for Hallmark’s Shoebox Greetings

This is dedicated to all the folks in the industry including drivers and sales clerks who will work crazy hours all week.

32 thoughts on “Time travel of a different kind

    • This is true, especially an arrangement that isn’t well done. My husband took me to pick out my cut flowers today. I will arrange them tomorrow. Jewelry isn’t a bad idea either. Dinner out around here is a zoo for the entire weekend.


  1. Some people think that flower shops smell like funeral homes. Truth is that funeral homes smell like flower shops. It’s the flowers, not the dead bodies, that smell! LOVE THAT….

    When I was growing some relatives once removed had a florist called Sylvan Gardens. It was my first taste of that smell you’re talking about…as much as I love roses, pink being my favorite color, the smell has always made me gag. However, lilac, lilies, and those big round flowers whose petals finally fall when it’s time for them to go make me swoon and croon with delight.

    I like the image of you with your hands in soil repotting ficus trees, a mocha special wafting nearby. Nice to step back in time…great essay Kate.


  2. Working during the holidays at Grant’s gave me a real appreciation of enjoying Christmas when I wasn’t working two jobs. Your Valentine’s Day workday doesn’t sound any better. Bless you for remembering those who make it beautiful for everyone else.


    • There is nothing like a stint working retail during the holidays to make you enjoy the holidays when you don’t have to work the crazy hours. When I was a floral designer we worked almost continuously from Thanksgiving to Christmas and I was always sick for Christmas day. Too many hours, too much cold and too much pine resin on my hands. Even if you are not allergic to it, you can get a reaction from repeated exposure.


  3. thank god for sanity and memories! or is it insanity and forgetfulness? I’ve never worked in the floral biz but I have worked retail. My diet was m & m’s and tab…yeah it was that long ago!


  4. I’m glad to hear you say that the floral designers think of Valentine’s Day as Tacky Day. I’ve always wondered if the designers knew they were making less-than-lovely bouquets OR if they really thought all that red + junkie stuff was pretty. Mystery solved. Thanks.


  5. I’ve always wanted to have a kiosk just selling flowers. Corporate world is crazy in a private sector and crazier in the public offices. I learnt to treat work as a hobby instead. A means to an end.


  6. When my grandson, Skylar, comes up to visit we have a ritual that involves our local florist shop. As we walk to our favorite bagel shop we have to walk past the florist shop. Sky and I run in to the middle of the shop, take three big breaths and run out. The owners have gotten used to our weird ritual and are very gracious about us.


  7. I saw some hot house Hydrangeas at Trader Joe’s and they made me smile. I just hope I didn’t profess my love out loud…haha. I agree that flower design is a wonderful hobby, otherwise you’ll have hands that look like they went through meat grinder.


    • That’s exactly what they looked like. I ended up getting a manicure every other week to keep me feeling pretty. I also got a bunion from the standing. Many get arthritis in their hands. I have the utmost respect for that profession.


  8. Our local grocery store always sets up a tent in the parking lot in the part closest to the main road. That tent empty right now, fills me with anticipation and makes me want to drop in when the flowers arrive. It’s my reminder that Valentine’s Day is almost here!


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