the gentlewoman

The Reader

Anna Day, 32, and Ellie Jauncey, 31, are no ordinary florists. Over the past four years they have been steadily evolving The Flower Appreciation Society: part online outpost for exquisite bouquets, part floristry think tank. Out of their studio in De Beauvoir, east London, they advise on everything from the correct way to cut a stem to sustainable cultivation. Just leave all preconceptions of ‘vintage’ at the door: for these creative entrepreneurs it’s definitely more about The Good Life than Good Housekeeping.

Anna Day & Ellie Jauncey

Richard: That’s a handsome bucket of flowers.

Anna: Shall we teach you how to arrange them?

R: I thought you’d never ask!

A: We start by conditioning the roses: removing all the thorns and leaves from the stems.

R: You always want clear stems?

A: Yes, if you look at Ellie’s bunch, you’ll see there are no leaves.  If they go in the water, they rot quickly and pollute it. Always take the leaves off.

R: Gosh, they’re sharp. Have you many injuries?

Ellie: Don’t worry we’ve got public liability so you’re covered.

R: How would you distinguish one of your arrangements from your average Inter Flora bouquet?

E: Well, they can be strong and vibrant with sweet peas or garden roses, but they have to have subtlety, say like hellebores or lilac. We would never do primary colours. We like the flowers to be natural, wild and just themselves. A bit like an old Dutch still life or how you might find flowers in the garden.

A: OK, Richard, once you’ve finished conditioning, cut the stems diagonally at the end. That way they won’t sit flat at the bottom of the vase and will be able to absorb water.

R: What are your favourite flowers?

Both: Peonies!

R: Everyone loves peonies though. Which ones are people snobbish about?

E: Mums – well, older generations – are really weird about dahlias, but we love them. They’ve got a bit of a dated, petrol station flower stigma, but they’re easy to grow and cheap – £30 for 40 stems at the market – so we’re trying to convince the mums.

A: They’re like fireworks aren’t they? Beautiful.

R: How fast can you make a bouquet?

A: When we started we’d spend all day making one arrangement which now takes us about five minutes.

R: Did you have any formal training?

E: Anna did a City and Guilds course and my mum’s a florist so I worked with her for a while. I definitely learnt a lot from her, she has a very natural style too. Basically there aren’t any rules, and that’s what we teach in the workshops we organise.

A: My course was really traditional though: it was about making perfect carnation hearts, or asymmetrical arrangements. Every arrangement had to be designed and priced – completely different from the way we do things now.

R: Would you ever consider opening a shop?

A: The beauty of not having a shop is that it allows us to do all kinds of things such as the workshops. We did a bit of market research the other day and rang around our competitors to see what they offer. Many of them said that they don’t have the space or time to teach. Not having a shop means that we can.

E: The workshops are something that people really respond to. How often do you get to play with flowers? You don’t unless you’re really into it. To come and have ten buckets of flowers to choose from and hang out and chat, it’s really fun and therapeutic.

A: It also means that we can be quite selective about the flowers we use, as we don’t have to appeal to a wide customer base, which in turn means there’s less waste. We’re also interested in developing different products; we’re currently working on a book too.

R: Wow, how exciting. What’s it about?

E: We’re in a bit of bidding war at the moment. So we can’t really say too much about it, but it’s going to be a how-to on flowers and floristry featuring Anna’s illustrations. She does all the drawings on our website.

A: Right, our loose rule for bouquets is to work in odd numbers, it helps to get that round shape. The key is to keep everything going the same way. It’s called spiralling. So, using the left hand to place them, keep all the stems the same way, twisting round and adding to it the whole time.

R: Like this? What hand cream do you guys use?

E: I’m using one by Kiehl’s – it’s amazing.

A: I like Shea Butter.

R: Have you ever thought of launching your own florist’s preparation or is that too twee? With something like floristry you do run the risk of it being a bit “cupcake”.

E: We try to avoid that whole vintage thing as much as possible. The word itself is so overused. And on the other hand floristry’s also so associated with weddings. It can be difficult to avoid because obviously that’s the majority of our work. We wouldn’t want to be thought of as vintage florists, would we?

A: It does have those connotations, but we’re actually slogging every day. You’ve got to really want to do this. You’ve got to dedicate yourself to those early mornings and long days of bloody hard work.

R: Are there any trends in floristry, then?

E: There’s been a lot of jam jars this year.

A: It’s entertaining to see how original everyone thinks they’re being asking for flowers in jam jars. And they’re really proud of themselves for coming up with it.

E: Sometimes we get asked to create big installations or window displays, which is really exciting, but that’s just not our forte. Manipulating flowers isn’t really our thing.

A: We recently did the flowers for Jemima Khan’s 40th birthday. Russell Brand threw a secret supper at Hackney City Farm for her. They rode in through the farm on a donkey.

Interview by Richard O'Mahoney. The portraits are courtesy of Anna and Ellie. The bouquet that Anna and Ellie taught Richard to make featured white roses, lilac, eucalyptus and peach ranunculus. Would you like to be the next featured reader? Then sign-up sister and tell us about yourself!