Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Shopkeeper's diary:The merry old month of May

A new feature that I hope will be monthly, Shopkeeper's diary is a series of posts sharing a little about life behind the scenes of a local brick and mortar shop.Keeping it real, pulling back the curtain of social media perfection to show the grubby, dirt under nails side of floristry and small biz.

We've been catapulted into May already. April was busy, but May even more so. In the shop we are enjoying the change in flowers. Tulips and ranunculus are beginning to wain, but  we've gotten to enjoy snowball viburnums and lilacs which help fill the gap. Late spring into early summer is a hard time though, because the beautiful seasonal blooms like the lilacs etc are so short lived in southern Ontario. One small string of too warm days and it's all over.

Mother's day was mayhem. Absolutely nuts, which I've heard was the case across the industry. The weather was cool and rather grey leading up to it, which always gives flower sales a boost. The whole team was in and it felt more like a party in here than real work as we got to enjoy the happy colours of spring and several days working together as a team. My staff are such a talented creative bunch, and such nice kind people. It really is a pleasure to spend time with them here. We suffered a major glitch with our software system on the Saturday morning, causing us to loose all our data from the 24 hours before. We had all our orders on worksheets, as we know better than to rely solely on technology, but it made for some extra work and a difficult morning. Our couriers were overwhelmed that weekend too. Always the weakest link in the chain and the one we have the least control over, delivery is a difficult job at the best of times. The added volume of a major floral holiday makes it even harder. 

As shop owner, I usually feel a bit schizophrenic.While running through May I'm actually working on and thinking about June and July. We have weddings starting up in June, and this year I'm so blessed with brides that have chosen really inspiring colours and that share a similar vision with me on the flowers. Every year gets better and better and I'm excited to get started on them, as they are such a different animal than regular shop orders.

And remember this post a few weeks ago, where I share how excited I am to have learned a new way of designing wrist corsages, one that actually appeals to me ascetically?  Well, I tested and tested them, wanting to be really sure they would work and hold up. Corsages are one of the things we have the most issues with. It takes a long time to take an order for what is a very small dollar purchase, the customer is usually hyper concerned over the exact flower and look ( although, weirdly everyone pretty much ends up choosing white. I find most canadians are very afraid of colour!) and they are something that once made has no water source at all and has to try to hold up in warm conditions while being waved around on the end of an arm all night. So, I tested the new designs. I made a whole bunch on separate occasions. I wore them in the shop all day to see how they did and was really happy with the result. And then we heard that two that went out fell apart while getting put on. We can't explain it. I've sobbed it out on a florist facebook group, and heard a wide range of answers- some florists  say the same has happened to them, others say they've used this technique for years with not a single issue. We've compared  notes, and traded secrets. And I have no idea why the two at issue failed, but I don't' feel confident enough in the new way to continue. Two is two too many, especially in this modern world of online reviews ( which, I think should be better termed online complaints and vents). So, it's back to the old wire and tape technique for now. I feel frustrated and chastened  but am trying to remind myself that there are no failures, only opportunities to learn, and that nothing ventured means nothing gained.

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Click above to join my weekly email group- each month you receive a pretty  digital wallpaper, a chance to win free floral goodies and insider info about all things flowers, makers and pollinators!

Monday, May 8, 2017

Current Obsession: tiny things

Tiny things have become a new obsession for me. Little handmade pots and bowls especially (the ones above and below we've just started stocking at the shop, made by local artists Akai Ceramics).

With an entire flower fridge to choose from, I find I'm taking home the teeny tiny blooms and setting them into teeny tiny bowls in my bathroom and at my bedside (my two favourite spots to have fresh blooms at home). Big bouquets don't interest me, it's beauty on a micro scale that holds my attention.

Tiny plants do it to, teeny wee ones set into teacups. Add in a miniature animal figurine that messes with the scale and I'm in heaven.

If you are the same, I bet you'd enjoy these links to some creative folks making and sharing tiny things online:

Jon Almeda- almeda pottery on instagram

A shop favourite, Toronto maker Janet Hinkle of Hinkleville Handmade on instagram

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Click above to join my weekly email group- each month you receive a pretty  digital wallpaper, a chance to win free floral goodies and insider info about all things flowers, makers and pollinators!

Monday, May 1, 2017

In the shop: floral jewelry

I've always had a love-hate relationship with wrist corsages. I love the idea of people wearing flowers as a decoration for a special occasion, but frankly the corsages themselves always leave me feeling  a little "meh". I was taught the traditional wire and tape method back in the stone age when I trained. Over the years I've tried different techniques and different mechanics in an attempt to love them but have never found something that looked anything but awkward. Until now that is.

Found the way I usually find things, through instagram floral friends and then letting my brain tick over things for a bit, we now make our wrist corsages in a totally different fashion than before. Gone is the annoying stub of wire at the base, the frustrating having to hide mechanics with ribbon ( oh how I hate ribbon in bows), now our corsages are like beautiful bracelets that sit around the wrist rather than up it, and are delicate and graceful and all the things I think flowers to wear should be.

We are desperately waiting for someone to ask us to make wilder bigger pieces, pieces similar to those made by the amazing talented designers at electric daisy flower farm and passion flower sue, to wear as complete floral headpieces, necklaces or (gasp) as beautiful botanical sashes at the waist.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

5 easy ways to help the bees

Bees and other pollinators such as butterflies and moths are responsible for about 70% of our food supply. So it kind of makes sense that if they are in trouble, we are to.

Bees in particular are struggling right now. The biggest problem they face right now seems to be the use of pesticides, specifically neonics. The danger from them is serious enough that governments are taking notice, Europe has banned their use, while the issue is being discussed in canadian government right now. Essentially neonics stay with a treated plant for years, and every time a bee drinks from that plant it is taking a toxic cocktail that eventually causes death, most often over winter.

There are some simple steps we can take to help, even if all you have is a couple of pots on your balcony or a window box. It isn't the size of the garden that counts, it's the thought behind it.

1. Ask before you buy. Several large suppliers such as Rona have committed to making their supply chain neonic free, and to labeling clearly for the consumer. No matter where you shop, ask for confirmation that the plant is neonic free. If they can't answer a solid yes don't buy there. Going neonic free doesn't mean you have to buy the most expensive plants, it simply means asking and making a choice about where to buy from.

2. Plant flowers that are brightly coloured. Bees in particular can see yellow and blue flowers, other pollinators such as butterflies are attracted to red.

3. If you have a lawn, don't cut down the dandelions when they first appear! Dandelions are one of the first food sources in spring for bees, after a long winter they desperately need to find sources of food quickly. Learn to love the bright yellow happy flowers that dot your lawn.

Don't have a lawn? ask your local municipality to let dandelions grow in public spaces and parks!

4. Set out small saucers of water outside. Change them often to keep from getting stagnant and to discourage mosquitoes.

5. Give bees and other insects places to burrow and hid. You can find a myriad of tutorials for bee hotels on pinterest, but it can be as simple as leaving some empty earth spaces that don't have a layer of mulch, that insects can burrow down into.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Plants: Delicate ferns

Ferns are one of my favourite type of plant. They are often delicate and graceful, although some are more tough and architectural instead. There is a lushness about them that feels fresh and clean.

However, ferns don't always love me as much as I love them.

Ferns like medium light, imagine their natural environment growing below trees in a woodland- it isn't dark but the sun is filtered a little so it isn't burning bright.

They also like humidity, which most of us don't have in our homes. One way around this is to mist the plant with room temperature water in addition to watering.  Another is to set the plant on a tray filled with pebbles that you keep some water on, so the moisture evaporates up into the leaves. You need to keep the soil lightly moist, drying out stresses the plant immensely, so if you are a once  in a while water-er they might not be friends with you either.

I'm going to 'fess up- I've never successfully kept a fern alive in my house. I start out well, placing it in one of my precious few areas of decent light in the house and give it tender care twice a week, checking to keep the soil moist, even misting on occasion. But in general I forget to water eventually, and the plant gets too dry before I water it again. It perks up once I show it some love, but eventually it gives up on me, or I give up on it. But I still find my eye being caught by a lovely delicate frothy specimen once in a while and I forget my fern killing ways and bring another one home for the slaughter.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Shopkeeper's diary: spring flowers, frozen fridges and future plans

A new feature that I hope will be monthly, Shopkeeper's diary is a series of posts sharing a little about life behind the scenes of a local brick and mortar shop.

We are half way through April already. While we've had spring in the shop for a couple of months now, it's finally happening outside too and grey and beige Toronto is starting to show a little bit of green here and there.

Passover is a fairly big floral holiday for us, many of my clients celebrate and we just went through an intense week of hustle, taking and making orders.  The full team was on hand on Saturday, which was the biggest day for making, and I had a moment that got a little emotional, as you can see here on my instagram/facebook post that day where I talked how it feels like this shop is finally working the way I always wanted it to, and maybe vented a little bit of frustration on how long it took to get here along with heartfelt love for the amazing team I have with me now ( by the way, this was the most liked and commented on post I've EVER had!) 

With Easter hard on Passover's heels, followed by Secretary's Day and the run up to the biggest floral holiday of them all, Mother's Day, needless to say the shop is in constant motion and constant mess. Priority goes to the front section of the shop, where customers walk into and browse, but this means that the back section is less than pinterest worthy right now- no clean white office space for me, I'm squeezed onto the back table along with succulents waiting to be potted up and pots we've rescued from years in the basement that are getting a fresh coat of paint and a new life.

The weather warming up brought our first muggy day this week, which caused a freeze up of my fridge unit overnight. I was up in the early hours of the morning with a call from my alarm monitoring station  telling me the temperature sensor had triggered, which meant waking my son and racing up to the shop to defrost the unit and assess the damage. Luckily I got here in time before any product was spoiled, but it's made it a multiple coffee day and my poor kiddo is likely having a rougher day than usual at school. All of which of course leads to major mom-guilt.

 Running a shop is always a weird mix of being in the moment and looking towards the future. In between getting orders out and talking with customers, I'm flitting back and forth to upcoming events that need to be finalized and scheduled, emails that need to be answered or sent and all the while chugging along in the back of my head are big plans, big ideas that are waiting for their chance to get some attention. It's a constant buzz of noise. On the big list right now: getting more organized about social media with an actual content plan and growing our presence more ( seriously, there are florists out there with 10k or more followers- how the heck did they get that to happen???), bringing in a special idea for grab and go bouquets on the weekend (how will I buy for it, how will we price and package it, where the heck will we put it in the shop), fixing the myriad of little and not so little things that need it (such as a dehumidifier for the basement to help my very old fridge survive another summer and finally getting vinyl wording on the window), deciding if I'm actually going to run some classes/workshops again this year ( I want to, I really do...except I don't)....the list gets longer, never shorter it seems.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Makers: Sarah Harris of Just Betty.

The Makers series of posts highlights the artists that make the products we sell, a peek into their workspace and process as they create beautiful things. 
In this Makers post I'm delighted to introduce you to Sarah Harris, who not only makes the most adorable animal and cacti shaped planters that practically fly off our shelves but is also an all around awesome lady that I am delighted to be friends with ! I sent Sarah a few questions about her creative process:

Jess:Tell us about your work space- do you have a dedicated studio or do you carve out space where you can when you need? What does it look like?

Sarah: I'm lucky that I live very close to a pottery studio in my neighborhood and I can go there once a week for a few hours in the evening. Pottery is my after work activity that has turned into a fledgling side projectMy pieces are hand built, so I usually set myself up on one of the large table spaces.  It's great to be in a creative space with other potters and see what they are working on week to week. In the summers, the baseball game is on the radio, otherwise it's jazz radio. There's a definite feeling of calm in the studio, I love it.


Jess: What are your tools of the trade?

Sarah: To get the slab of clay nice and even, I use a rolling pin and roll the clay between two wood dowels to keep the thickness consistent. I also use a plastic rib and a sponge for smoothing. You can add texture using anything from lace trim, place mats to textured wallpaper but there are a few wood carved stamps that are my favourite to use. The secret ingredient is magic water, which is a mixture of water, soda ash and sodium silicate - it's clay glue when I need to stick clay together. 

 Jess: Share a little about the process involved in your work

Sarah: I start by making the container first so it has time to harden a bit before I add the animal head. I roll out the slab and wrap it around a cylinder tube to form the shape.  The animal heads are build by hand with no tools. I use my fingers to shape the grooves of its features and then join the heads to the container. I've learned that the clay needs to have the right softness before they get attached - too soft and you get droopy necked sad animals.  
It takes two firings in the kiln to finish to piece and in between the firings I give it colour. I hand paint the texture and features and then dip the entire piece in an overall colour.

Jess: Where do you look for inspiration?

Sarah: I really love seeing other potter's work, in the studio or on social media. There's an infinite number of combinations of glaze colouring, patterns and textures that make up each piece. Often times, just seeing what another potter feels inspired to create gives me a surge of ideas for my own work.
Because pottery is firstly a hobby for me, I always come to the studio with lightheartedness and I think that has been my biggest inspiration. There is nothing that makes me happier in the studio than seeing a funny little giraffe or adorable swan come out of the kiln. I can't help but giggle every time.

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See what I mean? Totally adorable. You can follow along with Sarah and her sister on their Just Betty instagram feed here, and you can find Sarah's cute as a button pots at the shop.