Florist Flicky Howe-Prior reviews Shane Connolly's online floral design course The Art of Environmental Floristry.
"This course with Shane has changed every way that I look at flowers and my work - I originally studied art and design but then worked in busy flower shops just churning out the same product with standard commercial product. Shane has opened my eyes up to better ways of arranging, arranging more thoughtfully, and drawing on what I studied in college all those years ago."
I grew up surrounded by plants.
My earliest memories are of my parents vegetable garden - picking peas and potatoes, the smell of the earth, and my two grandmothers gardens. Both of them were named Violet, and each had the most beautiful rose plants you could ever imagine.
I think I was maybe 6 or 7 when my paternal grandmother, Violet Howe, gave me a bunch of foliage and a tiny piece of floral foam and instructed me on how to make a little arrangement.
When I was 15 I began working part-time in a garden centre, there was a floristry section there and I loved being drafted in to make bouquets and arrangements.
The arrangements were always in foam, and we thought nothing of it. We had no idea what it was made of, and it was simply the only method any florist in Ireland used at the time.
When I moved to Galway (Ireland) a few years later to study art & design I got a part-time job in a really busy flower shop, and there I learnt how to make hand-tieds, buttonholes, all manner of florists fare, and the name of practically every flower you could buy from the Dutch flower markets.
It was around year 2000, and Irish grown flowers weren't ever considered where I worked. I don't even know if anyone was growing flowers in Ireland to sell then.
Roll on another few years and I have another busy flower shop job, at this one we did about 100 weddings each year and lots of commercial work too.
After a couple of years I started to really take notice of the amount of unnecessary packaging - the flowers arrived from Holland, each bunch wrapped in flimsy plastic, which we duly removed, but rewrapped in more plastic as they were sold. We switched to paper, but the customers kept asking for the plastic so we had to have that too.
The little switch finally tripped in me though when I realised some of the places the flowers were coming from, areas of conflict, places where water resources are horribly stretched and where opportunistic business can take advantage of small communities.
I began to hear whispers of "Irish growers", and of one particular grower in the wilds of West Cork, Hanako, who created the most beautiful and natural arrangements using only her own grown and foraged materials - I was in awe.
And then came Erin.
Erin had just released her book, Cut Flower Garden, and I had a copy. I also had a visit from a fox who had cleaned out my 20m x 15m chicken coop for the 4th and final time, so I had a big patch of garden now free.
So we laid a big no-dig bed, and following the instructions from Erin's book, planted our first cutting garden. I was still working in the flower shop, but now I had lots of flowers of my own too, and people started talking about them, and wanting them.
My friend Shannen was extremely encouraging, and sold my homegrown bouquets in her bakery that year, and also had me fill up the vases in her cafe. Which got more people talking and wanting, so I decided I'd better pull my socks up and learn this whole flower farming lark properly, and so I signed up for an online flower arranging course.
That was in January 2019. One of our first tasks on that course was to create a vision board, and I put something on mine, which has led me to some wonderful and inspiring people. On my board are the word's "learn from the best".
I left the world of retail floristry and had, and still have, a lot to learn. I had a garden full of gorgeous things, but I did not have the skills or techniques to arrange with them in an eco-friendly manner.
I began following lots of people on social media, and one fellow flower grower mentioned Shane Connolly, so I looked him up - awe! And in looking him up I discovered that he ran an online course with you at Learning with Experts - a masterclass in The Art Of Sustainable Floristry.
I then discovered that it was interactive - there was practical homework and critiqued assessments from Shane himself, this was going to be learning from the best with a cherry on the top! I honestly thought "well this is going to be out of my budget", but when I saw the price I have to say initially I thought there must have been a digit missing, it was VERY reasonable.
So, I signed up, and quickly got stuck in. The videos were thoroughly enjoyable, and being able to stop, take notes, play back and replay was incredibly helpful.
I learnt not only from Shane, but from a host of amazing UK growers too - there was visits to gardens, studios and some beautiful houses too.
The tutorials were clear and easy to follow, I learned to look not only at the flowers and foliages but at the vessels and settings in which they would be placed too.
Floral Design Assignments
I found the assignments were challenging, but so very rewarding, and being encouraged by Shane to push them a bit further to make them even better was fantastic - this was something I hadn't experienced since attending art college almost 20 years ago!
One of my favourite assignments was styling an arrangement having visited a garden with a particular piece of art in mind - this to me was so incredibly exciting and new. We were asked to create a moodboard, it had been an age since I had put a moodboard together. I now find myself creating one for all my new wedding clients.
Having completed the course my floral design has completely evolved. I am confident not only in my flowers but now my arrangements too. Being able to ditch the foam, flimsy plastic and import-only flowers has changed my, and hopefully many others world.
Sustainable floristry and homegrown, seasonal flowers are the way forward. I intend to continue to learn, and from the best.
Applying Floristry lessons to work for clients
Two of my recent clients have included:
A stunning golf club situated on the West Cork coast - where, on Shane's orders, I went completely foam free and used flowers from my own and other local gardens and flower farms, as well as foraged materials
I used Shane's trick with the little glass bottles and jars dotted along the table, and also reusable water vials to contain the flowers and foliage. Because this was themed I had to buy in flowers, but really tried to get things that looked like they were garden sourced, all the foliage came from my own gardens.
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