From pretty puppets to gorgeous blooms, Jane Allison has made a name for herself since opening the doors to Flourish Flower Market in Assagay four months ago. We chatted to her about the path that led her where she is today, and why flowers, more often than not, mark the most important moments in our lives.
For Jane (36), it was a love of flowers and a nagging obsession to seek out exquisite, unique and even underappreciated floral varieties that led her to a wonderland of the most luxurious blooms. The only formal training she’s ever had was attending a flower course in London a few years ago, with British florist and author, Paula Pryke, and she attributes a large part of her passion to watching her mom and grandmother arrange flowers for churches and weddings in her youth. For the rest, she puts it down to being blessed with green fingers, and paying careful attention to how she tends to her crops.
“I have always loved flowers. My mom, Heather, had a beautiful garden and treated it, and any arrangements she made, with such love and care. This clearly rubbed off on me, as I found myself more and more fascinated by flowers as I aged, and later on eagerly volunteering to do floral arrangements for the weddings of my colleague’s family members while I was living and teaching in the UK. I think this is really what got the ball rolling, and I’ve since done the flowers for the weddings of all of my close friends, many of my family members, and even my own!”
As a mother to two young children, Thomas (5) and Emelia (2), Jane is passionate about educating young minds, and has worked closely with Heather, for many years, doing interactive educational puppet shows through their long-standing and very popular travelling service, Puppet World.
“Everything happened so quickly! If you’d told me in January last year that I would be opening a flower wholesaler in October, I would have laughed, but doors opened while I was sourcing flowers for my cousin’s wedding in the Cape, and came across a flower farmer whose quality of flowers and unusual varieties just blew me away. An opportunity presented itself, and I jumped at it. I think if I had thought any longer about it, I probably wouldn’t have opened Flourish.”
Jane still does puppet shows in the mornings, and a close friend, Sian Haviland, works in the shop for her when she’s not there.
“Just like good opportunities throw themselves across your path when you least expect them, so do good friends. If Sian wasn’t able or willing to work with me, I would never have taken the leap of faith to open Flourish. I knew I couldn’t be there all the time with having another job I couldn’t afford to give up, and juggling work with two young children would have been too much for me to take on! Sian is the perfect fit for Flourish.”
Having started off small so she could manage it all, Jane considers herself a middle man between herself and the flower farmers. Flowers are generally cut on a Monday or early Tuesday morning, and then transported from the Cape to Durban by air. Jane also supports the local KZN flower farmers and collects from the Midlands on a Tuesday afternoon.
“My husband, Nik, is always willing to help, and his contribution is usually to drive to the airport every Tuesday evening to collect the flowers at King Shaka. I then meet him at the cold room where we unpack and get all the flowers into water as quickly as possible. We normally finish at around 10pm. We receive one last delivery on Wednesday morning from the North Coast, and then we are ready for Market Day, which is the best day to visit and shop, as the flowers are fresh and we have the best variety. Opening times and days are limited because I want people to get their flowers when they are their freshest, so the aim is always to be sold out by Friday.” We also do the occasional Pop Up on Saturday mornings!
The most stressful part of the floral industry for Jane, is the weather. Orders are usually placed with farmers a week before, but they don’t always get what they ask for because the farmers can only provide what is ready to be picked, and the weather plays a huge role in this.
“There is nothing worse than when local florists and wedding planners place an order and are expecting flowers that, due to unforeseen circumstances (like nature), cannot be delivered on time. But, I’m not one to give up, and I try my best to substitute with other varieties where possible.
Whether it’s a striking wedding bouquet, stunning church flowers, or a chic and stylish centrepiece, Jane will endeavour to create everything needed to make these occasions more gorgeous and unique. “While I don’t formally arrange at Flourish, I still love doing weddings and special events, and will continue to offer this service as I find so much joy playing with flowers to create beautiful things.”
“Flowers mark the most important moments in life – we give them to each other to express our most powerful feelings, so I think the most important thing to consider when buying flowers for any occasion, is to think about who it’s for and make it as personal as possible. For example, I don’t like commercial red roses so my husband knows not to buy me them for Valentine’s Day – I feel sick when people pay triple the price for a red rose just for the occasion! I would much prefer a bunch of garden roses in my favourite colours or a more natural bunch with a variety of colours and textures.”
Most often, budget plays a large role in what flowers people choose to buy for bouquets or use in arrangements, but Jane says the right vase or container and the right mix of flowers can make all the difference to the style and overall look and feel of any arrangement or bouquet. “I love creating something special from ‘nothing’ and I don’t think I’ve ever given someone a bunch of flowers that hasn’t extracted a smile. You can’t really go wrong with giving flowers, after all, most of us thrive on the sentimental gesture of it alone.”
“When it comes to flower seasons, summer is definitely my favourite. I am also completely besotted with dahlias at the moment. There are so many colours and varieties to choose from, and I feel they are the kinds of flowers that make an arrangement ‘pop’ or give it that wow factor! The only downside is that they don’t have the longest vase life!”
For inspiration and to keep up to date with trends, Jane follows a host of florists from across the world on Instagram. The Covent Garden Flower Market in London is also something that stays on her list of places to visit when they are fortunate enough to visit family in the UK. And while you might expect her home to be decked with fascinating fauna of all kinds, she likes to keep it rather simple with fresh hydrangeas and agapanthus she picks from her garden or a few beautiful roses lovingly provided by Heather from her rose garden.
“I don’t like to go over the top at home, because I have more than enough to behold every day at the ‘office’, but I do consider my home undressed if I don’t have flowers on the table by the entrance hall; and if I am entertaining, I will always have flowers! I hate letting pretty things go unnoticed, so if there are flowers in my garden, I prefer to show my appreciation for nature’s beautiful bounty by picking and displaying these.”
Needless to say, Tuesdays, without fail, are filled with both delight and tension for Jane, as the arrival of her freshly-harvested blooms, while highly anticipated, can also prove to be an uneasy waiting game. If all goes well, she takes her happiness with her to the cold room which, for some, might be considered not so nice, but for Jane it’s like exploring the wonder of the Chelsea Flower Show at night.
“I get so excited unpacking the flower boxes, and filling up the cold room, and I love it when a new variety is available and people come in the next day and say ‘wow, I’ve never seen this before!’ I’ve met so many lovely people since opening our doors, and I get so much satisfaction out of helping people choose their flowers or putting different bunches together. So often people tell me how they would never have thought to put certain flowers together, so we play around, and when it’s done, our eyes are all opened to how genuinely lovely they look!”
Flourish Flower Market is open Wednesdays to Fridays. Contact Jane on 083 626 5555.
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