say it with flowers
What's the key to a good floral tribute? And what flowers and designs are florists using for contemporary funeral ceremonies? I asked florist Karen Delaine-Smith to share her knowledge, tips and designs with us, and to reveal what it's like creating floral tributes for life's significant moments...
How did you get started as a florist?
My world turned upside down when I lost my Mum; I became very despondent about life, without her being around to share it with. And living so far away from her resting place, it hurt that I couldn’t be close by to make it look as pretty as possible every week with fresh flowers. That’s how my journey to becoming a florist began.
I’d worked in marketing for around 20 years, and had so much experience of marketing brands, and managing their budgets… I thought how hard could it be to start my own business? So I did it; I resigned, and changed my life – turning that loss into a positive. I learnt the trade with one of the most revered floral designers’ and author, Judith Blacklock and after one month, launched my own pop-up business in central London called Floweristry.
What's your experience of creating 'farewell' floral tributes?
I love creating farewell tributes; as this is the last gift the living give to their loved one. Being asked to create them is an honor, and I make sure a lot of care and attention is given to designing and making the pieces, so they are as personal as possible. Not everyone is familiar with the names of flowers, so I like to talk to the customer personally to find out their loved ones favourite colours, blooms or fragrances…and what their personality was like. I then use this information to come up with some personalised designs, from which they can choose. We are all unique, and that should be reflected in what’s created. The result is a truly personal arrangement that brings joy to a difficult day.
What were the styles of tribute and choice of flowers?
Floral tributes can be made in any shape and size, and pretty much any flower, as long as it’s in season. I’ve made hearts, circular wreaths, crosses and letters, as well as full casket sprays. For the shaped pieces, they have been more traditional in style, so two-dimendial with heaps of white or colour Chrysanthemums at the base – they a hardy, full and pretty flower, yet cost effective, as you need a lot of them. Personally I avoid plastic ribbon ruffles around the base; the look is dated and can be made much softer with foliage such as hard ruscus leaves. Full length casket sprays and sheaths are my personal favourites to make as these take real skill and time to create, and they offer the opportunity to really bring the loved ones’ personality to the fore with the choice of flowers and foliage – thus creating something that’s unique and not formal.
Have you had any unusual requests?
Not personally no, but I’ve seen many unusual ones such as tomato sauce bottles and a Pot Noodle pot! There’s a new trend in making 3D tributes - I recently saw a fully-formed mini pig that was covered in pink flowers for a female Farmer. It was just stunning.
What do you think of the 'traditional' funeral tributes, such as casket arrangements and names spelt out in flowers? Do you think it's time for something a little more contemporary and less 'old-fashioned'?
Breaking with tradition is not necessarily about changing the shape (as you are limited to space in the hearse); it’s more about the choice of flowers and foliage used. You can experiment with Singapore Orchids, or go for berries, alternative types of foliage, colour and fragrance.
Are there certain flowers that you'd recommend?
The season plays a huge part in what can be used in a tribute, and any florist will be able to advise what’s available, and what will last in floral foam. The season should be embraced as this means the flowers are readily available, and this will help with the budget. It also provides you with a natural theme too – a spray filled with crisp white roses, red berries, thistles and soft silver fern and eucalyptus just sings winter. Spring time is also beautiful, but be mindful as many spring flowers have soft stems; they are not fans of floral foam, and being 'shape shifters' they follow the light – so Tulips are tricky to manage as they may lay flat at the start, but will eventually turn to up to sky and compromise the design. One thing is a must for me; fragrant flowers, as their sweet smell is evocative and can lift the moment.
Can flowers be used in other ways on the day of a ceremony, not just placed on the coffin?
There are no real rules in floristry; the only rules that have to be considered are those of the church or the crematorium. If you want to place flowers on the pew ends or place fresh petals on the floor, you can ask. For my friend's Mother’s funeral, she didn’t want to look at the coffin, so I made a spray that drooped over the edges and completely covered it from sight. An alternative to a spray can be simple posies tied to the handles so the top is clear. Ivy can be woven into a wicker coffin sides, with simple daisies covering the top like a meadow floor.
Do you have any tips for how to keep arrangements looking good for a few days if people take the floral tributes home with them?
With the exception of the sheath, all tributes will use a green floral foam shaped based. This material is soaked in water, and then the flowers and foliage are placed into it. This ensures the cut flowers last (as the florist will make the tribute at least a day in advance of the funeral). In my experience, when using the freshest of flowers, they will keep for at least a week. I took my Mother’s tribute home with me, and then removed the flowers and made small posies to share with the family and her friends. I ended up drying my roses, which I still have six years on.
As a florist, your flowers help people to celebrate and commiserate. What's it like dealing with all aspects of the life spectrum?
Flowers bring joy, whatever the moment – and I love that. I needed that joy in my life when I decided to change career, and I am so privileged to hear stories from customers as to why they are buying flowers. It’s a wonderful job as it restores your faith in mankind – that people care for each other, and show it.