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In bloom

Jane Packer flower arrangements may exude effortless elegance, but behind the scenes a huge amount of effort goes into their creation

Words: Jean-Paul Aubin-Parvu
Images: Joseph Fox

“Some people come into the industry thinking it’s about making pretty bouquets and it’s all just lovely, which it is, but they don’t understand quite how tough it can be at times.” Louise Govier, manager at Jane Packer, is describing the cut, prune and thrust of floristry.

The job can be very physical, exhausting and dirty. The hours are often long. So why put herself through it? “It’s really rewarding,” she beams. “When you do an event at a bland venue and then you and your team walk out a few hours later having transformed it it’s a great feeling.”

Louise is used to early starts. She and colleague Polly Parry-Jones stride with purpose through New Covent Garden Flower Market and it’s not even 7am. Jane Packer sources much of its living, breathing, working materials from Dutch supplier FleuraMetz, but the rest comes from early morning raids at this fabulously fragrant flower market.

Louise stops at Quality Plants, a trusted supplier, to inspect orchids, house plants and succulents, then does a bit of business with Bobby from Alagar. She is soon the proud owner of hydrangeas, sunflowers, lilies and a very particular shade of rose. These are needed to make up orders that came in late yesterday.

The workroom
Half an hour later we arrive at New Cavendish Street. The workroom is located in the basement, which has tunnels leading off to nooks filled with vases and bowls of glass, clay and the shiniest metal. The plants and flowers are stored in the cold areas.

Louise sits at one workbench and begins making up an order for the Welsh Office, filling wooden boxes with gorgeous miniature yellow tete-a-tete daffodils. Her colleague Helen Edwards is busily creating a bouquet of sunflowers interwoven with deep green hebe foliage. The hand-tied bouquet is surrounded by crimped yellow tissue and frosted cellophane paper, before being gently lowered into an elegant square black box.

There are many strings to Jane Packer’s signature bow. Upstairs on the ground floor is the shop and the flower school, where the courses range from beginners and recreational, right through to advanced career courses. Here in the workroom Louise and her colleagues deal with the same-day delivery telephone orders, which arrive with alarming regularity, as well as the more straightforward contracts. 

Glitzy parties
As well as being an international name, Jane Packer is a truly local business; the team may be called upon to do the flowers for a wedding at The Langham or the Christmas installations at The London Clinic. They also provide arrangements for events, ranging from glitzy parties to magazine shoots. “A lot of the bridal magazines approach us,” says Louise.

Upstairs, Polly and Ahmed are running the advanced course at the flower school. Polly has the students delicately weaving pink cymbidium orchids through red bamboo branches standing in dark green vases, spending time with each student and suggesting effective tweaks and passing on tips. People travel from all over the world for these courses—one of today’s students runs an events company in Mexico.

Helena and fellow florist Helen are a whirl of flowers, ribbons and secateurs, as Louise replies to an email from somebody enquiring about flowers for their wedding at The Langham. Louise continues to answer emails, take phone calls, write delivery instructions and prepare the flowers and foliage for the next order.

Downright suggestive
Louise oversees New Cavendish Street and the nearby John Lewis concession. “I couldn’t do that job without a really supportive team,” she says. “Everybody mucks in.” Part of the job for these merry multitaskers is to write the heartfelt messages onto the cards that accompany each bouquet and hatbox. These range from birthday greetings, to the sweetly romantic and the downright suggestive. Surely, I say, you must hear stuff that would make the rest of us blush.

Annoyingly, Louise appears to have taken a similar oath to a confessional priest and refuses to spill the beans. “Helen will know the one I’m thinking of,” smiles Louise, still managing to give absolutely nothing away. “What this guy wanted written on the card was unbelievable. It was for Valentine’s Day, but it wasn’t at all romantic. But we get nice sentimental messages as well. It’s a real mixture.”

Alicia, one of the business-to-business team, has rocked up. She needs to put together an arrangement for The Cavendish restaurant just across the road and sets about making a stunning creation using amaryllis topiaries and magnolia branches. “The Cavendish has something different every week,” says Alicia. 

Jane Packer in Marylebone

London Olympics
As they work Louise and Helen recall what it felt like to be part of the London 2012 Olympics, when Jane Packer had the honour of producing the victory bouquets—a project some two years in the making. “It was great being a part of that,” smiles Louise. “We were all located in different parts of the country.” Helen looks up. “We were at Horse Guards Parade and the ladies beach volleyball. The guys all wanted to do that delivery,” she laughs.

Suddenly Helena lets out a yelp from the other side of the room. The poor girl has pricked her finger while stripping a rose stem of its many thorns. So are these terrors the bane of a florist’s existence? “Have you see my hands?” begs Louise. They resemble well-manicured pin cushions.

She and her two colleagues begin telling their thorn-related tales. It’s rather like Vietnam veterans sharing war stories, only these centre on Valentine’s Day. As a rule of thumb, the prettier the rose, the more thorns it has. None of which are removed before they arrive at Jane Packer. “That’s what we do at six o’ clock on a Monday morning,” says Helen.

Ahmed chooses this moment to announce that one of the first places he worked at had a conditioning machine which removed the thorns for you. Ahmed’s colleagues stare first at their thorn ravaged hands, and then at one another. Could there be mutiny in the air? I feel a strike coming on.