Ellie Jauncey, one half of The Flower Appreciation Society – ‘not your average florists’ – talks 5.30am starts, the sweetest smelling flowers and both the challenges and beauty of running your own business…
Ellie is pictured above, right, with Anna Day – her business partner.
What time are you up on a market day?
I get up at 5.30am.
What wakes you up?
Radio 4 – very loudly, in a horrible way. It’s my alarm clock. I should set it to Classic FM or something else.
How do you feel?
It really depends; in summer when it’s light I find it so much easier, often I’ve woken up before my alarm – I’m weirdly neurotic about oversleeping. But it’s difficult in winter when it’s dark outside. Once I’m awake, I’m ok but after my alarm goes off, I give myself eight minutes to get out the door so I’m still half asleep when I get in the van.
What do you do first thing?
I brush my teeth and go.
Where do you buy your flowers?
I drive from Clapton, where I live, to Vauxhall, where the New Covent Garden Market is.
Do you and Anna go together?
We tend to alternate unless we have a massive job on. Sometimes I pick her up but more often than not, we go on our own – purely because it means we’re not both rinsed all day. But also, we’ve learnt that it works; we’re more efficient on our own. Anna tends to take her time, I’m a real speed freak – so we get in each other’s way.
How do you choose what to buy?
We work quite differently to other florists. Others would have a really detailed budget and decide what they’re getting (and spending) per arrangement. We don’t work like that – we have our budget per job and pick what we like. We’re drawn to specific flowers, while there are some we’d not look at.
For instance, if we were asked to do a really exotic job, we might say yes but otherwise we don’t go to the exotic section. Anything that looks like it’s from an English garden – that’s what we like to use. So that dictates what stalls we go to and what we buy. It wasn’t intentional, but over time people have started to associate us with quite a specific colour palette.
How important is scent when buying flowers?
Most flowers imported from other countries – Columbia, Kenya – don’t have that much scent. People still sniff a bouquet but often it won’t smell; certainly flowers from supermarkets don’t smell. But English flowers smell amazing, which is a real bonus, as that’s what we like to buy anyway.
There are certain flowers we always buy for scent but colour, shape and feel are more important. It also depends on availability. Our favourite flowers for their scent are English roses, which smell incredible. Also sweet peas and lilac are amazing. Using English stuff means you can get honeysuckle and jasmine. And we use a lot of herbs – when mint’s in season, we put that in along with other foliagy, herby things.
Where did your interest in flowers originate?
My mum is a textile designer and florist and all of my family members are keen gardeners. Mum had a studio in our house and was often painting flowers, so I’ve always been surrounded by them but didn’t realise I was interested at all until I was about 26/27. I appreciated them but was a bit scared and had no idea how to arrange them; they made me feel quite nervous.
My middle name is fleur, my granny was a really keen gardener and my great granny had a florists
Then one summer, I lost my job in London and went home to Herefordshire where I spent some time working with my mum and learning about floristry. I came back to London and started working at the Scolt Head pub in Dalston, where I met Anna. She’d done a floristry course and we would talk about flowery stuff. I’d never met someone my age who had this interest so it was really exciting. I did work experience with Rebel Rebel then Anna and I started up our own business.
Funnily enough, my middle name is fleur, my granny was a really keen gardener and my great granny had a florists – so I’m surprised I didn’t make the connection sooner. But then again, it wasn’t until later that my mum started working with flowers – after many years working with textiles.
Like your mum, you studied textiles and were running a fashion label alongside the Flower Appreciation Society – what made you choose flowers as your focus, in the end?
What’s really amazing with flowers is that you’re dealing with an already beautiful medium. There’s something about making art work or textiles from scratch – you’re so invested in it, it’s a different intensity. When working with flowers you’re making something already beautiful look nicer – putting it together rather than having to create it from nothing.
Knitwear is so competitive, it’s really hard to make money. Also, I was trying to do something ‘all made in England’ – so it would have been really hard to make that work. Basically, flowers took off in a way knitwear didn’t – so that being more successful paved the way for me. But I’m pleased, because I enjoy flowers more.
What is the greatest challenge, as a florist running your own company?
It takes over your life. That’s the greatest challenge. Being a florist means working every weekend because that’s when weddings are – so striking a work life balance is what we’re looking for and it’s really hard. Any business has the potential to take over your life but we know what we’re doing every weekend for a whole year – until next January.
We started to take off every other Monday so since September, we have two Mondays off a month each, then we’re trying to each have a full weekend off a month over the summer. It’s scary because you don’t want to miss out on work – but you also don’t want to be a wreck. They are such full on days when you work – it’s about having to look after yourself – it’s really physical work, and such long hours.
These days, we’re increasingly dividing up jobs – taking once each. It’s nice doing it together but we’re starting to split up more to cope with demand. We have Issy who manages our hen parties – she works two days a week at the moment and three/four in the summer – and we’re starting to use freelancers more to lighten the load.
And what makes it all worthwhile?
Being in control of your own life, making your own decisions. Working with something that always makes you happy – there aren’t many jobs that have that, we both feel very privileged to work with flowers. Also, being able to work with really interesting brands, doing our book.
Lastly, if you could wake up anywhere tomorrow – where would it be?
I think it would be on the Outer Hebrides. Because I had my most favouvite holiday ever there and it’s just so beautiful, the beaches are like being in the Caribbean but you’re on the north island of Scotland – it’s rugged and wild, untouched. You feel like you’re going somewhere no one’s been before.
Photo by Lizzie Mayson