Build­ing Olympic bou­quets

The Prince George Citizen - The Citizen - Real Estate Weekly - - Real Estate -

One Satur­day last month, the head­line on the front page of the Van­cou­ver Sun an­nounced “No na­tive B.C. flow­ers in Olympic bou­quet. “

That head­line, meant to add fuel to the Van­cou­ver Olympics fire, is as much a non­news state­ment as an­nounc­ing: Weath­er­man says it will prob­a­bly rain in Tofino in Jan­uary.

Hello! The Olympics have started, and to my knowl­edge, even here in balmy B.C., there aren’t any na­tive flow­ers bloom­ing mid-Fe­bru­ary. And most na­tive flow­ers are pro­tected any­way. Na­tive dog­wood? Pro­tected. Ca­mus? Pro­tected. Then there are the is­sues of har­vest­ing in a timely fash­ion in abun­dant amounts with qual­ity con­trol. What I am de­scrib­ing is the ex­act­ing job of a com­mer­cial green­house cut-flower grower.

With all due re­spect to Steve Whysall, gar­den­ing colum­nist for the Van­cou­ver Sun, the sug­ges­tions he put for­ward for na­tive plants are in­ap­pro­pri­ate. Flow­ers such as our na­tive rose, lupin or bleed­ing heart, if at all pos­si­ble to se­cure in ad­e­quate quan­ti­ties, last out of wa­ter only about the time it takes to sing the open­ing bars of O Canada. The bou­quets are made 24 hours in ad­vance. They must be rugged enough to take plenty of han­dling and lest one bou­quet look larger or more lus­cious than its neigh­bour, all flo­rals must be as uni­form as na­ture (and man) can cre­ate.

The search for the most suit­able flo­rals to be used for the 1,800 bou­quets has been a two-year jour­ney for Mar­gitta Schulz, owner of Mar­gitta’s Flower Bou­tique in North Van­cou­ver, and June Strand­berg of Just Be­gin­nings in Sur­rey. Al­though the orig­i­nal man­date was to de­sign a very “lo­cal” bou­quet in the colours of the Olympic rings, the fi­nal de­sign, which con­tains green spi­der chrysan­the­mums, hy­per­icum berries, as­pidis­tra leaves, leather leaf and mon­key grass, took 23 tries be­fore the se­lec­tion com­mit­tee gave the go-ahead.

There are many pieces of a puz­zle for a pro­fes­sional florist to solve for this kind of con­tract.

Bud­get is a ma­jor fac­tor. When asked if this was a lu­cra­tive con­tract, Schulz com­mented that Vanoc was a “fru­gal” client. It is pay­ing for labour at an hourly rate (a labour pool of 25 women) and it paid a de­sign/con­sult­ing fee to Schulz and Strand­berg, but in­sisted that it gets all the flo­rals and sup­plies at whole­sale prices.

Avail­abil­ity of a sturdy prod­uct that can with­stand be­ing out of wa­ter for an ex­tended pe­riod is no small prob­lem to solve. Quik Farms of Chilli­wack was con­tracted to grow the al­most 10,000 re­quired spi­der mums. The rest of the com­po­nents of the bou­quet are im­ported from Ecuador. This seems to be the stick­ing point for so many. The fact is, it’s cheaper. All grow­ers had to be ap­proved by Vanoc. Each one had to pro­vide proof of sus­tain­able grow­ing prac­tices and fair work­ing con­di­tions.

And then there is the de­sign es­thetic. The bou­quet must be at­trac­tive, whether one is looking down on it or looking up at it. The pub­lic most of­ten sees the bou­quets be­ing held high in the air as op­posed to be­ing held like a bridal bou­quet. Schulz wanted to cre­ate a bou­quet that didn’t re­quire cel­lo­phane wrap to prop it up. The folded as­pidis­tra leaves form a firm col­lar around the rest of the botan­i­cals.

Schulz, at 67 years old, and Strand­berg, 76, beat out 58 other bid­ders. I know Schulz per­son­ally (she bought my flower store in North Van­cou­ver) and I know Strand­berg by rep­u­ta­tion. With more than 70 years com­bined ex­pe­ri­ence in the flower in­dus­try, they are the right florists to get this job done. It has not been an easy task and the next few weeks will re­quire nerves of steel.

Work­ing with a nat­u­ral prod­uct can be “iffy.” Af­ter vis­it­ing the Chilli­wack farm last week, Schulz noted that she wished that the weather was a lit­tle warmer. The mums looked just a lit­tle small yet. Will all the im­port flow­ers make it to Van­cou­ver in good shape?

De­liv­ery of the bou­quets is an­other of the piece of the puz­zle. Vanoc has re­quired that five driv­ers be avail­able. All or some may be used at any given time. All driv­ers had to be ac­cred­ited. The bou­quets for each day’s events are to be loaded into ve­hi­cles and the ve­hi­cles are driven to a check­point for a 2:30 a.m. in­spec­tion. The ve­hi­cle is then sealed and the driver given a time when the bou­quets can ar­rive at a spe­cific venue. The ve­hi­cle is then un­sealed and the bou­quets are off-loaded into the venue.

I would have loved to see three dif­fer­ent bou­quets - like gold, sil­ver and bronze medals, per­haps the same bou­quet in three dif­fer­ent colours - but af­ter fac­tor­ing in all the vari­ables in­volved, I am very im­pressed with the bou­quets. We should all be proud when we see them up on the podium.

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