Building Olympic bouquets
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.