I had the pleasure of interviewing the owner of my favourite florist recently for our ‘We Love Local’ series. My soft spot is mainly due to my better half coming home on many a special occasion with a stunning bouquet from Gardenia of London (Bellevue Road), but also because I love the types of flowers they stock and their pavement displays often make me double take as I rush past. So I’m thrilled to have been able to learn more about the business and what makes them tick…
Jamie, you’ve been in the flower business since leaving school, what keeps you inspired and interested in the industry?
Although I have worked in the same industry for many years, our business is constantly evolving. We opened a new shop in Teddington in April and there are two more branches of Gardenia due to open before Christmas. We are also launching a Gardenia loyalty app and a new website to support our flower box delivery service, so there’s never a dull moment!
Your family business has gone from a stall on the Fulham Road 20 years ago, to 5 shops in some great locations, why do you think Gardenia of London has been so successful?
I put it down to a combination of superb quality flowers and unfailingly excellent customer service. Our florists are highly trained and very skilled, but they are also really nice people. Making a hand-tied bouquet from scratch can take 10 to 15 minutes, so we have plenty of time to get to know our customers and this helps us build loyalty that can last for years.
You say that your values remain the same from your humble beginnings on the flower stall all those years ago, but what would you say have been the biggest challenges and changes since that time?
The biggest changes have actually benefitted us enormously. When we first started out, my dad and I would have to go to the London flower markets at 4 am every morning to buy enough stock for the day, based on a ‘best guess’ of how much we thought we’d be able to sell. Now, I can sit in my office with my stock control system and place an order with our supplier. The flowers are purchased at auctions in Holland and shipped to our doorstep before we open at 8 am.
How do you choose the locations of your shops?
We tend to look for high streets that champion shopping local, with a good mix of independent businesses that fit with our own ‘family-run’ ethos. Although we are expanding to take on more locations, we are trying not to become a typical chain – so whilst our website spans the entire organisation, each one of our shops has a slightly different feel and a variety of added extras that cater for its particular location.
What part do you think flowers play in hosting in the home, be it a dinner party or in a guest bedroom?
Flowers show that you’ve put that little bit of extra thought into things. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture – even a simple, scented posy on a bedside table will make your guests feel special. For a dinner party, remember to choose an arrangement that is low enough for your visitors to see each other across the table – ask your florist to suggest something that fits the occasion as they’ll know exactly what will work best.
What flowers would you suggest for the following settings:
Creating a great first impression / Entrance to a space
A structural display of seasonal branches such as pussy willow or cherry blossom, or arrangements featuring exotics like proteas and strelitzia, will create a dramatic and memorable first impression in a hallway. If you prefer something more traditional, hydrangeas, gladioli and lilies all work beautifully on a console table or against a mirror. For something more permanent, a planter filled with Phalaenopsis orchids is hard to beat.
Scented flowers are ideal for the bedroom. We love spring blooms – like hyacinths and stocks – that give off a wonderful, heavy fragrance, but classic white and pastel-coloured roses will set off your décor perfectly and are available year-round.
Breakfast or kitchen area
There’s nothing quite like a vase of sunny yellow daffodils on the breakfast table, is there? In the kitchen, experiment with grouping larger quantities of a single variety together. Tulips are a great example of a flower that works well on its own – all you need is a simple glass vase or pottery jug.
What are the main differences in our relationship with flowers here in the UK, to say that of European countries such as Germany (where there is a flower stall on practically every corner) or the Netherlands?
In the UK, flowers are still considered to be a luxury – something that one might buy as a gift, but rarely for oneself. In Europe, where shopping at the local market is much more common, flowers are just another item on the weekly list. Our Bloomsbox service aims to bring that sense of the every day to flowers: members order a box on a weekly, fortnightly or monthly basis and benefit from better value for money and the convenience of home delivery.
You have your own range of bath and body products. What other areas would you like to venture into?
Unfortunately, we no longer make our signature bath and body products. It was fun for a while, but we have moved on to source a much wider range of gifts and cards that are for sale in all our shops. We try to buy from local, independent producers where possible – our favourites include Willow & Honey candles, which smell divine and are handmade in England.
Is Gardenia your favourite flower?
The gardenia flower is a big part of my life and I will always be fond of it, but it’s not necessarily my favourite! It’s always so difficult for a florist to decide on one thing, in particular because every morning we get a delivery of fresh, new blooms to choose from. My ‘favourite flower’ changes from day to day – today it’s some gorgeous orange celosia that is perfect for autumn.
What’s the most interesting flower statistic you can give me!?
Every year, a town in the Netherlands celebrates Vincent Van Gogh with a parade of giant floats made entirely from dahlias. The region is a global supplier of this flower, with 33 hectares of land cultivating 600,000 bulbs. I’m surprised they have any left to sell after the parade – search for Corso Zundert online to see some of the incredible creations from past events.
Who would you most like to give a big bunch of Gardenia flowers too if you could?
Most men with any sense would say ‘my wife’ here – but Mrs Grant isn’t really a fan of flowers. I can’t really blame her as I am never around for Valentine’s Day, Mothers’ Day or the run-up to Christmas! So it would have to be my daughter Theia.
My dad used to grow the most stunning chrysanthemums in our garden. To this day whenever I see them, they evoke so much emotion and wonderful memories, and I always buy the most beautiful bunch I can find on his birthday as my own way of remembering him. Why do you think flowers can have such an effect on us?
I suppose that, like food, flowers evoke a particular time and place both through the way they look and their scent. Most of our customers tend to have a favourite which might not be available all year round, so when they see it in our pavement display they can’t help but buy! Peonies are a classic example of this: they are adored by many but are only available for a few weeks in May and June, so they tend to evoke the start of summer and the promise of warm days to come.