Many people I admire speak wonders of the Sydney Flower Markets. Not only because of the fresh, quality flora that passes through its giant halls each day, but also because they enjoy the general experience of being there, on the market floor, looking for those perfect stems to add to their nascent arrangements. Hard core market visitors get up before the sun, make their way out to Flemington and then weave through the crowds, all for the sake of leaving with an impressive array of fresh flowers.
To me, there’s something entirely unreasonable yet positively romantic about the whole thing – all that early morning effort for something that’s sole purpose is to satisfy us aesthetically, which perishes in just a few days.
It’s a testament to the natural beauty of a single flower and its power to behold that some would dedicate their entire lives to this short yet dazzling lifecycle.
As someone who has always been an appreciator of the natural world, I am surprised to think that I’ve never really been ‘into’ flowers. I know a beautiful bouquet when I see one and I can appreciate an olfactory indulgence when I chance upon a lovely scent, but I’ve never endeavoured to incorporate their beauty into my life.
I decided to change this by asking my friend Hanako Lee from Hanako Floral Designs to take me out to the Sydney Flower Markets and give me the comprehensive florist’s guide.
HANAKO FLORAL DESIGNS
Coco (as I’ve always known her), didn’t take the most direct route into floristry. Before her life running about town in a van full of flowers, meeting with clients and styling weddings, she had a completely different career as a teacher. Before that even, she graduated from university in interior design.
Those two areas of her past life seem to come together nicely in her work as a florist, which involves having an eye for aesthetics and dealing with people, often educating them about floral practice. She tells me that teaching is still something she’s still passionate about, having continued work part time as a teacher at a school for disadvantaged and troubled teens as she was laying the foundations of her floral design business.
To make the transition from the classroom to her own studio space she completed a Certificate 3 in Floristry at Pearsons School of Floristry, before taking a leap of faith. Of the whole experience she said, “It originally started as a outlet for some of my very stressful days at work with the kids I was teaching. I always felt that an equilibrium was met within me every time I was working with flowers, it just always felt right. I just had to give it a go.
Life is short, I was at an age where I had nothing to lose and it made me happy. If it didn’t work out, there would be nothing lost, only gained.
Giving it my best and knowing it was something I would never regret, but rather regret if I had never given it a go, was where I needed to step out and just do it. I eventually would love to go back to teaching which is something I find really rewarding…when I’m old and unable to lift heavy buckets!”
Funnily enough, Coco has managed to incorporate teaching into Hanako Floral Designs, offering group floristry classes and private tutorials.
For more information about those you can read on here.
TIPS FOR VISITING THE FLOWER MARKETS
Despite all of my imaginings, which were admittedly much more ‘French Rivera’ than Western Sydney, I came to learn pretty quickly that the flower markets were a loud, fast paced place of business with an endless slew of reversing trucks, moving trolleys and sellers yelling at the top of their lungs. If I hadn’t had been in the company of an expert, I’d have struggled to think straight amongst all the hustle and bustle.
If you’re planning on going it alone for a big job or just need some beginner tips you can rely on Hanako’s advice for getting the most out of a visit to the flower markets:
Go early in the morning on a weekday
Coco, Cam and I ventured out to the markets on a Saturday morning at about 6:30am because it was the only time we all had free. I was surprised to hear that Saturdays were generally quieter as the car park was still jam-packed and there were plenty of people about. If you’re serious about your visit, go during the week when all of the vendors are selling and get there as early as 5am for the best deals on the freshest cuts.
Do a lap before you buy
Once you get inside the hall do a quick lap taking mental note of what’s on offer. If you’ve set yourself a budget for the day you’ll get more for your money if you take stock of what’s available. You’ll get a good feeling for which colours and shapes could contribute to your arrangements too.
It’s the quick and the dead
After doing your lap, start buying. Don’t be shy about getting in amongst the crowds, dealing with the sellers and picking up multiple bunches to compare specimens. It’s first in best dressed and you don’t want to miss out.
Markets are seasonal
Do some research of what is in season and set your expectations right. This will help with planning but also inform you of what you could get on special order. If something is unlikely to be in stock but is actually in season you can enquire to see if a grower can get a hold of it for you later in the week.
Bring help if you’re doing a big job
If you’re preparing for a special event like a wedding, funeral or party you’ll need to bring a friend or family member.
An extra set of hands to help you select your bunches, take things back to the car and buy supplies will be invaluable, especially if you’re under time constraints.
Spend time with the growers
For those planning on becoming a regular, making friends with the growers will take you a long way. As I walked around with Coco all the growers greeted her warmly with big hugs and smiles. “Whatever you want, we will look after you!” so many of them said to us.
Look at the stems and water
Inspecting the stems and water quality before you buy a flower will tell you a lot about its health. The stems should be free of slime and water should be clear and smell fresh. If the water is coloured, the flowers may have been drinking up dye. This is a common practice left up to personal preference. When cutting stems, cut diagonally to prolong flower life as the surface area is greater and the flower can drink up more efficiently.
Don’t rush buying your supplies
There’s a supply store at the far end of the markets called APACK that has everything from lotus leaves (which are great for wrapping bouquets) to foam shapes for tributes. “You couldn’t do floristry with out it,” Coco says about the store. “You can’t underestimate or rush it.”
If you’re just starting out, a sharp pair of florist scissors or secateurs (pruning shears) are good staples to have as well as fishbowl and cylinder vases to pop your flowers into once you’ve made your own little masterpiece.
Wear appropriate shoes
The ground is wet, the crowd moves quickly and the surface can be uneven. Wear sneakers or boots as thongs or heels aren’t going to serve you well. You’ll also want to ensure they’re closed toed unless you want to get your toes run over by a trolley, trampled underfoot or slammed under a bucket.
You can get a nice bunch of flowers for around $8 but you’ll need multiple bunches if you’re planning an arrangement. On the day we visited vendors were selling the last of their stock for as little as $3. If you go during the week on a Monday, Wednesday, or Friday these are the main market days where all the vendors are at the markets so Eftpos machines are available at most growers’ stalls but not all- some only accept cash. On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays most growers only accept cash but there are some Eftpos machines and there is a NAB ATM at the entrance of the flower markets so you can always get cash out on any day. Bring a variety of notes and coins to save yourself time and hassle.
Coco’s Bonus Tip:
- Hire a GoGet van if your car isn’t big enough or equipped for buckets of flowers.
MEET THE GROWERS
Seeing so many beautiful flowers and learning so much about floristry was one thing, but seeing how much the growers enjoyed talking to Coco was another. What made our trip so great was the amount of time that we spent with each grower – chatting, smiling and joking about. It was a generous exchange of time, flowers, stories and all round good vibes. Here are some of the legends that we met, as introduced by Coco.
Address: Sydney Markets, Sydney Markets Plaza Business and Shopping Centre/250-318 Parramatta Road, Sydney Markets NSW 2129.
Florist: Hanako Lee from Hanako Floral Designs.