Here’s something I bet you never thought about. (Or maybe it’s just WoBy that didn’t). If you’re having an alternative wedding, you’ll likely be using a celebrant rather than a priest; and you might be in your own garden, or a barn or country home, rather than in a church or registry office. You might have a quirky cake, custom-made to reflect your style. You may well choose to make a style and values statement by avoiding the white dress / morning suit regalia.
But what about the flowers?
Rosie-Sue meets me at the Broadwater institution that is Muldoon‘s. (She’s not a fan of the mega-chain options that have come up around the green).
Rosie-Sue is an alternative florist.
I remember a hilarious Christmas mistake I made, when I asked a florist (a household-name chain) to do my table centrepiece because – well, because you have too much to do when hosting a big family Christmas without doing the sodding flowers, too. And the only members of the family who even partly resemble Martha Stewart were not around for prep works that year. I fancied green and orange and a nod to the dinner – a carrot with its fern, to be incorprated as part of the decoration. (I thought a floralised brussels tree would be too intrusive on our tiny table). I showed a magazine photo and talked about this idea with the glazed-eyed young woman behind the shop counter and have still not lived down with the family what I wasted more than twenty quid on. Let’s just say that they gave me a generic poinsettia-ful Christmas centrepiece with a dirty (and elderly) carrot plonked on top. And I paid up and meekly took it home. At least we had more than twenty quid’s worth of laughs out of it: it was a running joke right into New Year.
I tell this story and Rosie-Sue is not surprised. Relay systems are no good, I couldn’t bear to work for one, she tells me. I learn that a relay system florist has stock menus, clear instructions, and no space for creativity or deviation from standardised designs. Rosie-Sue picks and gathers and begs and buys foliage and flowers from a range of places, and combines them as she pleases, making original designs each time.
I take her through her career, which has been startling in its high points and fun times. She’s been a specialist florist in London, and has worked for big events (like Farnborough Air Show), and in Oxford Street stores and some pretty high-end spaces (The Dorchester Ballrooms, Drury Lane Theatres), where she was able to use her creativity on a huge scale and build a directory of both big wholesalers and specialist niche suppliers who can fulfil tough requests. I once used 3400 green-and-white parrot tulips in one day. I can get 5ft tall tulips, 5ft roses – anything.
Since moving to Sussex (and setting up her own flower garden at home, 7 years back), she’s also done lots of weddings and high-end house decoration. But now Rosie-Sue’s hatching pans to bring together her love of flowers and her commitment to resistance together in a new venture – An Alternative Wedding Fair. Here, she plans to bring together suppliers of clothing, jewellery, cakes (and flowers, of course) who can cater to goths, new age folk, pagans, steampunks, bikers and any other group whose dreams of a ceremony don’t fit mainstream aesthetics.
She explains carefully to me what kinds of colours, styles and aesthetics she would use for ‘medieval’ (which is apparently pretty popular) or ‘steampunk’. She reels off colours, unheard-of flowers and a quick history of how floral art has shifted.
How did you get into this, I ask. (I’m spellbound, thinking about what it must be like to have this as your work environment). Like a lot of creative women of the 70s, Rosie-Sue left school disgruntled but determined not to drown in the typing pool. She trained as a pastry-cook and a wallpaper designer before settling on flowers. Yeah, I was with Constance Spry for 4 and a half years. In those days, at first it was all loose and country cottage, then in the 80s, everything was wired, it was all structure. Dutch Design was a big thing. Now we’re back again to more loose. And lots of foliage. You can incorporate fabrics, poems, coloured twigs, fruit, all sorts.
I ask her if she’s ever thought of training or teaching, given her experience – but she laughs and reminds me that she’s committed to working within alternative and looser structures. Coaching, I could do coaching, yeah, she agrees.
How does an alternative florist feel about the changes around here – surely things are looking good for independent business? Is Worthing the new Brighton? Rosie-Sue is blunt and plain-speaking. In Brighton, a lot of the interesting quirky shops have gone – even in Camden, they’ve gone. Brighton is a city now, there’s more money, more capitalism. Do we want that? Let’s get quirkiness back in our lives, let’s hang on to it here in Worthing.
So development, yes, but led by independents. And Quirk, yes. (That’s the second time this week I’ve heard that word in an interview. Over 2020, I’ll be asking around for bits of Quirk in Worthing).