TALKING FLOWERS ... with Emma Rees-Oliviere, owner of Myrtle Mee Flowers
ECT: You opened your shop, Myrtle Mee, in Bath in 2005. When did your interest in flowers begin?
ERO: As a little girl I was always collecting flowers from the fields, pressing them and making rose petal perfume. Then when I was 24, my husband and I bought a house with a 100ft cottage garden. The previous owner had put her whole life into that garden, I couldn’t just let it run wild, so I set about learning everything I could. I was working as a nurse, but I spent all my spare time out in the garden growing flowers. Years later, as my 40th birthday approached, I decided it was time to make a change and I enrolled on a two-year City and Guilds floristry course at Lackham Agricultural College in Wiltshire. One day, towards the end of the course, my husband came home and told me he’d found me a shop. I wasn’t sure I wanted a shop, but we took it on and here we still are, 16 years later.
ECT: What do you love about being a retail florist?
ERO: The variety - a single day can see us selling half a bunch of eucalyptus, delivering several bouquets and creating arrangements for two funerals, a wedding and a party. But it’s also about the people. We are serving the local community and over the years, we have built up many priceless, long lasting relationships.
ECT: The pandemic has been tough for high street shops – how have you survived?
ERO: We have had to close the shop during the lockdowns but, in fact, it’s the retail side that’s kept us going. All the events - the weddings and parties etc - stopped, but people have been really keen to buy flowers, so we’ve been doing lots of deliveries to local customers. It has made me feel quite optimistic about the future. We were feeling quite threatened by all the on-line florists - there are around 70% fewer retail florists than there were a decade ago - but the pandemic has brought people back to shopping locally. They want a personalised service and that’s lovely for us.
ECT: How would you describe the Myrtle Mee style?
ERO: Gardeny, that’s where I started out and it remains my main influence. I love plants too.
ECT: Do you buy British?
ERO: Not for retail. I love Dutch flowers for that side of the business because the quality and consistency of their flowers is so good. That’s what you need for retail when you might get an order for 200 white roses for the following day. British flowers are lovely for one-off events and when it comes to dried flowers, there’s no comparison.
ECT: Dried flowers?
ERO: Yes, they’re a really big trend. Last summer, a grower I work with dried all the flowers she had grown for weddings and I turned them into these big installations. They were very popular, especially with all the interiors influencers on Instagram.
ECT: What other trends are you watching?
ERO: Living baskets filled with plants are becoming more popular as people become increasingly interested in sustainability.
ECT: What are your top tips for someone starting out in the flower industry?
ERO: Do your homework on your market, have confidence in your style and find a niche. When I started out there were about eight florists in Bath, now there are probably 40, but there’s only a finite amount of business so you need to think beyond weddings.
We also asked Emma to pick her flower of 2021 and she selected the hydrangea. Find out why and hear about the magic ingredient she uses to keep her cut hydrangeas fresh and lasting longer - in this short film
Emma's top tip for keeping your hydrangeas fresh is.... Fatakdi (Alum) Powder. Found alongside the curry-making spices in the Asian section of the supermarket or Asian grocery stores, a pinch of alum powder in the water will tell your hydrangea stems to drink and support the flower head. "It's a miracle!" Emma says.