What has initially triggered your interest in the world of flowers?
The simple answer is my Mother! My Mum was a hobbyist flower arranger and she was a member of a local Flower Club. We had a series of family tragedies and I was fairly ill, we lost all of our family in the space of 6 months plus 2 friends and my godchild, only Mum and I were left. I was on major tranquillisers (12 a day) and I had switched off. My Mum took me to her Flower Club one night (I was very reluctant – I was 20 at the time) but there I saw a demonstrator who made a series of very artistic designs on stage that sparked my interest. I applied to join and, although there was a waiting list, they bent the rules and let me in. Within a year I was on the committee, within 2 years I was the Chairman and that’s when the story really starts.
How long have you been professionally engaged in the flower industry?
Over 40 years
What are some significant milestones in your career? Can you briefly describe some of your most special or most appreciated projects?
Heavens! There have been so many amazing projects! Well, creating and launching Fusion Flowers magazine must be right up there and the night we won our first award from PPA for Best Magazine from a Small Publishing House still seems unreal to me but we went on to win again a further 4 times (we don’t compete any more). Being convinced to do a certain Royal wedding – what an insight that was!!!! Being appointed the BBC Scotland floral design presenter (11 years on TV) followed by radio presentations and specialist floral expert for Big Brother. My first invitation to judge at the Singapore Garden Festival Floral Windows of the World as Chief Judge which I’ve been doing for 14 years now… The approach from a Dutch grower to help the flower industry which led me to call a meeting that became the foundation for the global phenomena Floral Fundamentals. Working with my friend Gregor Lersch and demonstrating with him in a theatre (I LOVE theatre work – I have a history with that too) that held 4,800 people – with a great technical team that I had to win over!!! But my demonstrations in New Zealand still hold a special place in my heart not the least of which is because the audience not only gave me a standing ovation but they stood to sing to me too! Another biggie was having a tulip named for me – the Dutch managed to surprise me with that one!
What are some common challenges that women face in this industry? And what kind of challenges have you encountered personally? How did you go about overcoming them?
The challenges for women are inevitably principally about people taking you seriously. As women we are regularly patronised and, in the old days, that used to annoy and frustrate me. Now, times have changed, and I smile quietly because I know my strengths and my weaknesses. I received so many knock backs that could have broken many people but in reality they made me stronger and I am grateful for that. Jealousy in the floral industry is vicious and it can be so destructive but I am a very analytical person. I always assess people and nowadays I am selective as to who I get involved with. I learned to trust myself. I know my motives are good and always ethical which has surprised and shocked many. I learned to be myself and to trust my research. I remember having breakfast with an amazing woman who later told me that she trusted me the moment she met me. I asked her why and she said “I could feel not only the strength in you and the energy and passion you have but also the fun too. I knew you could lead us forward to success.” I was humbled by that and that is the difference. Another world-famous Event Designer arrived at my home one day saying “You are one of the few people in the industry who tells it like they see it and I know I can trust you.” Apparently he has a framed post-it note in a frame on the wall of his office – it has my personal phone number on the note. It simply says – Alison.
What’s your best word of advice to young women starting out in this industry?
Learn, practice – learn, practice – and keep learning and keep practicing. It doesn’t matter what aspect of the industry that you work in, the work is hard. You need to be dedicated. Learn as many aspects as you can but remember too that these days you need to take an entrepreneurial approach in business – the road is never straightforward.
What do you love most about your work?
The people. I am a real people person. I love finding new talent especially if they have had a challenging time in their own country. But believe it or not – I still get a kick of walking into a room of flowers – I love the scent.
What’s your special flower (if there is a special one)? What flowers do you love most?
I love all flowers but I am a seasonal person…I love snowdrops, I love Hellebores, I love Anemones, I obviously love Tulips….I love them all!
Apart from flowers, what else are you passionate about?
Art, books, gardening and patchwork.
Anything else you’d like to tell our readers?
Be yourself, be respectful and embrace every opportunity that comes your way. In business, always treat other people the way you would want to be treated