In the summer we enjoyed a visit from Melanie Keller who joined us on work placement for three weeks. Melanie, who is from the small town of Hausach in the Schwarzwald region of southern Germany, will soon become a fully qualified florist after two years of training. As part of her personal development Melanie took the bold step of spending a month in the UK to improve her English and to experience life in a busy British floristry business. We asked Melanie some questions about her experience.
Tell us a little about yourself.
‘I’m married and have three children aged 21, 20 and 18. I have worked in the floristry industry since my children were little, but now they are adults I am undertaking a formal qualification in floristry at my local college. I work at a nursery in the nearby city of Haslach-Bollenbach.
‘After I left school I went into a career in office work, but when my children were little I started a small business selling cut flowers from my own garden and my hobby turned into a career just like that!
‘I will complete my studies in August 2019 after two years of training to work in our Floristry Studio and Vocational School. I love my work, particularly the creativity of working with cut flowers and natural materials all to bring a smile to someone’s face – that is really rewarding.’
What prompted you to make the trip to London?
‘I have been drawn to the UK since childhood (a long time ago now!) but sadly I never took the opportunity to visit. When I saw a newspaper article about a trainee carpenter who made the trip as part of her education I was inspired to do the same. I researched more information on how to arrange the trip and found two organisations, Go For Europe and Twin Group who are both specialists in international work placements and international internships who helped me to find the work placement at Karen Woolven Flowers. In total I spent four weeks in the UK, the first week was an intensive English course and then three further weeks on placement with Karen and the team.’
How did you enjoy your stay?
‘Living in a big city like London was amazing – especially as I come from such a small town in Germany. It was particularly enjoyable to feel like more than a visitor as I went to to and from work and got a taster of what it is to be part of the local community.
‘The team at Karen Woolven Flowers were so welcoming. They helped me with the work and to improve my English, they were so patient with my endless questions and really made me feel part of the team. I worked on bouquets, table decorations, flowers for events – the whole range. It was such a pleasure to see the real workings of the business, to gain insights into everything from deliveries to corporate customers through to major events like a grand dinner at the Cutty Sark. Everyone was very polite and friendly and I feel I started to understand more about the British way of thinking.’
Did you find any differences between the British and German styles of floristry?
‘Yes, there were some. In particular our German customers expect to get a very, very long life out of their cut flowers – maximum ‘bang for their buck’ if you like. In the UK it seemed to be more about flowers being at their absolute best right on time; for a wedding or party for example. Timing is everything here!
‘Stylistically I noticed some differences compared to home too. In Germany, floral displays are designed with great attention to the mood and meaning of the flowers – each has a position and connotation within the display. In the UK I noticed that arrangements were made to work as a whole picture – the groupings and quantity coming together to give an overall impression. Our most popular blooms in Germany are all ones you’d recognise in the UK, our favourites are Gerberas and Sunflowers in the summer and Roses of course are a classic all year round. I was surprised that Anthurium, the Flamingo Flower, are so commonly used, in Germany they are considered more of an exotic rarity. And I was also struck that, while Chrysanthemums are universally popular in both countries, Paeonies are tremendously popular wedding flowers in the UK. It was really interesting to contrast the approaches between the two countries.’
‘Overall I’m so pleased to have taken this trip. I would encourage anyone to do the same if they are interested in learning about other cultures and meeting new people. Huge thanks to everyone at Karen Woolven Flowers for making me feel so at home. Bis bald (see you again soon)!’
And a final note from Karen
‘We are delighted Melanie spent her time with us, she was a total dream and threw herself into our madhouse with gusto and hard work. We were sad to see her go but can’t wait to follow her floristry journey’.