February 14, 2011

Sharp eye, sharper knives among requirements for florists to flourish

Maine at Work: Ahead of the Valentine's Day rush, Ray Routhier learns how to revive a drooping rose and why it's key to watch the clock.

By Ray Routhier rrouthier@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND - Rhonda Davis handed me a Swiss Army knife and told me to be careful. For added emphasis, she showed me some impressive scars on her arms from her 20-plus years as a florist.

click image to enlarge

Reporter Ray Routhier gets some flower arranging tips from Rhonda Davis at Harmon's & Barton's.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer


TITLE: Florist-manager, Harmon's & Barton's, Congress Street, Portland.

WORKER: Rhonda Davis, 45, of Windham.

HOURS: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., five days a week.

SALARY RANGE: $10 to $18 an hour for most employees.

DUTIES: Overseeing the store, taking and filling orders, helping customers, making floral arrangements, lugging flowers to and from coolers.

SURPRISING FACTS: A Swiss Army knife is a basic tool for floral designers. If you get a drooping rose, you might be able to save it be re-cutting the stem underwater.

PERKS: Being surrounded by "the beauty, aroma and textures" of fresh flowers. Knowing that what you do brings people joy.


MAINE AT WORK takes an interactive look at iconic, visible or just plain interesting jobs done by folks in Maine. Reporter Ray Routhier shadows a worker or workers, reports what he sees and tries his hand at some of the job's duties.

IF YOU'D like to suggest a job to be explored in this feature, e-mail rrouthier@pressherald.com or call 791-6454.

"You're cutting all day long, trying to get 30 or 40 arrangements done, you're bound to slip sometimes," said Davis, 45, the manager at Harmon's & Barton's flower shop on Congress Street. "People think this is a glamorous job, but it's physical and you've got to move."

I learned that part first-hand when I was putting together an arrangement of a dozen roses alongside Davis the week before Valentine's Day.

I found that a dozen roses translated into several dozen stems. That's because the vase also contained six or more pieces of four or five kinds of greens, plus a little pink flower called waxflower.

Each stem placed in the vase required a fresh cut at the bottom -- so water could soak in -- plus worn-looking or low-hanging foliage had to be trimmed, and the greens or flowers had to be placed in a such a way that they would not make the arrangement look crowded.

So as I tried to do each step to the best of my ability, Davis reminded me that if I were a real florist, I wouldn't have the luxury of time.

"On Valentine's Day we'll be really moving all day, so you'd have to move," said Davis.

On or about Valentine's Day -- which is today, husbands and boyfriends -- Harmon's & Barton's will be making about 1,200 deliveries with 15 trucks, owner Dan Kennedy told me. (The store also has a Westbrook location as well as a sister flower shop, Sawyer & Co.)

The first thing I had to master before making a rose arrangement was the use of a Swiss Army knife. Davis showed me how to hold a stem in my hand, bend it just slightly and flick the knife underneath the stem so it cuts quickly at an angle.

When cutting the roses, she told me it was important to put a freshly cut rose directly into water. If too much air gets in the stem, it can be bad for the rose.

"If you get a rose that's drooping over to one side, that probably means someone cut it, put it down, had a conversation and forgot it for a little while," said Davis. "So put your rose in the water right away."

I did. In fact, I practically knocked over the vase full of water doing so.

Davis told me that if I ever did have a drooping rose, it wasn't necessarily dead. She said that you can take that drooping rose and re-cut the stem underwater. The water flowing into the stem will often bring the rose back to a healthy state.

The other important point Davis told me about was to count out the 12 roses before you start arranging. Set them aside and make sure there are indeed 12. Because there's "nothing worse than an arrangement with 11 roses in it."

The arrangements we were working on would sell for $79.95, so I felt compelled to make sure they included every last rose.

As we worked on two rose arrangements, side by side at a workbench, Davis and I just tossed extra leaves and stems on the floor. But it's not like a cleaning fairy comes in later. The florists themselves will eventually have to clean up.

I spent so much time trying to get the greens and roses to be the right height that I didn't really do the kind of arranging Davis advised me to.

(Continued on page 2)

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