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Drawn together: florist scissors, secateurs and strimmers

Categories: Behind the stalls

Award-winning blogger and Borough Market regular Ed Smith displays a talent for illustration as well as the written word, as he talks to stallholders about the tools of their trade. This month: florist scissors, secateurs and strimmers

Sharon Crane, The Gated Garden

I started my florist business, The Gated Garden, in Three Crown Square six years ago. I had previously worked in the Market, though just as a flower seller, and then the owner of that business retired. I had £1,000 to start the stall off and the old owner was kind enough to leave a few bits and pieces that helped me get going, like some of the display boxes on the wall. But the art of floristry I had to learn on the spot. I’d watched others arrange flowers, but I’d never worked as a florist, never trained as one. So, I watched YouTube clips and worked things out for myself. It took me a year to get the bouquet spiral right.

There are a number of different sources for the flowers and plants we sell. I have a wholesaler in Kent, I go to New Covent Garden market, and I also buy direct from Holland. I’m one of a few who has access to the auctions. Sometimes that means you have to buy large quantities, which has its benefits and challenges. I try to focus on the seasons. That’s what people like and want, but also, like fruit and veg, flowers are better quality and bigger when in season. They’re better value, too, which works for both me and the customer. Come May, I try to deal as much as possible with English flowers, turning to our suppliers in Essex. It’s nice to to that, but it also makes sense.

Our offer is a mix of cut flowers and pot plants. House plants are very popular at the moment—things that hang, things that grow up the wall, things that don’t need too much attention. I think it’s an Instagram-driven thing.

A lot of bouquets
However, on a day to day basis we make a lot of bouquets. And that means using four or five different tools to cut and strip those flowers so they’re ready to arrange, tie and wrap.

My florist scissors, the bright yellow ones, are extremely sharp. I know from my own experience that they can take the tip off your fingers with one swipe. I use them to snip flower stems on a diagonal.

I have two different types of secateurs. The smaller, lighter ones I use for stems that are not too woody, and then ‘proper’ secateurs with a thick and strong blade, for the great big thick woody stems, like the ilix winter berries over Christmas.

Paper scissors are really important—and actually the most expensive of the lot—as you have to have a really sharp blade to cut a quick and straight line through the wrapping paper, so the edges look good. And although sometimes we’ll strip the leaves off the stems by hand, most often we’ll use this crafty little strimming tool, which speeds things up a bit.

Exposed to the elements
It takes roughly 15-20 minutes to make the bouquet from start to finish. We’ll take the flowers into the office and use a work table there to strip and cut the stems. We’re constantly picking up scissors—at any one time, we’ll use at least the florist scissors, paper scissors and one of the secateurs. It’s always hard work and tough on your hands, even though your skin hardens. And we’re exposed to the elements through the day here too. I can’t really work in gloves—I can’t feel what I’m putting together, they get in the way.

I don’t sharpen the scissors; they’re very utilitarian and basic and when they go blunt, I’ll just replace them. I’m not that sentimental about them, except for the paper ones, which are definitely my favourite. Perhaps because they cost the most, too. We’re an open stall at the entrance to the Market and I’ve had two pairs stolen this year, which has been pretty upsetting. 

Overall, as long as they cut and they’re sharp, I don’t really think too much about them. That said, they have to be bright colours so that we can see them quickly. Not just so that they’re quick to grab, but because they’ve a habit of ending up in the bin, in among the ends of wrapping paper and raffia!