It combines craft with creativity. But flower power also means low pay and early starts, says Hazel Davis

"Oooh, the flowers are lovely," is one of the first things you hear at a wedding, after, if she's lucky, "doesn't the bride look wonderful?"

Flowers play a role in many of the key events in our life: births, romances, deaths and marriages, and they can defuse the trickiest of situations. The UK fresh-cut-flower and indoor-plant market is worth £2.2bn at retail level. We spend on average £36 a year on flowers, with Elton John's monthly portion once, supposedly, being £34,000.

It's easy to pick up a nice bunch of tulips on your way for tea with your mum, but how easy is it to get a job as a flower-seller, and is it really a bed of roses?

Mathew Dickinson is a leading UK florist. He has catered for celebrity and high-profile events and runs his own company in North London. "I never meant to be a florist at all, it was a complete accident, says Dickinson. "A friend asked if I would help with her wedding - I was a landscape gardener at the time. I said, 'but I know nothing about floristry,' and she said, 'but you're creative'.

"As a thankyou she enrolled me on a four-day course in flower arranging. And at the end of it they gave me a job!"

"With gardening," says Dickinson, "you have to put the work in and reap the rewards 10 years later; with floristry the satisfaction is instant." He calls it "the best job in the world," and loves the fact that, "you make everyone's day by transforming a venue with flowers." Dickinson says that the sort of large-event floristry that he does is quite different to working with customers every day.

"I get complete control and I get to use loads of flowers and be a lot more creative. I've done everything from parties, restaurants and demonstrations to weddings and political events, and it's quite different from shop work."

The hours can be interesting though. Most florists get up between three and four in the morning, and they can kiss goodbye to thoughts of having Valentine's Day and Mother's Day off. And, says Helen Crotty, "you have to frequently work in the freezing cold."

Crotty also got into floristry by accident. She was a "visual merchandiser" and window-dresser who harboured a love of flowers. She started working for no money in a friend's shop and took part-time courses. She's now a senior tutor at the Jane Packer Flower School in London, which offers short- and long-term courses in everything from bridal floristry to basic flower-arranging, courtesy of the world-renowned florist Jane Packer.

Crotty agrees with Dickinson that floristry is less horticulture and more design. "You're creating something from nothing and you get to use colour inventively," she says. "Having been a window dresser helped me hugely."

Despite saying that she wouldn't change her career for the world, Crotty warns that, "very few people leave school and go straight to college. Most people get a part-time job or do an evening course." She says that it's vital to get some first-hand experience first.

"The reality is very early mornings, and it's dirtier than you'd think. We spend much of our time bleaching containers and cleaning out muck." More than half of UK florists work part-time and most of them spend a large percentage of their time on their feet.

Let's face it, floristry is something you go into for the love of it, not to become a millionaire, and it's only a select few like Packer and Dickinson who hit the big time. A junior florist in London can expect to earn around £15,000, and that's after training and experience, but the opportunities are much greater if you set up in business yourself. Many people work from vans to minimise costs and others work from garages and warehouses. Going into business is the only way to make megabucks.

However, early mornings and dirty buckets aside, whatever else happens to the country, people aren't going to stop dying, being born or getting married, so once you're in it's a pretty failsafe profession. And you'll never be short of birthday present ideas.

For details of courses and work-experience opportunities visit www.britishfloristassociation.org or call 0870 240 3208.

The Society of Floristry is at www.societyoffloristry.org and on 0870 241 0432

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