A flourishing enterprise

It is easy to take for granted the flower arrangements decorating the party's venue. RSVP associate editor Jeremy King spent the day with celebrated florist Detta Phillips and discovered just how crucial blooms are to the success of every creative event.

09.00am After a losing battle with my carefully planned but ultimately flawed directions I finally arrive at Detta Phillips Floral Design, cursing myself for missing the seemingly unmissable blue sign on the florist's warehouse on Queenstown Road,Battersea. Everyone is preparing for tonight's corporate dinner-and-dance party for a Dutch city bank at Wellington Arch, so I'm directed to the office to meet owner Detta Phillips.

After a quick introduction it's straight down to business and Phillips starts with a catch-up with her staff, who have been in since 8am. "We have to be prepared for all eventualities. We may have 18 months' notice for a job or just eight hours," explains Phillips. For tonight's job she will use peonies, roses, delphiniums, sweet peas, ivy, guelda blossom and ivy-like stephanotis to create three four-foot table pieces,a six-foot tree and a 10-foot standing urn.

10.00am "We have a great buyer so we only go to Covent Garden once a week to see the latest trends," says Phillips. As part of her own daily schedule she has to concentrate on generating quotes, which include detailed explanations of her ideas and concepts. "The quotes and samples are all we have to impress the client with; it's essential they are as detailed as possible and that presentation is perfect," she says.

11.00am Phillips shows me around the warehouse, which is packed with intriguing florist paraphernalia including trees, gold- and silver-coloured branches, multi-coloured flowers and a variety of urns and vases. Besides the constant hum of trains passing overhead I notice how cold the warehouse is. Phillips explains: "It is important to have the right temperature for the flowers to be at their peak for an event. We also have a hot-room where we place flowers that need help to bloom in time for an event."

11.30am Phillips has a meeting with charity Save the Children about a Christmas party for which she and colleague Angelika Evangelou have to come up with a design."We have been creating floral displays for Save the Children's Christmas party for a few years now and this year they are thinking of doing a Moulin Rouge theme, which will be quite exciting."

12.00pm In between taking calls and preparing more quotes Phillips heads back to the warehouse to see how things are going for tonight's party. As she checks out the table designs Phillips notices the ivy leaves are looking a little weak so she and her staff quickly add stephanotis to the bottom of the table designs.

12.30pm As her team takes a deserved lunch break, Phillips eats while working on more quotes and organising the weekend workload. She also deals with problems concerning orders and quantities of flowers.

01.30pm Phillips leaves the paperwork and goes to the warehouse to work on a tree for tonight with one of her staff, Michelle Baroni.While attaching peonies to it Phillips says: "You have to time the bloom of the flowers to get them at their peak because at this level they can also become weak and could fall apart."

03.00pm With the flowers almost ready Phillips talks about her work for the likes of the Natural History Museum and Tate Modern. "Most of these venues are open to the public during the day so we can only get in once they have shut ,º she says. In order to help with this process the company has three dedicated lorries and one van for deliveries. 04.30pmPhillips dashes home to get company t-shirts for her staff and then it's off to the venue for a last minute look around. Phillips explains: ™You need to check everything is how you saw it initially and there is ample room to get your displays to the top floor.You always worry about everything fitting in."

04.55pm The lorry arrives with the flowers and Phillips helps her staff take it to the top of the arch where the flowers will be displayed while the dinner and party takes place.

05.15pm So far so good and all of the displays have made it up in one piece to the top floor. However, a few blooms have failed the test. Before I can comment Phillips pulls out a bucket of fresh peonies and quickly replaces the wilted ones. She explains:"I always bring spare blooms. Fortunately flowers tend to be fairly versatile and normally bounce back to their original position - the spares are more for sudden changes in displays. Someone may have ordered three table-tops but on the night decide they want four, so we always bring enough to make up another one."

05.30pm With time running out before the guests arrive a seemingly major problem occurs.The centre urn of flowers is too big to fit between the tables that the caterers have just set up. Phillips decides to move the urn to the other side of the room, thus solving the problem."You have to be very flexible and able to deal with any eventuality," she says.

05.45pm With everything in place Phillips adds her own finishing touches. Taking the spare blooms she places a flower within the napkins on each table. Standing back to survey the room Phillips comments: "It's always nice to have a job run as smoothly as this."

RSVP recommended florists
Detta Phillips Tel (020) 7498 2728 Webwww.dettaphillips.com

McQueens Tel (020) 7251 5505 Webwww.mcqueens.co.uk

Paul Thomas Tel (020) 7499 6889 Webwww.paulthomas flowers.co.uk

Rob Van Helden Tel (020) 7720 6774 RSVP recommended florists


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