Business is blooming
PUBLISHED: 11:08 10 March 2015 | UPDATED: 11:08 10 March 2015
Tessa Allingham meets the indefatigable Isabel Wilton, as she celebrates 45 years in floristry
Picture the scene. You have a thriving flower shop on a lovely corner plot in the heart of Stowmarket. You have been in business for 45 years and are planning how to mark this remarkable anniversary, it’s two days before Valentine’s Day – one of the busiest times of year for any florist – when the number 88 bus ploughs into the shop and ruins the lot.
“I had a Dutch lorry waiting to deliver 1,500 red roses, and flowers to finish for an 11 o’clock funeral so I had to just get on,” says Isabel Wilton, owner of Edelweiss, showing an upper lip of the stiffest – but still smiley – kind.
“I arrived at the shop at 8, just after it happened, and as soon as I knew nobody had been injured, I got on with the last coffin spray with the bus wedged in the window. I somehow managed to get the roses into the shop too. I’m very single-minded – there was no time to sob!”
Efficiently, the business decamped to Noble and White, the gift shop across the road also owned by Isabel, and months of repair work began.
That all happened about a (busy) year ago. Now, the walls are a stylish, calm, pale grey, the large windows sparkle and, of course, flowers colourfully fill the fresh space. A pale exotic orchid perches daintily next to an explosion of stately lilies. Bold gerbera, romantic vintage-pink roses, and sugary cyclamen share a table top display. Bundles of airy lisianthus, fragrant eucalyptus and sculpturally twisting willow fill galvanised buckets.
Isabel is hoping that 2015 will be a celebratory year, following an exhausting, stressful one. “This is the beginning of a new era for Edelweiss,” she says. “It’s quite something to have been in business for 45 years. We’ve been through four recessions, not to mention the bus. We are definitely here to stay.” She kicked off anniversary celebrations with a flower chain.
“We gave a bouquet to the first customer in the shop on the day we reopened and asked her to nominate another person to receive a bouquet. The idea is that every recipient nominates another person, and so on until we’ve delivered 45 bouquets.” At the time of writing the chain had remained unbroken with 20-odd bouquets delivered.
Isabel talks about flowers with the enthusiasm you’d expect of a newcomer to floristry. There’s no sense of passion palling with time.
“I’m so privileged to do something that gives so much pleasure and, at times, comfort to people.
“I love my job, even though the work is a lot more demanding than many people think. I’m constantly working to deadlines that cannot move – a wedding, a party, a funeral – and expectations are always high!”
Trained by the iconic Constance Spry, Isabel’s passion for flowers blossomed in her early 20s while working for Notcutts garden centre in Woodbridge.
“One day a friend told me about a shop available in Stowmarket and encouraged me to take it. I had never expected to run my own business, but I stayed on that site for 30 years before moving to our current shop 15 years ago.”
There is a tangle of other strings to Isabel’s creative bow. Twenty-five consecutive years exhibiting at Chelsea Flower Show – apparently she’s unique in that achievement – have resulted in a clutch of gold medals and three ‘best in show’ awards. She has won the prestigious British Florist Association (BFA) Florist of the Year title, judged myriad national and international competitions, was a founder member of the Floristry Judges Guild, and is a former director of the BFA.
Isabel has passed on her vast experience, lecturing, demonstrating and founding the floristry department at Otley College where she taught for eight years. She has also run flower arranging sessions in a women’s prison and her own course from home, Flowers for Pleasure (see panel).
It’s enough to fill three lifetimes and make anyone listening feel faintly inadequate, even a bit lazy.
“I love being busy, and the job is so varied. I did the flowers for a golden wedding party last weekend. The couple came in to discuss it and produced a receipt from 1964 for their wedding flowers – it turned out I had done the bouquets and they remembered! It was a real privilege to do their flowers 50 years later, a truly happy occasion.”