Brains behind the blooms

Charlotte Pearson picks the brains of a specialist horticulturalist.

Most people who have owned an orchid will know the struggle of keeping it alive.
Simon Richards 28So having the opportunity to talk to Simon Richards, product developer for horticulture at Marks and Spencer, it was the first thing on my mind.
“Orchids live on the side of trees in the rainforest so are free-draining,” he explains.
“They don’t like being sat in water.”
To water an orchid Simon tells me that rainwater or soft water is best, but if you live in a hard water area he suggests boiling the kettle, letting it cool and using it.
On how often to water it he suggests either once a week with an eggcup of water or he takes it out of the plastic pot and soaks it in water for five to ten minutes. This, he says, will keep the plant hydrated for a couple of weeks. Also avoid direct sunlight.
“Once the flowers are gone if the stem is still green just leave it,” he adds. “If it goes brown and has nodes cut diagonally just above it and leave it.”
Simon has worked for M&S for 11 years and is the brains behind the bouquets.
His career started in textile design, but after heading into his 30s he decided to move into floristry.
M&S Flowers 4“Gardening was always my hobby and something I enjoyed doing with my grandfather growing up in Havant,” recalls Simon. “One day I wrote to the top ten London florists and got a job with Jane Packer.
“My career just grew and one day I was doing flowers for a rooftop party for an Armani boutique store launch. It was surreal.”
Working 12 hours a day, six days a week, Simon admits it wasn’t easy, but was a job
he loved.
Just as he was ready to move on the job at M&S came up and he jumped at the chance.
Working within a team, Simon travels the world looking for blooms.
“We try to get as much as we can from the UK but our customers are used to getting the flowers they want all year round,” he explains.
“We get our sunflowers from abroad until they are in season here and then we get them from the UK.”
Growers are based in Lincolnshire, Cornwall and the New Forest, as well as Holland and further afield.
“We have growers in Colombia and Kenya as well,” reveals Simon. “Both are close to the equator so it has the heat.
M&S Flowers 12“In Kenya it is cool at night, which helps the rose bushes grow, whereas in Colombia, because of the altitude, the plants grow slower so you get thicker stems and bigger blooms.”
Simon ensures he meets the growers as provenance is important to the retailer.
“Our suppliers go above and beyond for us and that is how we get great flowers,” he says.
“The key is to try to stay one step ahead of our competitors and offer the best we can.”
The team consists of the buyers, who do the negotiating; the technologists, who look at how to keep the flowers looking their best; and then Simon.
M&S Flowers 15“We plan Christmas in January so we have the flowers in season to play with,” he explains.
“Working in advance in this way means we know how things will look and don’t have to imagine it.
“I don’t get to touch many flowers now the role is more behind a desk, but I travel a lot and the job itself is varied.”
M&S is keen to keep summer going for as long as it can, with the summer bouquets being sold until the end of September before the autumn range is introduced in October.
Alongside the normal bouquets there is also the Autograph range, which is in a similar vein to the clothing and makeup brands – elegant and glamorous.
Flowers are a simple way to boost a
room with a little colour or character so be it tulips or avalanche roses, there is a lot to choose from.


Simon’s tips

“With woody stems cut diagonally as it gives more surface area for the water,” he reveals.
“On softer stems you can just cut across but invest in flower scissors as they are so much better and give a cleaner cut than a half-mangled one.”

Should you use the flower food?
“It is a mix of a bleach to clear the water of bacteria and sugar,” explains Simon. “Use a clean vase and when the water gets cloudy replace it as this helps to keep the flowers for longer.”

Pictures: Emily Whiting