It is now twenty-one years since Stephen Wicks and Mark Welford set up their beautiful flower shop in Great Queen Street in London’s bustling Covent Garden.
The two friends met at White Lodge, the Royal Ballet School, and went on to have wonderful careers as dancers with the Royal Ballet, until they felt the time had come to retrain.
With the support of the Dancers Career Development, the ‘Bloomsbury Boys’ attended the famous Career Course at the Jane Packer Flower School and opened the doors to their own shop less than two months later on 2 December 1994.
For Stephen the move to the world of plants and flowers was a natural one. He had grown up in a house full of flowers and with a father who was a passionate gardener.
“I was inspired by my father’s allotment,” he explains.
“He grew all his own flowers and vegetables. In our family garden, he built me a mini house with its own garden. It was wonderful!”
“Floristry is still an artistic outlet,” says Mark.
“There is still that performance element. You are setting a room like a stage. It is a job that gives you instant gratification. Every day is different – there is that element of surprise.”
Stephen and Mark complement each other well as business partners. Whilst Stephen loves looking after the hotels – Bloomsbury Flowers dress Firmdale’s eight breathtaking London hotels - and the ‘one-off extravaganzas’, Mark enjoys customer liaison and the business administration.
They have written three books together for Dorling Kindersley and opened a second shop at the stylish Ham Yard Hotel.
Says Mark: “We have a wonderful team of three full-time florists, three part-time, a full-time driver and work experience staff.”
Bloomsbury and the Flower Market
Mark and Stephen’s connection with the Flower Market dates back to their dancing days. They both recall finishing performances at the Royal Opera House and making their way home past the lorries and the characters of the old Covent Garden Market.
Stephen remembers stepping into New Covent Garden Flower Market at Vauxhall as a florist for the first time as “incredible, bloody amazing!”
Mark describes it as “an assault on the senses.”
Both have often talked about how the Flower Market is their daily inspiration, as seasonal flowers and foliages catch their eye and fire their creative imaginations.
They clearly enjoy the Market banter and have developed close relationships with their wholesalers over the years.
“All our British flowers come from the Market and from Pratley and Zest, and the foliage from GB Foliage and Porters,” says Mark. “Nowadays, there’s a much better selection of British to choose from.”
“During British Flowers Week, we will be using only British flowers in the Firmdale hotels,” adds Stephen.
“Temperature can be a problem for softer British flowers, so we will be concentrating on the conditioning. The preparation of flowers is particularly important with locally-grown.”
“British flowers are not AYR [All Year Round], but that’s what so wonderful about them,” enthuses Stephen.
“Like the start of the asparagus season, you always remember the first box of English peonies coming into Market each year. The way people buy food is changing, and it should be the same with flowers. We all need to educate customers about seasonality.”
Read more about the British alliums here.