In antiquity Flora was the goddess of Spring and flowers the embodiment of abundant nature.
Humankind’s fascination with Flora has been their incredible ability, in many instances, when displaced from their original environment to adapt, flourish and develop new characteristics to suit the regions in which they found themselves.
The Ancient Egyptian believed divine power was contained within the scent of a flower and who would blame them. Some flower’s scents are entirely intoxicating. Cleopatra, it is said, soaked the sails of her ship with rose water so that as she departed from Marc Antony, ‘the very winds were lovesick’.
The rose, that glorious flower we all admire, crosses all boundaries of culture in its quest to win you to its favour.
With its dramatic combination of beauty and fragrance it reminds us of the frailty of the body and the transitory nature of human life.
Flora Domestica, in other words the use of flowers, fruits, herbs and vegetables for display in a domestic environment, is very ancient indeed.
It can be safely assumed, and perhaps agreed by many, that there is some innate quality about the presence of flowers in any room that brings about a sense of celebration, pleasurable association and one of great occasion.
They express a broad range of feelings, stimulate the senses with their scent and can also provide subtle messages for those who are well literate in the so-called language of flowers.
St Valentine’s Day, February 14 each year is the perfect time to send flowers, especially roses with love. Then there is Mother’s Day, Birthday’s, Anniversaries and goodness just any day you can send flowers to the one you love.
If you want them to be the best they can be send them via Australia’s absolutely fabulous trio of ‘Lady’ florists. Susan Avery at Woollahra in Sydney, Phoebe Stephens in James Street, Brisbane and Victoria Whitelaw at South Yarra in Melbourne.
The client list of these three unique florists reads like the who’s who of Australia in each state and from rock stars to royalty, from corporate to community events, from weddings to walking on the wild side, they have provided flowers for almost every occasion you can think of and in almost every style and colour you can possibly imagine.
This superb trio of lady fashion florists have been offering ‘bespoke’ flower services to their customers for 25 + years now in Australia and they all share in common the passionate pursuit of beauty and excellence in floral decoration.
They also move with the times and are constantly embracing new ideas and stunning ways of showing off the flowers they admire.
A more humble, modest and even quite shy trio of ladies you will never find. So even obtaining a picture of them is a minor miracle. They would much prefer you to photograph the flora.
They express who they are through the beauty they provide with flowers, which offers us a glimpse into their ravishingly scented world and a window into their hearts and souls.
“Susan changed the face of floristry in Sydney and Australia“, is a quote I would have to agree with.
I first met Susan Avery, a gentle Canadian born lady, when I lived and worked nearby at Paddington from the late 1980’s onward.
We are both flower mad and so we got on well from the start.
We used to have a great deal of fun picking out and putting together exciting combinations of flowers to decorate events and private commissions for clients I was engaged with at the time.
The shop she set up in was an architectural treasure and as I was also teaching the evolution of architectural and interior design style in that decade we always had a great deal to talk about.
What she has achieved since in terms of her career is indeed quite remarkable. She has become truly an Australilan national treasure in her lifetime here.
Susan Avery arranges flowers for her clients that includes photo shoots for Vogue, Architectural Digest, Belle, Cosmopolitan, Bride to Be, Real Weddings, Modern Weddings, and lots of other magazines, newspapers and periodicals.
Susan has themed local and international conferences, decorated large hotel chains, and designed and installed flowers for shopping centres and large property groups.
She has always paid attention to the visual aesthetic of all her work from the smallest personal posy to the most lavish extravagant showcase for flowers, such as those arranged in Guillaume At Bennelong’s restaurant in the Sydney Opera House, and she arranges them all with love.
Arrangements for a wedding in that magical space certainly ook stunning set among gleaming silver candelabra, which are loaded up with candles to flicker in the dimming light.
Susan Avery has gained, in the last 30 years, a wonderful reputation as an innovative stylish florist for whom discretion, quality and economy are hallmarks. Long may she continue creating in style.
When I moved to Brisbane in the late 90’s to live in The Turret atop St Martins House in the precinct of St John’s Cathedral from January 1, 2000 I met the simply superb florist Phoebe Stephens who came highly recommended by everyone that I met in the first few weeks I was there.
When I met her we had an instant connection and I would have to say that I visited her floral establishment at least once a week in the decade I was living there (1999 – 2009).
Sometimes it was just to say hello and to admire the flowers in the window at James Street, down in Fortitude Valley, which were always ravishing.
Other times it was to organise flowers for events I was holding in the cathedral or The Turret of St Martin’s House, where we welcomed many visitors from home and abroad.
English born, Phoebe Stephens and I shared an affinity for the beauty and considerable heritage attached to flower arranging in that country because I was also taking tours there at the time.
We also bonded over our love for peonies in particular, surely one of the most ravishing flowers on the planet.
She would fly them up from S.A. Victoria or Tasmania for a few weeks in November each year, until Brisbane heat was finally too much for them.
Phoebe and I collaborated over many events, the one in particular that I remember well was a superb show we held in the Cathedral Nave for the Boutique Wine Association of Australia.
I will never forget the simply stunning arrangement she produced in a Moet & Chandon Box to display at the Entry. There are not enough superlatives to describe how wonderful it was.
Victoria Whitelaw at South Yarra in Melbourne and I finally met and bonded over a fabulous array of elegant and beautiful white dogwood last year, a flowering plant you don’t suddenly expect to see in Australia.
My eldest son Paul would be Victoria Whitelaw‘s greatest advocate, ordering flowers from her for photo shoots and romantic notions and he told me about her long before I came to live here in Melbourne.
On the day we had our encounter of the first kind she had huge bunches of stunning white dogwood in her store, which is something I have never ever seen in any other florist’s shop in Australia. It quite drew me in the door.
It was all quite simply superb and just perfect for the photo shoot I had been asked to style for my son Paul’s advertising firm, One Fell Swoop, which was happening that day.
Following the shoot the dogwood came home with me and gave great pleasure for another two weeks.
A friend came to visit the same week and brought me the very last of the year’s peonies, because he knows I love them so much, and so we photographed them together. iPhones are so handy.
The window of Victoria’s shop always has an incredible array of blooms that change with the seasons and events.
The Oriental lilies she sells are so well prepared (each stem in their own little nest, a water vial that keeps them fresh) and they always last us for a full two weeks in a vase and the same with orchids, which she loves and has in abundant variety.
The glorious window she arranged early last December filled with white Waratah is a sight I will never forget. Stunning doesn’t even being to cover it.
Here at Melbourne even on a cold day, rugged up against the cold you can find me with my nose pressed firmly to the glass of Victoria’s window on Toorak Road at South Yarra nearby to where I live, eagerly peering into the shop to see what she has on offer.
I have been walking past it on an average of two or three times a week for two years now and its always a sight to behold.
Recently Victoria Whitelaw moved her flower boutique a few doors along the road into a shop that was more than twice as big as the last one, where the art of flowers will continue in style.
I must say that I really love Melbourne for the fact that it has four seasons and every possible flower imaginable is available. I missed both when I was living in Brisbane, where the humidity is not kind to fabulous flora in summer.
Here you can actually see the woodland flowering plant ‘lily of the valley’ with its dainty little bell-like flowers growing in gardens and certainly gathered in generous bunches in Victoria’s shop. In the language of flowers it signifies the return of happiness.
My son Paul gathered this great bunch for his old mum on my birthday in mid December. It was caught up ravishingly in Victoria’s distinctive fabulous matt ‘black’ paper and tied with her black and white and black and green ribbon.
He had a great deal of trouble getting it in the front door it was so wide, the flowers backed by magnolia and prunus leaves of contrasting colour. It was sensational and very Victoria, who also dresses in black as I do, which is also so very Melbourne!
Susan Avery, Phoebe Stephens and Victoria Whitelaw would all acknowledge that without the fine team of people who surround them on a daily basis, and the support they receive from those who admire their achievements, they would not be where they are today.
What they all have in common is a love of beauty, a fine eye for aesthetics, a pursuit of excellence in every aspect of what they do. Importantly, they provide a level of trust and discretion to their clients, which can be counted upon.
Having glorious flowers in a house provides a sense of profusion and a wonderful feeling of abundance, which is indicative of Australia being a ‘lucky country’.
It was the French painter Claude Monet (1840 – 1926), renowned for his horticultural wizardry who said that the ‘poor palettes’ of the painter could not capture fully the colour of flowers. He explored new ways of interpreting the world leaving us with a lasting impression that it was the creator who perhaps guided his imaginative genius, as well as his hand.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2013-2014.
Phoebe Stephens Flowers
Shop 6, 31 James Street, Brisbane
Phone: (07) 3216 1577