We sat down with Kath Parkes, senior florist at Mrs Bottomley's Flowers, in Christchurch to discover to her passion for flowers, creativity and how she got into the flower industry.

What inspired you to first become a florist?

After a long career in Education, I decided that I wanted to pursue a new career that would enable me to utilise my creative talents and allow me to be immersed in a passion that had been with me for some time. I had always had creative projects of various descriptions going on, and I possessed a keen interest in gardening and arranging flowers in the house, and a desire for beautiful, interesting and unusual flowers and foliage, but I think it was coming across Amy Merrrick’s blog, “An Apple a Day’ that really ignited the spark to work with flowers and fulfil my creative needs through this ever changing medium.

Where did you study/practice floristry?

At the age of 49 I re-trained as a florist at what was then known as The Academy, in Christchurch, and for the past 3 years I have been working at Mrs Bottomley’s and I’ve never looked back. Working every day amongst the abundance and beauty and whimsy that nature provides brings me immense joy and contentment. Sometimes it literally takes my breath away.

What do you love about using NZ grown flowers and foliage?

New Zealand has such a vast array of beautiful flowers and foliage grown here and available for use. There is nothing bland or limited about what can be grown here, as we have quite diverse climates throughout the country. From tropical-looking flowers such as anthuriums, orchids and gloriosa lilies to the traditional colder-climate favourites such as tulips, roses and paeonies, to name but a few, the range is huge. Seeing the varieties of flowers change as we move through the different seasons is also a delight. Some flowers are made even more special because of the fact that their season is short. Our appreciation is heightened in a way that wouldn’t be the case if they were available all year round.

Supporting local flower and foliage growers is so important for our local economy. They work so hard, sometimes in very trying conditions, to grow high-quality product year round. To get to work with flowers that have been picked just that morning, that are at their freshest best and that will be allowed to naturally open and develop is the way it should be. And from an environmentally sustainable standpoint, buying local just makes sense.

What does the ‘Power of Flowers’ mean to you?

The ‘Power of Flowers’ – Flowers have the power to evoke a range of emotions, such as awe, pleasure, joy and appreciation and can convey an unspoken message when given to others – love, sympathy, friendship, comfort, romance. The scent of flowers is also a powerful factor in the way that we respond to them. It is a rare person who is not moved at the gift of flowers to mark a particular occasion. There is something about the gift of flowers that is particularly meaningful. The language of flowers is universal and breaks through any barriers of language and culture. Flowers can move people at a visceral level and provide a really important connection to our natural world.

How does ‘The Power of Flowers’, play a role in your life?

Every day through my work I encounter examples of how flowers impact on people and their lives. It may be someone coming into the shop and exclaiming over particular flowers and arrangements, talking of memories evoked by different flowers, and people that they think of when they see them. Hearing comments from the recipients of flowers is testament to the power of flowers: the beauty of the flowers themselves, and the thought and kindness behind a gift of flowers.

How would you describe your design style?

My design style is about working with nature rather than against it. It is a style that reflects the way that the material grows in its natural environment, celebrating its foibles, its whimsical shapes, curvy stems and nodding heads. It is a style that showcases the beauty of blooms of all varieties, from the impossibly delicate to the big, blousy show-offs, placed in a way that looks natural and effortless, but which is, in fact, deliberate and considered.

What has been your biggest highlight as a florist so far?

For me, gaining work at Mrs Bottomley’s Flowers when I finished my floristry training has been such a gift. There, I have been able to learn so much very quickly and truly grow my own creative style and skills. I am fortunate to have had so many opportunities for creative license through a wide variety of assignments. I also get to work in a very beautiful, ever-changing and inspiring space that is our workshop, and that is really fulfilling on a day-to-day basis.

I have to say that being involved in NZ Flowers Week feels like a huge highlight in my career to date!

What do you see the future of NZ grown flowers to be?

I think that NZ grown flowers have a very bright future. I know that there is already a huge appreciation out there for material grown in New Zealand, and I hope as awareness grows of the importance of buying local, that there will be even more support of NZ grown, rather than imported material. This is a movement that seems to be taking off in other countries, and one that is happening here too. We see it with food, and it's the same with flowers – fresh, locally grown and sourced is the best. Hopefully there will also be a greater supply of organically grown material, grown locally – better not only for our health, but the health of the planet. I also wonder whether if there is a greater focus on buying local then we may see an even wider range of flowers being made available as growers branch out to meet local demand rather than being concerned with competing with imports.