Melanie Kennerley, Owner of The Wild Rose Florist in her picking garden, where she grows local flowers for Auckland Flower Delivery

Life Of A Florist In 2023

Written by owner of The Wild Rose Melanie Kennerley.

2023 was meant to be a  “return to normal”, where we could work without masks, staff weren’t sick or paranoid about every sniffle or tickle of the throat and supply of the basics like flowers was bountiful. 

It was the year the sun would shine, and we would revel in not working behind locked doors or just simply being able to work at all.

However, we are almost halfway through the year and it has been anything but a bed or roses.

There are two days in the year for a florist business that it gets to make hay while the sun shines; Valentine's Day and Mother’s Day, but what if the sun doesn’t shine?

What if rain comes down and it just doesn’t stop? The result is a state of emergency, or three of them in this case. 

January is a quiet month for all gifting businesses and in the floral world it is time to do some planning and prepare for Valentine’s Day. The big decision is how many thousands of red roses to order. That is a decision that invokes looking at the previous year’s analytics, assessing the current economic climate, thinking about space and staff levels and coming up with plans to be able to grow. And it also results in sleepless nights because it is a big decision, because you could end up with hundreds, if not thousands of red roses left over...

It turns out it wasn’t as stressful as the night of January 27th – a Friday night – a night I tried like many others to go to watch Elton John. A night I watched so much rain come down, a torrential amount of water, in such a quick space of time that it just had nowhere to go but into homes, into workplaces and into waterways that couldn’t cope. 

Florist garden

Photo shows a picking garden and valley, taken before the storms.

As it got dark outside it sounded like Niagara Falls. Our property is within a valley with water always flowing through it as it heads down and out to the sea. This night it no longer flowed sedately, it travelled with a force and volume I have never seen before and hoped to never see again. It was engulfing our driveway and travelling at high speed through my picking garden that was full of beautiful flowers and foliage that create such great value at The Wild Rose Flower and Gift Store. With nothing we could do and more rain coming down we just had to wait till morning and daylight again to see what the damage would be. 

We sat tense and unable to focus on anything but the sound of water until we went to bed, and then again lay worrying and just waiting for the night to pass and the sound of water to ease. 

We woke to a significant amount of damage and most of it to my picking garden.  Most of my picking garden was washed away, huge amounts of it gone, ultimately ending up in the Manukau Harbour.  The water had risen to 3 meters above normal levels and eaten away at everything that was in its way.  Four months on to the day as I write this, most of the damage is so great we still haven’t been able to repair it to be able to plant it again, but we will.

Photos show the damage to the picking gardens following the floods, with water (filled with flowers) rising to the top of the fence post.

While I was dry inside however, I had a florist who got flooded from her house and didn’t get to return for close to 3 months. 

Auckland went into a State of Emergency late that day – something I don’t remember ever being personally involved in during my lifetime, but I am definitely familiar with them four months on.

With the Auckland floods happening two and a half weeks from Valentine’s Day we didn’t have time to pause, we had thousands of roses on their way. 

Roses, like all flowers, are a highly perishable product. They arrive en masse just a couple of days before Valentine’s Day, fill the chiller to overflowing and envelope every nook and cranny of the store. They all need to be stripped and stems cut and placed in fresh clean buckets on arrival. 

With the impending arrival of our beautiful roses, we also started to be aware of the impending arrival of a cyclone, one that will live forever in all our memories and our countries history – Cyclone Gabrielle. 

Online sales started to slow as everyone started to focus on the cyclone. My stress levels started to rise – both worrying about being able to sell thousands of roses and the potential for more damage to an already flood ravaged and water-soaked community. 

The eve of Valentine’s Day coincided with the eve of Gabrielle. The NZ Post couriers were told to withdraw and not collect or deliver packages (leaving a mountain of gift boxes), flights were all getting cancelled, fire engines were going past us with sirens on all day, the atmosphere got more stressed, but we just had to keep moving forward. We went home close to midnight when we decided it was safer to try to get home before the weather got any worse – not knowing what the following day held.

Driving into The Wild Rose very early on Valentine’s Day listening with baited breath to the radio, hearing that the whole country was in a State of Emergency.  People were being asked to stay home and not do any unnecessary travel – would our couriers arrive to collect and deliver our hundreds of pre-ordered Flowers and Gift Boxes, would customers come and buy in-store our Takanini Florist when they were being asked to stay home?

The arrival of the first courier driver was such a huge relief – he was an hour early and we weren’t ready for him, but it meant that roses were going to be delivered. 

And then the customers started coming, and they came, and they came.  Adult children came to buy on behalf of fathers who had no valid reason to sneak out of the house to get a Valentine’s Day gift

We felt beaten and battered, emotionally and business wise, but when we got up the day after and we then heard about the Hawke’s Bay, everything we’d been through paled into comparison. Our hearts went out to them. The people, the animals and our fellow florists who had no power, no way of communicating but who kept making their flowers and delivering what they could. 

It took us a little to get over Valentine’s Day and then start the preparation for Mother’s Day, less than 3 months later.

I had jokingly said, we have been through COVID and National Disasters at our very busiest of days, what more could come our way? 

Well, Mother’s Day week brought staff with COVID, it brought another State of Emergency in Auckland and again it brought couriers being stood down from collecting and delivering the hundreds of flowers and gifts we had ready to deliver NZ wide. 

The result of a continuous deluge of rain and excess flooding through summer and autumn also brought a decreased volume of flowers. While my growing garden ended up completely washed away, for growers, flowers simply drowned and in other cases continuous rain meant diseases that created issues for flowers like hydrangeas. Dahlia tubers rotted before they grew. With decreased supply, the natural result is increased price. 

Florists are used to the occasions of Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day being stressful and involving much less sleep than is desired, however having both these occasions influenced by the effects of States of Emergency at the same time takes things to another level.  If we can survive and thrive through these times, then we can survive anything – she say’s “touch wood”!