When Sophie Cullumbine decided to give up her stressful job as a pub landlady and naively handover the reins to her business partner, she thought she was getting her life back. However 18 months later when the banks came knocking on her door, she discovered she was jointly £36,000 in debt from the pub business. “My life crumbled,” she says. “I had always struggled with bouts of depression and had been diagnosed with bi-polar. I self harmed and drank heavily, desperate from being in such a situation without my own doing.”
Within a year she lost a well paid job, her independence, her confidence and self worth. “Having nothing to lose, I picked up a prospectus from a local college, floristry! I had always loved being creative in the places I managed. Perfect…”
In her final year at college she spotted an empty small shop, ironically attached to a pub! “I dreamt of opening it’s creaky door, cleaning it’s bay windows and filling it full of flowers.” She negotiated a minimal cash rent with the landlord, in return for helping him manage the pub in the evenings and created Sophie’s Flower Company, Purveyors of Lovely Stuff- Established 2011!
Two and half years on, she and her a small team of flower elves have expanded into chair covers and event styling, creating fabulous designs for the Duke & Duchess of Rutlands private residence at Belvoir Castle, working at Wimbledon 2013, featuring in national Wedding Flowers magazine. She has also been recognised in Business Awards and designed perfect backdrops for over 150 brides Big Days!
Here is what a days work looks like for Sophie…
My days start at 4am and often finish after dark, but my little shop of floral dreams, keeps catching me off guard with its success. I pinch myself how a pipe dream became my dream life. But I take joy in the misty, early morning market runs whilst others sleep, and as I collapse into my bed at night I am content.
My alarm on Market days and I check my emails and head into Nottingham to the flower market, where I grab a coffee and exchange some light hearted banter with the barrow boys and other florists whilst perusing the fresh cut flowers and plants.
When I get into work I reach for the orders folder, set the girls on their tasks and then set up the flower stand with fresh vases of glorious blooms! A normal day will consist of preparing, designing and quoting for weddings and events, meeting clients at their chosen venues, delivering out contract arrangements to local businesses. Every day is different, one day we can be working on a photo shoot at a Country Hotel the next week we could be at a store launch for a jewellery firm, or event styling a festival. Sometimes our flowers take us on extraordinary road trips, perhaps to London to be featured in Wedding Flowers magazine. We deal with Brides from across the counties, inspiring them to create their perfect day. We serve all kinds of lovely folk from the local school children with gifts for teachers to the Duke & Duchess of Rutland private residence at Belvoir Castle.
Handing over a Bridal bouquet to a girl who has become a friend through months of planning her Big Day, it’s quite emotional. I often get a little sad to think I won’t see those girls again, then they return with pictures and wonderful words, and you get to think, ‘I did that, I was part of her most beautiful important day.’ It’s what it’s all about. Flowers are there for all the big things, we are present for births, weddings, and loss of loved ones. Designing flowers to convey emotions, to me, it’s so very important.
In my spare time I take flying lessons; I’m working towards my pilots license. In the evenings my friends and I often visit Ragdale Hall Spa for a swim, sauna and some fizz! At weekends we often head towards Langar Hall, to enjoy Catwalk & Cocktail evenings or Shakespeare on the lawn in the summer months. Or to a lovely rural pub in the Vale of Belvoir, enjoying the best of British cuisine!
I am enormously proud of what I have achieved through sheer determination, a lovely team and buckets of optimism. Lessons learnt along the way? Always trust your instinct, never tell anything but the truth and sell only the best of what you have, listen to your customers, ask them questions and never put off the paperwork! Expect to not have a social life for a while, eat your veg. And remember it was Maggie who said, ‘Dreams don’t work unless you do.’
Oh and wear layers of thermal underwear, mornings are colder than you think!
Here Sophie shares her top ten tips for arranging flowers at home
1) Don’t be afraid to use other vessels other than vases – Anything can be made water tight with cellophane so think outside the box for arranging your flowers in. Even a pair of wellington boots can make a quirky doorstep display!
2) Always ask the florist what is in season and fresh from market, all good florists are happy to guide you to buy the best so your arrangements last the longest.
3) Raid the fridge! Your arrangements don’t have to be all flower, considering adding fruit such as lemons and limes to the bottom of a tall glass vase for a bold look.
4) To get the longest life out of your blooms, ensure your container is clean, water changed every couple of days and all stems recut at a 45 degree angle to maximises water uptake.
5) Use waxy foliage from the garden to create a ‘frame’ in the vase the take an uneven number of focal, larger blooms and weave into the greenery. Placing the smaller buds at the top of the design, have all the blooms facing the front for arrangements against walls.
6) Keep it simple. If you unsure about coordinating colours, use one colour of one flower to create a bold, impact. A large vase of hydrangea heads can be as impressive as a complicated design.
7) When buying roses, gently squeeze the base of the bloom, if it feels squishy and soft the rose won’t last. Ideally it should be firm but not rock hard to last the maximum time.
8) When creating a table centrepiece, consider whether the arrangement will interfere with conversation. Low level designs work well, or slender, tall conical vases create weight above the guests heads.
9) Add herbs for scent. Gently rub rosemary stems, mint or sage and push in between the blooms to complement the sweet smell of roses or stocks. Or add wild flowers or even weeds such as cow parsley!
10) Living arrangements – take several small plants and arrange them in your favourite dish, add moss and a ribbon for a long lasting centre piece.