There are some livelihoods that just seem like they would be wonderful to do day in and day out, and being a florist is one of those. Imagine being surrounded by beauty each day, while being in the business of making people happy. Sure you are still dealing with the tediousness and stress of owning a business, and you might run into a demanding customer or two along the way, but you get to rest in the knowledge that each purchase that goes out the door is meant to show love, compassion, or friendship to a person, or is going to make a space more beautiful. With that in mind, I set out to learn more about the floral world from a local expert, Sarah Compratt of Fleurish.
Fleurish, located on the corner of Walnut and Taylor in downtown Champaign, has the feel of a floral museum, and since Compratt was an Art History major, with a focus on Greek art, it's not suprising. You definitely see that influence in the well curated space. Everything is placed with purpose and intention, and invites you to take a closer look. Compratt was born and raised here, had a brief experience discerning fakes and forgeries in Los Angeles, but was drawn into the flower world and hasn’t looked back. Experiencing the lushness of California floral and plant life was an “affront to the senses” after living in the Midwest. “Everywhere you go and look it’s stimulating, and I fell for it.” She brought relationships with growers and flower knowledge cultivated in California to her shop here in her hometown, and within the first few minutes of our conversation, her passion for her work was obvious. In her words, “Flowers are some of the best things in life. People need flowers.”
All sorts of customers find their way into Fleurish, and Compratt says most are pretty laid back. They come in, say how much they have to spend, and let the experts work their magic. They try as much as they can to accommodate everyone’s wishes. In the beginning, everything was a “yes”, but Compratt learned that there did have to be some compromises, some limitations. Part of the reason is the fluctuating market of flowers.
At Fleurish they are very particular about sourcing. Compratt explains that “everything is hand picked. It’s what we think is great this week. We’re ruled a lot by the seasons and the weather. There are a lot of things that affect what ends up on the floor.” She gave peonies as an example. It’s a flower they typically have on hand for Mother’s Day, but because of the late cold weather this season, they are more scarce and it was just too expensive to stock them.
Speaking of Mother’s Day, it’s obviously coming up soon (this Sunday, in case you need a reminder), as is U of I graduation (check out these amazing graduation leis that are in the shop this week). Those two events make for a busy week at Fleurish, even more so than Valentine’s Day. Thankfully, I celebrate the holiday with my mom a week prior, allowing me to sneak in and learn about the process of putting together a beautiful bouquet of flowers. I chose a price point of $35, selected a softer palette for the color selection, and shadowed Compratt as she selected flowers for and assembled the bouquet. She credits her art background for subconsciously training her eye for balance, texture, and color, and this is evident as she selects blooms that compliment and enhance each other.
First, she checks the stems to make sure there aren’t any wobbly ones. “A lot of times people forget that flowers are alive. They think of them more as an inanimate object. But with minimal care, flowers will last. They want to live just like anything else.” She also adds greenery, which varies day to day. They don’t charge extra for the greenery. What you are paying for is the stem prices plus tax.
Compratt likes to start with the bigger flowers. She then keeps turning and adding flowers to keep the bouquet balanced, clustering tulips together so that they stand out. The goal is create a 360 bouquet, but always with a presentational front.
The bouquet is finished with a simple wrapping in white paper, tied with raffia ribbon. They do not rubber band the stems together, instead the bouquet is loosely laid on the paper. A damp coffee filter is tucked around the bottoms of the stems to keep them moist. They try to avoid using plastic water tubes if possible, an effort to reduce waste.
The end result? A complex yet clean bouquet, with softness and a blend of traditional as well as unique components. It's important to have both I think. Compratt emphasizes that "people like what's new and different" yet it's also hard to resist the familiar beauty of tulips and roses.
I may not be ready to embark on a career as a florist, but I certainly came away with a deeper appreciation of the emotional draw of flowers. As Compratt says, "The history of flowers is deep, It’s in our DNA. We all respond to it. I question a person who does not love flowers."
Fleurish is open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.
Photos by Jess Hammie