Florence Kennedy at Petalon Flowers
After tiring of office life, Florence Kennedy quit her 9-5 job to create a flower delivery service unlike any other. Born in 2013, Petalon delivers seasonal hand-tied bunches across London using her husband's handmade bicycles. As the business has grown, so has the demand for her flowers beyond just deliveries, with weddings and events becoming part of the offering. Petalon has now become much more than the delivery service Florence originally set out to be.
Flowers used in the arrangement
- Dahlias 'Cafe au Lait'
- English roses
- Assorted English dahlias
- Rosehip branches
- Chocolate cosmos
You didn’t start out as a florist – when and why did you decide this was going to be your career?
I haven't referred to myself as a florist for long. When I started Petalon and anybody asked me what I did for a living I just said that I owned a flower delivery company. I didn't feel I had earned that title when I was so incredibly new to it all. I never set out to be a florist, it was the business idea for our flower delivery company that sparked my obsession with flowers.
You do all your London deliveries by bicycle. How and why did this idea come about?
The business idea came about when my husband, James, sent some flowers to an old boss of mine as a thank you. When I saw the flowers on her desk they were pretty tasteless and I didn't feel like it conveyed how thankful James really was. There are plenty of wonderful florists in London making beautiful bouquets, but the minimum spends can be hefty and it would never be something someone of our earnings would be able to spend on a small gesture of thanks. Around that time James had just started his bicycle brand, Kennedy City Bicycles and when I came home that evening and saw our first shipment of 200 bicycle frames - the idea for a flower delivery company by bicycle was quite literally staring me in the face.
With all the cycling you must be really fit. How did you juggle starting a new business as well as delivering all these flowers?
In the beginning I cycled to the flower market at dawn, loaded all the stock (which back then wasn't very much!) into the trailer, spent the mornings making up all the bouquets and then i'd hop back on the bike and deliver the flowers around town in the afternoon. When I was doing the deliveries the most we'd ever have would be 10 so it was manageable, but exhausting. I guess it just had to be like that for a while. I didn't have investment and the business is very lean so it was the only way I could afford to start out. My days were starting at 4am and finishing at 6pm and when I started to get more than 10 deliveries a day I could then justify employing another rider so that I could get on with the less glamorous side of things - replying to emails, doing the accounts, conditioning the flowers etc. As we've got busier with events and weddings I'll do that in the afternoon too. We now have two cyclists out every afternoon from 12 to 5 or 6pm and the wonderful Misty on the bouquets.
Using bikes are a great way to deliver in a very congested place like London. What are the main advantages and disadvantages of delivering flowers by bike?
Delivering by bike was the only option for us - we don't have to pay congestion charge, petrol or parking fees - it's a quicker way of getting through the thick London traffic and we can park up the bikes with ease. We have to do things to avoid potential damage to the flowers with all the potholes, cobbled streets and bumpy roads. We wrap them up tight and have some nifty packaging inside the trailers. It means that when I'm choosing flowers at the market I can't just get things that I think are beautiful - they need to be hardy enough to handle the mean streets of London and last a long time in people's homes.
So you are relatively new to the flower scene! What has been the biggest lesson you have learned and what would you say has become your floral style?
It's all still very new, and I love that I haven't stopped learning yet. As we change our bouquet choice every week it gives me the opportunity to use all sorts of flowers and foliage and to follow the seasons. The more events and weddings we do has been such a great way to explore what style of floristry I like and to find out what works/doesn't work. My biggest lesson so far has been not to just choose flowers that I think are beautiful when they aren't really suitable for flower delivery!
Are there any flowers you are particularly drawn to or those you avoid?
I am besotted with anemones and ranunculus, I love the range of colours, the way they fade with age and how well they last. I still don't seem to be able to use lillies - I hate ruling out a flower, but they just don't really do it for me. I'm finding it a funny time at the flower market at the moment - the riot of spring blooms has past and although there are a few dahlias down there, I'm waiting for the showstoppers which should be any day now.
Tell us a little bit about the London flower market. Is this the main place you source your flowers or have you found other places too?
At the moment I solely use the flower market. Some florist friends are getting deliveries from British growers which I'd love to do, but as we do 2 specific bunches each week and timing is everything (as we need to get all orders out the door by 12pm) I can't risk a late delivery. It's a dream to have a London cutting garden to add some extra special flowers to our bouquets, but logistically it isn't possible yet. I've never dreaded a trip to the market. It's always exciting to see what flowers are in, the guys down there are all gems and it feels good to be part of a world that works tirelessly throughout the early hours of the morning. Even though my business is small, it's when I'm at the market I feel like I'm part of an industry, and I love that.
You haven’t been formally trained in floristry and I wonder how this affects your work and style?
At the beginning I was always doubting my work "Is this right? Am I meant to do it like this? Do these colours go? Does this flower last well?" But lessons learnt by trial and error stick a hell of a lot better than those picked up in a classroom and I think it's made me work harder to understand it all. It also means I arrange flowers in a way I think looks nice, rather than in a way I know is "right".
What is your favourite thing about working with flowers?
Everything really. I love learning a craft, I hope I never stop feeling like I'm learning about flowers and how to arrange them. I love the flowers themselves - discovering new ones, seeing exceptional ones and just being blown away by them all. I love creating something that will make someone smile or improve their day. It's a really strange sensation. Being creative with something that's natural is by its nature ever-changing. You can never be 100% certain flowers or arrangements are going to behave in a particular way and that variety makes it special.
Your bouquets come with a donation to a bee charity. Do you have a particular interest in bees? And do you source your flowers from organic growers that avoid the use of pesticides in production?
I like bees, who doesn't, but I set up the donations because it felt like a responsible thing to do. I use flowers from all over, and some of the growers will probably use pesticides, or the flowers may have come with a hefty carbon footprint. I never set out to be a "green" company, and although we have a lot of flowers and foliage which comes from English growers, I'm not sure whether it's always better - the flowers aren't travelling much further by truck from Holland as they are from Cornwall to London.
Where do you go in London to get a green fix?
We are really lucky in East London to have so many big green spaces. We walk the dog every morning in a variety of parks, my favourite being Hackney and Walthamstow marshes - it just doesn't feel like you're in the city. It's only when you look at the horizon and see the city in the distance you remember you're in London. From the marshes you can walk down the canal to the Olympic park, which is full of some of my favourite landscaping.