Welcome to our ongoing project!
Where we showcase “portrait interviews” with local businesses in the Glasgow & Aberdeen areas.
“What on earth is a portrait interview?!” we hear you cry! Well, essentially we photograph and interview local business owners to learn about their livelihood and background, and share all of the juicy details with you.
You’ll get to learn behind-the-scenes stories of cool local traders, gain professional (and sometimes life) advice from people who have been there and done it, and you’ll also get to know a group of local creative entrepreneurs.
This time Sarah’s speaking with the floral queeeen Melanie Paget of Briar Rose Design!
Mel has always enjoyed being creative but for many years she confined her artistic side to her free time while working in more regular 9-5 office jobs, albeit in the creative industries. It wasn’t until she fell seriously ill that she began to re-think what would truly make her happy.
Briar Rose was born. At first, like many wedding suppliers, she continued to work in her “day job” part-time. Luckily because she worked as a copywriter and marketer she could find short term freelance opportunities to fit around her wedding commitments. “I set up the business and built it up while I worked freelance at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and NHS24.”
Her passion for locally grown flowers, a natural style and environmentally friendly practices and a desire to create something unique for weddings pushed it forward to the amazing business she has today.
But wait, let’s go back to the beginning. Mel grew up on a farm in the country near Haddington before moving to a small hamlet near Stirling. Her formative years were spent running around in fields and having adventures in the countryside. She’d grow things with her mum who loved gardening and knew all sorts of wildflowers and plants and would draw and paint with her grannie and grandpa who also loved their garden. That connection to nature was forged early.
As she grew up, Mel got involved in theatre work and had a passion for reading books and creative writing. She decided to study Spanish and English Literature at Edinburgh University.
She’d thought about going to art school but something held her back. She knew she liked art and being hands on. In fact, her theatre work was often behind the scenes so getting her hands dirty was part of the fun, but she felt pushed to get a ‘proper job’.
A proper job was what she got after she graduated. Mel moved to the big city, London, to work for the publisher Penguin as an editorial assistant. “It was quite Devil Wears Prada-esque, my boss was a bit like Miranda Priestley.” Mel found herself fetching food, answering calls and planning meetings. She admits that she was naive and thought that she’d get to do something lovely like reading books but instead she got to read the ‘slush pile’ and write rejection letters.
“It was the year the recession hit and I got made redundant after nine months. That was probably the best thing to happen to me.” Melanie tried a few more publishing gigs with smaller companies but the cutthroat and competitive world just wasn’t for her and she missed the countryside and Scotland.
Mel returned to her homeland and entered a new phase of her career where she focused on writing for marketing and press. She freelanced for STV and worked for charities like Craft Scotland.
Then, the worst happened. “I got ill with Glandular Fever and was sick for a long time. I moved back to my parent’s house. Some days I couldn’t walk and was so weak I couldn’t stand up long enough to brush my teeth. We didn’t know what was wrong. For a year, I was tested for everything the doctors could think of – cancers, tropical diseases – anything and everything!”
This experience really put her life into perspective. “It was a scary time. I couldn’t do anything I loved doing and my body was on strike. It forced me to re-evaluate my life, the way I lived it and why I was doing what I was doing. I did a lot of soul searching.”
“I always had a secret wish to be a florist but never told anyone, I’m not really sure why. Maybe I thought they wouldn’t think I could actually do it or that it would be a ‘waste’ of my career so far. I don’t know why but I somehow thought they wouldn’t approve. I don’t think we live in a culture that really values manual skills in the same way somewhere like Japan does.” Mel realised that she was happiest with nature or making something – and floristry combined both…and her parents totally supported her of course!
As she recovered from her illness, she volunteered at a local florist shop for a few months.
“Finally I got a diagnosis. I had post-viral fatigue – a form of M.E. The bad news was that there didn’t seem to be much information out there about how to treat it and because it is an invisible illness people can be quite dismissive of it. The good news was that the routine of working in the flower shop made me feel better. Even though I was right back at the bottom of the career ladder, scrubbing buckets and wiring endless pine cones I still loved it. So I applied to college to do the City and Guilds level 1 floristry course and got a part-time job at another local florist shop.
Although learning at college and being bench trained at the shop was a great experience, the florists that she worked in were very traditional and Mel knew she preferred a different, more natural aesthetic. Something more rustic and wild. For a while, it felt like she was the only one who thought the natural look was nice and she began to doubt herself but then she discovered florists like Saipua in New York and Pyrus in Scotland and realised there were lots of great artists out there working in a natural style. These days the natural wildflower style is very fashionable and it’s not hard to find examples on Instagram and Pinterest of people working like this around the world. But at the time she started, it was much less usual.
After finding her niche it took a little time to build up her name but attending wedding fairs and using social media, she made it work.
“My first wedding was a colleague from the Royal Conservatoire. It was exhausting but amazing. Like everyone starting out I didn’t realise just how many hours and days of work was involved and let’s just say they got a good deal! I did love it though. We chose bright colours – pinks and purples – and it was very scent orientated which was great. I learnt a lot from each wedding along the way.”
Mel says, “My job starts from the initial consultation, getting a feel for whether they’re a good fit for my style. Sometimes a couple has ideas and sometimes not. I need to find out what do they like, or not like. Every couple is different and sometimes we use mood boards, Instagram and Pinterest to get a good idea of the sort of look they are going for.”
“I work best when people give me a pretty free brief. Most of my couples have already seen my style and come to me because they already like what I do. They’ll give me a colour palette to work with and then I’ll choose the specific flower varieties etc. Because I work with mainly Scottish grown flowers this is strongly tied to the time of year and season.
“People often underestimate the cost of flowers, and the work and skill put into them. I think they often don’t realise they aren’t just paying for the constituent parts but for all the time and love that goes into getting the image in their head to something tangible on their wedding day. It’s not as easy or relaxing as it may look and definitely not for everyone.”
It’s good to have a rough budget in mind when meeting your florist so they can pitch the right kind of options. Everyone’s idea of what is a big or small budget is different and what is a huge amount of money to one person is a drop in the ocean to someone else. Some magazines and florists recommend you allocate 10% of the total wedding budget to flowers. However, Mel points out that if it’s lower she can still do lots of cool stuff, it’s just about prioritising and being realistic about what you can achieve with the money you have.
Often people don’t know what they need and Mel is detail oriented. She discusses centrepieces, buttonholes, bouquets, hair flowers, corsage, ceremony flowers, and the venue which can include thank you bouquets for parents, cake flowers and napkin flowers too.
Weddings are big jobs and Mel describes wedding floristry as an ‘endurance sport’. She grows her own flowers and also collects flowers fro other growers and the Dutch flower market three to four days in advance and begins prep, then actual assembly starts a day or two before the wedding. There can be lots of late nights and very very early mornings and not a lot of room for error so it’s quite an intense environment.
On the day itself, Mel is up about around 5am to finish the bouquets and designs, pack the van and start the drop-offs to brides, grooms, ceremony and reception. Often she also has to go back to clear up the following day too. It means when most other people are at the pub on a Friday or socialising at the weekend she is busy so spending time with friends and family can be difficult.
With hours like that, you know she must love what she does, and Mel does for sure. “Sometimes I pinch myself because I can’t believe I get paid to do something I love this much.”
Today, Mel is very in demand for weddings. She offers something so custom and collaborative with couples that is really unique to Briar Rose Design.
Her signature style is alternative and offbeat with a focus on wildflowers. Her work is instantly recognisable and I have seen myself that when she is given a brief and you trust her vision, she will wow you!
Thank you to Mel for sitting down with me and taking the time to give us a behind the scenes look into her life and business. I’m sure you’ll agree that she is one talented mother-flowerer who can most certainly rock the florals out of your wedding day. What more can you ask for? Get on the blower to her pronto to give your wedding floral aesthetic dreams liiiife!
You can also check out Mel and I’s industrial wedding shoot at the Glasgow Engine Works here!
We also did a quick few Q&A’s for wedding couples!
What is your favourite wedding venue?
Blank canvas venues are great to let the flowers really shine. I like barns and anywhere with good light, nice and airy spaces! My picks would be Dalduff Farm (see our Dalduff Farm wedding feature here), Harelaw Farm and The Cow Shed.
Any vendors you love and would recommend?
Flossy & Dossy wedding dresses, Rowanjoy wedding dresses, Sarah Brown jewellery, Three Tiers & Tea cakes, Three Sisters Bake catering (see our Three Sisters Bake wedding feature here), Something Brewed coffee bar.
Any advice for brides and grooms planning their wedding?
Try not to sweat the small stuff (so true!)
Any advice for small business owners?
Talk to people, make pals and have a good support network. (I can attest to this! Since this interview, Mel and I are total buds now!! ~ Sarah)
Any small business you’d like to give a shout out too?
The Hidden Lane in Finnieston (where her studio is) has lots of amazing small businesses, Finding Neverland Nails also in Finnieston (Mel’s so trendy :P), Fin Flükra – Awesome Wedding Planning by Catrina Duthie (She’s our pal too!), and she said Joy Story Photography, aww, she so sweet!
Here are all the Briar Rose Design details:
Where can I find more info? Visit the website – http://www.briarroseflowers.co.uk/
Visit Mel’s studio – The Hidden Lane, Argyle Street, Glasgow, G3 8ND (LOTS of cool small businesses in there!)
Follow on social media:
F: https://www.facebook.com/briarroseflowers/ (nice looking profile pic eh?)