Florist Spotlight

Floral Designer Sells Shop to Treat and Teach Other Florists

Dawn Block, AIFD, CAFA, is leaving the daily flower shop business to branch out into other parts of the floral industry — freelancing, teaching, and hosting retreats.

Block recently sold her shop, Willow Lane Flowers, in Oakbank, Manitoba. She has been training the new owner, who takes over July 1. Block admitted she would shed a few tears leaving the shop she has owned since 2005. “I started this from nothing,” she said. “This is a part of me.”

But she’s excited to continue her own education and to teach locally so florists don’t have to travel to learn the trade. In addition, she and her chef husband, Oliver, are launching small retreats for floral designers and others at their cottage about an hour outside Winnipeg.

Block is working toward finishing two more certifications by February 2018 through the Society of American Florists: American Academy of Floriculture, which sets standards for community and industry service, and Professional Floral Communicators – International, a group of authoritative floral educators and speakers.

Public Displays of Expression Citation

“I believe so much in the floral community,” Block said. “The only way that we can grow is to increase our knowledge and share it with the public.”
One recent opportunity she had to do just that was at Manitoba’s first Art in Bloom, a floral design exhibit inspired by works of art, at the Winnipeg Art Gallery in mid-April. Introducing the public to new and innovative ways to use flowers was “the beauty of Art in Bloom,” Block said.

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For her part, Block interpreted an Inuit sculpture of a sea goddess. “You really have to do some soul searching” to figure out what direction to go in, she said, gushing about the creative assignment. “You get to express yourself. It’s so freeing.”

To evoke the coldness of the sea and waves, she used soapstone, white branches, crystalized vials wrapped in wool, clusters of small flowers, and lily grass. “It was a lot of fun,” she said. “The public loved it.” She also volunteered at the event. After Art in Bloom closed, organizers donated the flowers to various charities and hospitals. “Everything was re-used,” she said.

In another effort to boost the public’s appreciation of floral art, Block would like to start a competition in Manitoba, similar to the Maple Leaf Cup that her friend, Heather de Kok, AAF, AIFD, PFCI, started in Edmonton, Alberta in 2016.

Block served as a Maple Leaf Cup judge both years and her husband helped as an assistant.

She would like to send a Manitoba winner to compete in the Maple Leaf Cup. When people watch such competitions, they gain a greater understanding of how much time, talent, and effort goes into the creations, Block said.

Designers must educate the public on what is special about flowers because many people have become “numb” since they see flowers just being another product available in grocery stores, she said. When you go to a specialty shop, such as a butcher, you get better quality, she said.
“It’s the same with a flower shop. We have different quality.” In Oakbank, she worked hard to give people a reason to shop at Willow Lane because consumers could easily go into the city—and she had many competitors in Winnipeg.

An Accidental VocationCitation

Block traces her flower roots back 27 years ago, to the days when she was a seamstress sewing wedding gowns. After she got married, she started working at a bridal salon. The salon owner, Stella Mazza, told her, “If you’re going to do dresses, you’re going to do flowers.” Block said, “That was my start. It got in my blood.”

Block later designed wedding flowers at home, but once she had children, she wasn’t comfortable with customers coming to her house. That’s when she decided it was time for a change, and bought her shop. She moved twice from the original location.

The first move was when she and Oliver added a teahouse to the flower and gift shop. After they sold that, she ran her flower shop in a strip mall next to a mailbox that attracted walk-in traffic. Her husband bought a food truck.

As a new shop owner, she realized that she needed to learn more about the industry, so she began taking classes and finding instructors. “I started my education because I wanted to better serve my community,” she said. “Once I got going, I realized after a while, I’m not doing it for them anymore. I’m doing it for me.”

“The more education I got, the taller I stood,” she said. Obtaining her credentials was important because she wanted to speak and present herself from a position of authority, whether it was discussing design elements or the science behind flowers, such as the hydration process. “That is so important, in order to give our customers longer-lasting flowers.”

Block wishes more people took pride in their careers. “Floristry is not a hobby. It’s not a craft,” she said. “It is a trade, and we don’t respect it enough.” In Europe, she explained, people must train for four years as an apprentice before becoming a master designer. “In Canada, basically, you need a knife and a pail, and you can call yourself a florist.”

Block obtained her first credential in 2006 through Flowers Canada, a nonprofit association representing floricultural professionals. She passed a three-hour, written, fundamentals of floristry exam. “It was hard!” she recalls.

In 2013, she received her Canadian Academy of Floral Art and American Institute of Floral Designers designations. Accepting her pin on stage at AIFD was a career highlight, she said. “It was an honour and a privilege. I did it!”

With no floral school nearby, Block had to travel for her education, which was stressful and expensive. She wants to help others avoid those burdens by bringing more opportunities to the province.

“What I’d like to do is help Manitoba raise the bar,” she said. “You have somebody right here in Manitoba. That’s part of the joy of me not having a shop anymore. I don’t want to be their competition. I want to be their ally.”

An Inspirational Oasis Citation

The Blocks are planning a one-day trial run retreat Aug. 1 at their cottage, which is near a lake, a park, and one of North America’s largest bird sanctuaries. Gerry Gregg, AIFD, and others will attend.

The Blocks’ Boreal Forest retreats will help florists and others who need a chance to regroup, she said. They can recharge with good food, yoga, relaxation, and good conversation. Oliver will prepare the food and drink for the retreat.

“You can go back to your job and just be refreshed,” she said. “We’re giving a piece of our soul every time. A piece of us goes out with every bouquet, with every arrangement.”

If their one-day starter retreat goes well, the Blocks would like to expand them to a full week for four to six people. She envisions offerings that will allow people to stay busy with a variety of classes including floral design and cooking, or to opt out and just relax instead.

She also would like to have a gala night, where participants can dress up and enjoy the decorations they made together. “It’s meant to be intimate, attentive and relaxing. It’s also my chance to get to know other florists and their stories.”

She and Oliver did a “tryout” with De Kok and her husband, who flew out for a stay at the Blocks’ cottage. Their excursion included hiking to see flora in the area that would inspire florists, Block said.

Floral GoodwillCitation

Block will also continue focusing on her community, even without her shop. For example, she plans to repeat a project she started last Christmas, decorating and delivering flower vases to senior citizens who don’t have family nearby.

Wanting to connect kids and seniors, she put the word out on Facebook asking for daycare or elementary school teachers whose students would help her decorate small mason jars.

In one of the local senior homes with 39 residents, 22 of them have no family, she said. “They’re all alone. I couldn’t handle that.” She bought “sparkles, baubles, glue, and paint” to decorate about 80 jars as flower vases, including some for seniors who live in their own homes. “It just exploded. The children had a wonderful time.”

She attached a card that read: “From the children of Oakbank and Willow Lane, Merry Christmas.” Block’s family helped her deliver the flowers. “I couldn’t do this without them,” she said of her kids, Tanner, 21, and Käthe, 19.

This year, she would like the children to add a note about themselves so recipients can feel closer to them. “It’s all about sharing flowers,” she said. “I would love to see that go across Canada.”

Christy O'Farrell
Christy O'Farrell is a freelance writer in Alexandria, VA.

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