Well, it’s that time of year once again when seemingly every customer you’ve not seen since last Christmas magically reappears only to suck the very soul from your creativity with their “Can you come by on Christmas Eve and decorate my tree?” I so look forward to the disappointed looks on their faces when I tell them I’m already booked and, although I would loving nothing more than time to spend my downtime placing plastic elves and pinecones on their mantle, I simply ran out of time. Gosh, did that sound mean and bitter?

It is a little better these days with social media helping us tell the masses that, if they’d like some professional help decorating for the holidays (and frankly, who wouldn’t?), they’d best book their florist in advance. We start this process early, calling the usual culprits with a heads up — always in a way that makes them feel important, of course. I highly recommend calling your regulars and offering them special dates.

I’ve been decorating homes for many years now, so I had a hard time narrowing down the funniest, yet least controversial situations, but here are a few:

Have you ever broken someone’s treasured ornament? Enough said on that fiasco… let’s just say that particular decorating gig was done with my compliments.

I used to drag a length of garland up a 10-foot bannister and place a garland (out of the box from the previous year) on a mantel for a family who would line up on the stairs like the Von Trapps and solemnly watch my “artistry” every year. It was SO uncomfortable! I had another family who would gather in the living room and cheerfully sing carols and eat nibbles whilst I decked their halls and trimmed their tree. Thank goodness most clients are too busy to hang around while I work — what with all that love and family time of the holidays (and Pokémon to chase!).

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Here, though, is one for the books. Years ago, I had a dream customer come into the store one day and start pointing to everything she wanted delivered to the house. Her selections included a wreath, centerpieces, and a fully decorated tree (i.e.: $$$$$$)! Well, of course we offered to not only deliver it all, but to set it up too. Everything went in one room that we entered through French doors. It looked great.

Darlings, the next year she got nothing, telling us she was a going to be away. The following year she informed us that, although she would once again be away, there would be someone using her house for Christmas, so could we please go “fluff” what she had purchased two years ago? Hmmm… So, I got a key and away I went. I walked into a room full of dusty ornaments, melted candle, a bowl of what used to be peanuts, a dead poinsettia, and even two glasses that had congealed red wine in them, all left where it was when that door was shut 24 months ago. I nearly cried. And then I threw up.

I have another place that I decorated for years and have gleefully passed on to dear unknowing Sarah at our store. This place has it all: every little fixture, knob, railing, and toilet top has some sort of holiday decor. But unlike some homes that actually make room for the added goodies, this place is already jammed with antique dolls, folk art birds, pressed glass, lamps, and “artfully” placed books and gloves. Like I told Sarah, if a surface can have a bauble or sprig on it, then make it so! And that’s just the inside. Sarah spent more than four hours one day decorating this client’s balcony! (And this ain’t a palatial mansion, by the way.)

That’s another thing: be mindful of decorating the outside of people’s homes. We try to get that underway as early as possible, especially if it involves lots of greenery in planters, etc., because folks around her seem to think this has to happen on the coldest day on record or “it won’t feel right.” We tell customers to put out “winter foliage” as early as mid-October. Notice I didn’t mention the word “holiday.” This is deliberate; we can always add a little sparkle close to Christmas. Minimizing major outdoor projects reduces the chances of freezing our own special ornaments. This also gives us more time to do other things like eat cherry pound cake and sugar cookies.

Remember, too, that with every installation comes the opportunity to upsell! Sometimes that ratty old ribbon needs to go far, far away. Bring some extra product along for people to upgrade their inventory. I always get a few sales when I go to a home. After all, this time of year, MORE is more!

“Your home must be beautiful”: the five words I hate, but hear oh-so-often, during the holiday season Come on! We work 12 to 18 hours seven days a week decorating. We’re gummy and gross from balsam and glue and have glitter in places that only strippers would understand. (Even our poor cat has glitter on her.) As soon as we get home, the first thing we want to do is shower, not decorate some more.

At our house, we keep it simple with greenery and a few decorations. When we want some sparkle, David has me spin around in the middle of the room while he points a flashlight on my glittered torso.

Happy Holidays!

Neville MacKay
Neville MacKay, CAFA, PFCI, WFC is the owner of My Mother's Bloomers in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and a design director with Smithers-Oasis North America. He designed flowers for the 1988 Winter Olympics, as well as a long list of celebrities including Glen Close, Sir Elton John, and members of the British Royal Family. MacKay appears regularly on Canadian TV and travels internationally giving presentations about the impact of flowers.

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