Florist Spotlight

Vancouver Florist Pushes Self to New Heights

In a 40-minute conversation with Aniko Kovacs, AIFD, CFD, EMC, owner of Garlands Florist in Vancouver, the word “challenge” came up nine times. Whether competing in a Canadian floral design contest, earning back-to-back professional credentials, decorating a castle in Belgium, or balancing her store’s demands with family responsibilities, she rises to the test.

Kovacs and her husband, Karoly Barna, have run Garlands for 18 years, a business that evolved from a 580-square-foot shop they started from scratch in the late 1990s. Before the couple moved to Vancouver, Kovacs finished university in Budapest, Hungary, to become a horticulturist. She worked in other Vancouver-area flower shops for a little over a year before opening Garlands. “I was always attracted to flowers,” she said. “I love design and fashion and art.”

Five years later, the couple expanded into a 2,300-square-foot space by removing a wall between their shop and the adjacent one, when that space became available. Then, about five years ago, the Kovacses reversed the process, erecting the wall because property taxes were rising, as were demands outside the shop, such as managing activities for their sons, Dominik, 13, and Attila, 10. “It’s quite challenging,” she said. “The dynamics changed.”

Garlands is now a 1,100-square-foot, five-employee, cash-and-carry business plus a separate warehouse with cooler from which the staff stages corporate events and weddings. Kovacs said they do fewer weddings than they used to, but that corporate business is “pretty steady.” The retail showroom has always been on the same street, about 15 minutes from the couple’s home. Walk-in business has recovered from a “couple challenging years,” a decline caused by development and construction in the area, she said.

Kovacs has learned florists must keep up with new inventories, displays, and design techniques. For example, plants, including succulents and air plants, are hotter right now than she can ever remember them being. “You need to show you can do different things,” she said. “You can sell what you can show.”

To stay abreast of new trends—and even set a few—Kovacs travels for competitions, demonstrations, and exhibitions.

Most recently, in September, Kovacs traveled with her friend and fellow florist, Ania Norwood, AIFD, to Belgium for Fleuramour, an annual four-day event at a 16th-century estate, Alden Biesen, now a government-owned heritage site and cultural centre. Dozens of international designers decorated the castle and grounds. For the ground-floor salon they were assigned, Kovacs and Norwood interpreted this year’s theme (culture) with the bright colours found in folk art from their home countries, Hungary for Kovacs and Poland for Norwood. They drew inspiration from both countries’ spring celebrations, when people, some dressed in traditional clothing, attend festivals that mark nature’s awakening from winter.

In July, the pair presented “Xcel at Armatures” at the AIFD symposium in Seattle, showcasing several floral sculptures built around a structural framework. In March, they attended the Philadelphia Flower Show.

Kovacs and Norwood met in Vancouver in 2012 while both were attending training sessions through European Master Certification, a program taught by Tomas De Bruyne and Hitomi Gilliam, AIFD. “We are like sisters,” Kovacs said. The next round of EMC training, a five-day practical course, will start in Norwalk, Connecticut, in November.

Kovacs completed her AIFD certification in 2015, and was inducted in 2016. She said she designs in both North American and European styles at Garlands. One of the main differences is that, in North America, florists must produce a larger quantity of arrangements, requiring them to work faster, either hand tying bouquets or using foam and containers. In contrast, European design is more technical, tending toward smaller arrangements, and often using tubes or vials for hydration and pre-made wiring and decorations from wholesalers that aren’t as readily available in North America, she said.

Because Kovacs thrives on challenge, she squeezed in another trip in March, this time to compete in the second Maple Leaf Cup at the Edmonton Home and Garden show. Participants had to dress a mannequin in flowers and fabric (“Hort Couture”). First and foremost, she enjoyed meeting and getting to know colleagues from all over Canada, some of whom she had previously known only on Instagram and Facebook. “It’s great for our industry” to have an opportunity to discuss business and design, she said.

But she also welcomed the chance to practice a different type of creativity than she does at her store, as well as another kind of interaction with the public. At her open-concept shop, with work tables visible to customers, designers always feel like they’re “on stage,” she said. Yet, at the competition, “you have a direct connection with the public.”
“You want to push yourself to the next level,” she said. “You want to try things.”

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