Tea with Head Florist Elva
And so began our relationship with Elva, who we invited for afternoon tea on a wet, rainy day. While she spread a dollop of honey on the pancake’s golden brown surface, she started to tell us about her four decades of working with flowers in her family’s business before reminiscing about the “good old days” when life was simpler. Now nearing the grand age of 60, she has eight grandchildren who occupy her weekends – Sunday night, for example, is when the family gathers to chow down on Elva’s Hainanese chicken rice, which she humbly describes as “okay only”.
Over the recent holiday we asked Elva to put down her scissors and flowers to answer a few more questions, including what inspires her, how she got into the business and why she joined You and No Other.
“When I hand craft arrangements, I try to follow a similar style – the shape of the flowers is smooth and pleasing on the eye, no sharp or pointy flowers stick out. This is also why I don’t like using filler flowers like baby’s breath. It makes the arrangement very cluttered and takes the attention away from the main flowers. I think if the quality of the main flowers is high, then you don’t need filler flowers at all.”
Q: Elva, you’ve been arranging flowers for forty years. Did you know you would be doing this when you were young?
A: Yes, of course. My father and mother were in the business, then my brother and my cousins. Since my brother is terrible at anything that has to do with design, I started working with flowers at a young age to help him. I didn’t want him to get scolded for making something ugly.
Q: If you weren’t a florist, what career would you like to have pursued instead?
A: Maybe baking. Or become a vet! I love animals. My golden retriever is called Misty, but she is allergic to certain types of flowers, so I don’t let her into the workplace.
Q: That’s a shame. So where do you get your design inspiration?
A: Since I was young I have liked the look of cars. Like the car my principal had, a white Jaguar. It had smooth lines and a slim silhouette. It was very elegant. When I hand craft arrangements, I try to follow a similar style – the shape of the flowers is smooth and pleasing on the eye, no sharp or pointy flowers stick out. This is also why I don’t like using filler flowers like baby’s breath. It makes the arrangement very cluttered and takes the attention away from the main flowers. I think if the quality of the main flowers is high, then you don’t need filler flowers at all.
Q: You’re starting to sound like Steve Jobs and Jony Ive.
A: Who? Say one more time.
Q: Never mind. What would you say is the biggest reason you decided to work with You and No Other?
A: I would say it is because you only want to work with the best roses available. For Valentine’s Day a lot of florists will just use roses from India, which are small and survive for only 3 days, but you fly in roses twice a week into Singapore and give me a high wastage allowance, so I can really just hand pick the best roses and then junk the rest.
Q: Final question, any insider tips you can give readers?
A: Number one tip is be careful of ordering from international flower networks because they will charge you an extra $20 and then call a local florist. Number two, the trick to making flowers last is to cut the stems at an angle and change the water at least every other day. But I know people are lazy. That’s why for the Signature Collection by You and No Other, I designed the roses to be anchored in floral foam, which provides continual water supply. You don’t need to cut the stems, just add a bit of water to the middle of the arrangement once in a while. Number three, a low-cost but effective home-made recipe for flower preservatives is one-fourth 7Up, three-fourths water, and two drops of bleach. My last tip is to not place your flowers in direct sunlight and also avoid fruits. Don’t ask me the about the science behind it, it is just true.