Why did you open the Paula Pryke Flower School?
I started the Paula Pryke Flower School in 1994 shortly after the publication of my first book, The New Floral Artist. Demand for lessons was spontaneous and a reaction to the first flower arranging book which treated flowers as Art rather than Craft. This obviously captured the imagination of flower lovers all over the world and letters and phone calls came from all over the globe. At the time Japan was very into European flower trends and a lot of my early visitors to London for lessons were from Japan. The New Floral Artist was a luxury flower book that made flowers look both stylish and fun and people wanted to learn more.
The flower school has always attracted professionals seeking new inspiration or a perspective from another country or career changers. We have also enjoyed the company of people who adore flowers but have other professions and who want to improve their skills for their own enjoyment. Mary Berry, one of Britain’s best loved cookery writers came to improve her Christmas decorations, Zoe Wanamaker, the actress, came so she could enjoy the flowers she received professionally or bought from my original shop in Islington. Justin Cartwright, the author, came to improve the plot and detail for a novel he was working on but became mesmerised by the flowers. Lucy Gemmell, who was the founder of Rhubard catering, and saw some of the most beautiful flowers in London also came to have some down-time with flowers.
The rich have sent housekeepers from Country estates or crews from Super-Yachts, many students have used their redundancy money or retirements gifts to learn new skills. We have had retiring lawyers, chefs, teachers, nurses, barristers, nannies, doctors, advertising execs, models, hairdressers, people from all walks of life and all nationalities! Flowers are like gardening, a great leveller for all people of all walks of life as well as a great comfort.
How did you learn floristry?
Before I embarked on my floristry career I had majored in History and trained as a teacher originally to teach History to 11 - 18 year olds. I had always had a keen interest in dramatic art too and so I had enrolled on a drama teaching programme and had a licentiate from The Royal Academy to teach Drama. I had been inspired to teach by people who were enthusiastic about their fields but I found that teaching History or Drama did not really fulfil me totally and I knew it was not the career I wanted to pursue for my entire working life.
One of the good things about teaching is that you have long holidays and so was able to enrol on a number of courses in my holidays, that set me on a new course. I joined a small floristry course from an advert in The Lady Magazine in Kingston-Upon-Thames and realised I had hit on something that I really loved even if at this stage, my talent was only rewarded with a B grade! Fuelled by the enthusiasm I had for this, I enrolled on a four week course with the iconic British flower arranging brand Constance Spry.
Constance Spry died the year I had been born but her legacy lived on by her collaboration with the Cordon Blue Cookery School and her commission for Queen Elizabeth’s Coronation. This course was to change my direction and so I decided to join Southwark college to learn more about floristry but at this time it required me to do a apprenticeship so I looked around for a shop to support me. I was so fortunate at the time to attend an interview from the Evening Standard which led me to meet Terry Chivers! He advised me to teach part-time while leaning my trade. So I took a three day a week contract to be in charge of History at The Italia Conti Academy in Goswell Road and three days working in a flower shop in Charlotte Street. I have to say that I probably enjoyed teaching at the The Italia Conti Academy more than I did cleaning buckets at Chivers Flowers but I had become intoxicated by the flower trade and absorbed information about it like a sponge! These courses and this work experience allowed me to see all aspects of the flower trade and gave me some grounding in the basics.
What is your philosophy for your flower school?
I want to share my passion and joy for flowers and want my students to enjoy working with natural plant material. If the course is recreational, then it is about allowing students to unleash their own artistic side and giving them confidence to design flowers in their own homes. For the more professional courses, we want to give our students a grounding in all the proper techniques for floral design and floristry so that they can hone their own skills. We also discuss the business of the floral trade and give our students all the necessary tools for making a living from their trade.
We offer a very rounded teaching experience and we pack as much as we can in to a very intensive course that is second to none. We always suggest that students get some work experience to improve their skills and widen their knowledge of the flower industry.
Why should you pick a Paula Pryke course?
We offer a selection of very comprehensive courses with business advice. I lead the courses myself and not many other courses in London are taught by the brand creator! As I am an internationally renowned floral designer this experience is a great endorsement for future employment or for your own enterprise. We are a caring and nurturing business with a vision to expand the enjoyment of flowers both professionally and personally. The courses are unique and London’s finest! But if in doubt, don’t believe us but talk to some of our past students who have experienced several courses and will give you their view on what makes the PP school unique!