Former lawyer Karen Cope has found her true vocation as a florist! Karen completed her Level 3 Diploma with us and then spent part of the summer gaining work experience with French Flower Style in France. Here’s her personal account of what sounds like the perfect adventure!

Property Lawyer turned Floral Artist. It’s my ultimate dream. It started last September when I took the plunge and enrolled on to a floristry course at Reaseheath College. I had asked myself some serious ‘I’m at the early 30’s crossroads of life’ type of questions and realised it was time for a career change. Time to pursue a passion for nature and to unearth my creativity.

Going ‘back to school’ as a thirty something was a scary proposition. It was made even scarier by the fact that it was so far out of my comfort zone; floristry is so utterly different to anything I had done before. My first day at Reaseheath was full of trepidation and self-doubt, nerves and uncertainty. Fortunately, I realised very quickly that I was in very good hands with the tutors at Reaseheath. My inexperience was met with patient teaching, my enthusiasm was incessantly stoked by their passion to teach and share the love of flowers. I knew very early on that I had made the right decision in enrolling at Reaseheath, the tutors are all incredibly talented and nothing short of inspirational.

A few months in to the course I realised that I was gaining a great education and I was determined more than ever to immerse myself in all things floral in order to achieve my dream. I was studying hard, reading every book I could find but I also needed hands-on experience. It was at this juncture that my tutor, Helen Cooke, told me all about French Flower Style; a booming wedding and events floristry business based in the beautiful South West of France and run by English born owner Lisa Gatenby. Lisa creates glorious designs for international brides in the most beautiful fairytale Chateaus, it sounded like she was living the dream.

With nothing to lose and everything to gain, I took a chance and emailed Lisa to enquire whether I could offer an extra pair of hands over the summer, wash vases, fetch and carry buckets, condition the flowers, shadow her, anything just to be involved and gain some experience. To my surprise and delight, Lisa replied immediately and invited me to join her for a couple of weeks to help out with a particularly busy period – 8 big weddings in 12 days at venues all over France. For an all round immersive experience, I would live with Lisa and her family (and her dogs, cats, chickens, ducks, sheep, turkeys and other rural France farm animals!).

With nerves and excitement on over load I boarded a plane not really knowing what to expect. Walking through the Arrivals Hall I spotted Lisa’s husband holding a hand scribbled cardboard sign for ‘Karen the Florist’. A moment of realisation – I guess that’s me now, ‘Karen the florist’. I’d just graduated Level 3 Floristry, won the ‘Student Of The Year’ accolade and been part of the Silver medal winning team at RHS Tatton. So yes, ‘Karen the florist’ I am! What a difference 12 months makes. Nerves turned to excitement. The French adventure had begun and, my oh my, what an adventure it was!

From the outset Lisa made it clear that she would be offering me an experience far more stimulating than just doing the lugging, lifting and cleaning tasks that I had envisaged. She was at pains to ensure that she provided a complete insight in to her life as a wedding florist in France as well as giving me real hands on experience with the flowers.  I have never had my hands on so many beautiful flowers! Every day was incredible – long hours, physical hard work but truly incredible.  I remember one day we loaded up the van at 4am and headed off on a 5 hour drive to a Chateau in Brittany. It was a cold, dark early morning but I was on such a high, I could have burst with excitement! I was just so happy to be there and grateful for the opportunity, it didn’t matter that we were sleep deprived; adrenaline was pumping through every inch of my body. In addition to all of the working and learning, we had fun. So much fun. I will never forget the belly laughing road trips or the bonding over a baguette in the rustic boulangerie.

I had hoped that work experience abroad would give me the chance to embrace a new culture and reflect on and implement some of the techniques that I had learnt at Reaseheath but what I actually experienced was far better than anything I could have imagined.  The designs we created were beyond anything I had ever had the opportunity to do at College. The venues were fabulously grand and the floral designs matched. It was a dream to be a part of creating such beauty, from majestic sweeping staircase arrangements, magnificent floral archways, foliage chandeliers and opulent pedestal designs, every day was a new challenge with the perfect blend of hand holding guidance and independent confidence boosting work.  I even got the opportunity to meet Lisa’s lovely friends and develop my rusty French language skills over delicious home cooked meals (an unexpected perk of the trip was Lisa’s fabulous culinary expertise. This was delectable, warm and generous hospitality at it’s finest).

My time with Lisa came about by chance, by the grasping of an opportunity. I was thrilled to hear that Lisa is now expanding her business to include a ‘French Flower School’. Lisa is an exceptionally talented artist and a successful business woman, a total inspiration with so much to offer students and florists alike. I am already plotting my return to her and her little piece of idyllic French paradise next summer.

The tutors at Reaseheath College encourage its students to dream big, to fulfil potential. They have given me a springboard to incredible opportunities and the confidence to pursue my goals. Life shouldn’t be static, it should be about growth, development and change. Even when something new and different seems daunting and your stomach is churning with butterflies, I truly believe that you’ll be a better person for facing the fear and doing it anyway.  I’m certainly a better florist for it.

I have now enrolled on to Level 4 Floristry and I am eager to continue my floral journey, to keep learning and to see what the next chapter with Reaseheath brings. One thing is for certain; education and experience will be key.

– Karen Cope