If Michelle Collison thought her move from Sydney to the NSW south coast was going to lighten her frantic workload as an in-demand florist, particularly for chic weddings and smart events, she was to be very much mistaken. With wedding season in this region seemingly all-year-round, and her two Shady Fig flower-and-gift stores – one in Nowra and the other in the heart of picturesque Berry – to run, the former Sydneysider and mum to Archie, 11, and nine-year-old Lila, is pretty time poor. Yet this dedicated floral artist wouldn’t have it any other way. “I’ve always loved flowers from a very early age,” she says. “I always wanted to be a florist. It’s my passion. I even did work experience at school in a flower shop – I was absolutely obsessed!”
Four years of part-time study at TAFE, eventually led Michelle to work with legendary Sydney florist-turned-installation artist Alison Coates. “Alison was always the one I wanted to work with,” says Michelle. “She was such an amazing inspiration. I do believe she changed the direction of flowers, and how they are perceived.” Eventually, Michelle launched her own Mosman-based floral studio, Organique Flowers, in 1997.
Several years later, she and her husband Brett decided to make the move south. “We used to holiday on the south coast,” she recalls, “and felt as the kids were still young, it was the right time for a sea change.”
Michelle opened her Nowra store in 2007, and the Berry one seven years later, in June 2014. Both sell an eclectic range of gifts, such as fragrant True Grace candles, Uashmama bags, handmade soaps and homewares including vintage-style glassware and handcrafted macramé bags. The common theme in both stores is that they are filled with all the things Michelle loves.
Flowers, however, are at the heart of Michelle’s business, and her ethos is simple. “I like to highlight the blooms and make sure people really appreciate their beauty,” she says. Michelle has a signature style that focuses on those stunning blooms but she also feels it’s important to tailor that style to what her customers love. “We always try to design our flowers to each client, whether they like a pretty floral, garden-look or something stronger,” she explains. “It’s the florist’s job to know that the flower will suit the client.”
“At the moment, it’s all very floral, but a little while ago it was a lot more leaf-orientated,” Michelle.
Her own preferences change with the seasons. “You always have a favourite, and tend to be drawn to that one, whether it’s the colour, shape or perfume,” she says. “At the moment, there are beautiful flannel flowers and waterlilies, and peony roses, which are difficult to grow here because it’s not quite cold enough. They’re so beautiful because you get everything from coral to dark plum through to large white fluffy pillows and pinks. I also love birds’ nest ferns and maidenhair – I like the fresh green and the lovely lightness of them.”
Aside from her regular work, which involves lengthy consultations with brides and event organisers, and crack-of-dawn trips to the Sydney flower markets two or three times a week – “I get up at 2:20am! Crazy, I know,” she says – Michelle finds the time to run masterclasses in flower arranging, source gifts for the stores and shuttle between them. It’s a change of direction from her former Sydney life, but one she relishes. “No two days are ever the same,” she says with a smile.
“The key to flower arranging is to highlight each bloom so it’s not too deep in the bunch, and to make sure it has enough space around it” ~ Michelle
Michelle’s top tips for flower maintenance
1. “Always use fresh clean water, and change it daily. Cut the stems on an angle before you place them in the water, and, if you can, recut them every day. The stem heals over as the flower ages and the cut seals to a degree, so if you recut the flower it reopens the water source.”
2. “If you’re using flowers from the garden, pick them early in the morning or late in the evening, never in the middle of the day, as the flowers will be stressed.”
3. “Don’t place your vase near heat or an open window, as draughts can affect the longevity of your blooms.”