Ordinarily, roses are red and violets are blue, but if you’re getting an arrangement from Laura Tarbat’s flower shop, be prepared to expect anything but the ordinary.
Tarbat’s Queen West floral boutique, Poppies (1094 Queen St. W.), has become famous across the Greater Toronto Area for offering customers unique designs, rare buds and contemporary style.
“Our clientele is fairly young and not too traditional,” says Tarbat. “They know they’re going to get something really interesting and sexy. Not just 12 red roses.”
Before Poppies, some of Tarbat’s hand-designed bouquets also graced the dressing rooms of Elton John and Sophia Loren. And then there was Barbara Streisand. Babs liked Tarbat’s work so much she even requested the bouquet be brought back to her hotel. But Tarbat, a 17-year veteran of the floral trade, insists things have come a long way since those early days of her career. With greater flower availability, a more fashion-conscious generation and floral design being recognized as an art form, Tarbat says she sees more young people attracted to the profession.
“The flower business itself seems to be getting younger, more exciting and more creative,’ says Tarbat. “I just feel fortunate that I found my passion.”
For Tarbat, the path to Poppies was anything but ordinary too. As a 20-something she began working in corporate communications, and later directed videos for companies like Proctor and Gamble Inc.
“Then I kind of cracked, I had had enough,” says Tarbat. “I’d always wanted to be in the flower business.”
One of her friends had a flower shop and offered her a paid job. From there, she began apprenticing under a well-known designer who taught her everything she needed to know about flowers.
“But for me it’s just intrinsic. It just comes from inside of me,” adds Tarbat. “Once I got over being nervous about all the flower names I just realized I loved all the flowers and shapes and directions.”
Then in 2002, after spending many years designing at another popular Toronto store, Tarbat decided to branch out and open her own shop.
“I was confident that my personal design style was developed enough that it would catch on,” she says.
Now that she has complete creative freedom at Poppies, Tarbat incorporates unlikely mediums into her arrangements. Fuzzy pampas grass, miniature bulrushes and preserved mushroom caps are all signs of a Poppies design. So is any combination of pink and orange — Tarbat’s two favourite colours.
For those starting out in the business, however, Seneca College’s floral design program coordinator, Marianne Suess, insists that all wannabe florists need to first master the basics.
“They start with round and one-sided arrangements,” said Suess. “And basic flowers like carnations, mums and daisies.”
The 30 students of this one-year program then spend the second semester studying botany, mastering florist theory and gaining field work experience in shops like Poppies.
“This is an industry where you need to repeat and practice as much as possible,” says Suess. “It’s like an artist. It doesn’t happen overnight.”