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Floristry Before Oasis

floristry before Oasis

 I find it very hopeful  today that more and more florists are moving away from oasis, plastic and other non biodegradable products.  Many floral designers today are trying to find ways to do their craft in ways that are safer and kinder to the environment.  I decided to sit down and interview my mother about floral practices before oasis and plastic to find out how they did it. 

My mother became an apprentice florist in Melbourne in 1945 at the tender age of 13.  She was pretty annoyed at her father for taking her out of school. She loved learning.  One day her father simply announced that tomorrow she would be starting a job at ‘Eileens Art Florist’ in Abbotsford as junior florist.

The war had just ended and as the eldest of 5 children, Lauris had to help the family put food on the table.  The luxury of a formal education was not to be hers.

I set this scene to help you understand what the circumstances were like back then.  Life was slower.  People were struggling financially and trying to re-build their lives. There was also a lot of celebrating.  Dances and balls were a common form of entertainment and a way to meet people.  Dances also require corsages and mum recalls that wiring flowers was one thing she learned to do straight away to help the shop keep up with all the corsage orders.  Also – there was no floral tape back then so the wiring technique was different to the way it is today.

Q & A  

Mum how did you make wreaths for funerals if there was no oasis or styrofoam?

She describes a technique using chicken wire and damp moss.

Boxes of damp moss would arrive from the Dandenong Mountn\ains in Melbourne east.  As an apprentice it was her job to make up a frame of chicken wire.  She would then stuff the moss into the chicken wire.  After that she would cover the chicken wire wreath with neutral toned crepe paper which would stop the moss from falling out.  

Fresh flowers would then be pushed into this arrangement.  The moss providing a damp water source for the flowers. 



 Mum – describe a florist in the 1940’s in Melbourne.

“Well,   we did not make the large bouquets and arrangements that you do today.  In fact we didn’t really make any arrangements.   People would come to the shop to purchase flowers,  mostly bunches which we would tie with paper and string.  Or they would order corsages, coronets or hair pieces for dances or parties.   We did a lot of wedding flowers.  And mostly we wired, we wired everything.  Wiring was the biggest tool of the trade.  There were never any arrangements made up in the shop. We only made up orders.

We used very small tiny flowers like hyacinths, violets and Lilly of the valley.  Floral art was mostly small and very delicate.  

Flower Coronet as pictured here.

We did not make hand tied bouquets.  All bridal bouquets were fully wired.  We did make posies but they were made of tiny flowers and were quite dainty and small.  Other florists used posy holders, but I didn’t like them.  They took away from the flowers.  

“My favourite posy was made of forget me nots, violets and mignonette flower'”.



Q & A

Mum what flowers did you use and where did they come from.

“In the 40’s times were hard.  We did not have the vast array of flowers that you do today.  We certainly did not import flowers and there were not exotic varieties.  Mostly garden flowers.  In fact women from around the area would bundle up daphne, or violets into little bundles and bring them in and ask if we would like to buy them.

Farmers would come in from the farm to the shop and they would have flowers in the back of their vans.  We would choose what we wanted from the van.

These were the flowers we used:

Gladioli, delphinium, dahlia, azaleas, hydrangea, arum Lilies, maiden hair fern, snap dragons, gardenias.  Slipper Orchids were the only orchids you could get.  Violets, poppies, Iris, daphne, daisies, forget me nots, lily of the valley, gum and fern.  Of course roses.

Azaleas were soo hard to wire but they looked so pretty in corsages.


When mum turned 17 she began to work for Marge Milner at Milners Florist in Bridge Road Richmond.  Mum is pictured here at 17 – she had just won the job interview and was walking down the street when a photographer stopped her and asked to take her photo.  

Mum met my father at Marge Milners.   My dad  Joe was Marg’s brother and used to help out with deliveries and orders.  He asked mum on a date and the rest was history.

Q &A

Mum, while working at Aunty Marg’s what sort of flowers would people order?  If there were not oasis bowls etc what did you make?

“We used a lot of baskets.  Flat baskets.  We would lay the flowers in the basket like a bare stemmed sheaf and just tie them in with a bow.  They were very pretty and we would wrap ribbon around the handle of the basket and place large bows over the stems.   We also sold flowers which were arranged in pressed cardboard vases.  AND corsages, shoulder corsages and ribbon wrist corsages.  I used to stack the corsages in the basket on my bike and deliver the corsages to all the men in the local factories who had orders flowers for dates and dances”.

This is a photo of my mother on her wedding day wearing a small floral headpiece and a stunning hand wired bridal bouquet.  She was 20


Flower Care in the 1940’s

Hydrangea:  We would place the stems on a brick and smash them with a hammer and then plunge them into water.  We did the same with Lilac

Poppies:  We burned the bottom of the stems after giving them a good cut Dahlia:  Cut on an angle and then sit in about 3 inches of boiling water for about 20 min then into room temperature water. 

Roses:  Cut on an angle and sit in about 3 inches of boiling water for about 10 min and then into room temperature water. 

Eventually mum and dad began their own business.  First in Collingwood and then in Preston and many other areas.  Eventually wreaths were made with styrofoam wooden pegs and wired flowers. In 1958 Oasis was invented and plastic became widely used.  Cellophane took the flower world by storm in the 1960’s and the rest is literally history.


I hope this helps give a little peek into how things were done not so long ago.  It seems like we have come full circle and are now looking at ways to reduce the use of plastics and items that are not good for our planet.

My mother is 88 this year.  I have a big wedding coming up in May and she said that she will put a few days aside to help me.  

I have loved learning from my mum and my dad.  My brother, sister and myself have all owned and operated our own businesses.  We have seen huge changes in the floral industry but one thing remains.The incredible joy and beauty that flowers bring and the memories they create.

 The Earth laughs in flowers:  R Emerson