Joanne Ross, Florist
This is Joanne Ross – fearless florist of the Roman Rd – her grey eyes sparkling as she summons her courage and steels herself to face the annual onslaught of Valentine’s Day tomorrow. “We’re talking about men, here,” she whispered to me, raising her eyebrows significantly, “We’re talking random, last minute…” Yet Joanne was not commenting upon the vagaries of the masculine sex when it comes to romance, but about the practicalities of supplying bouquets to the Romeos of the Roman Rd.
On Valentine’s Day, many contemplate their chances of getting flowers, assessing the likelihood in terms of the state of their relationship or – fatally – even as a barometer of their personal attractiveness, but Joanne knows better. “I’ve got to lay out a lot of money and it’s a big gamble.” she explained plainly, “But you don’t know if it’s going to go or not. Weather plays a big part, windy or sunny makes a difference. And what day of the week it falls isimportant, a weekday is always better.”
If all the factors are in place, Joanne will expect have a queue of up to twenty outside her shop in Globe Town Market Sq on Valentine’s Day, and you can assured she will be working assiduously at her bench to send the gallants away with ravishing examples of her famous hand-tied bouquets to impress their beaus.
As you will have gathered – in spite of superficial appearances – the work of a florist is far from romantic. In Joanne’s tiny shop, she maintains both a wide stock of cut flowers and an equally impressive display of plants in pots outside on the pavement, and for her business to succeed she needs to ensure a quick turnover. Consequently, it is work that requires a keen knowledge of the market and phenomenal organisation to avoid wastage, but after nearly thirty years in business, Joanne has demonstrated staying power.
“I’ve worked in Globe Town Market Sq since I was thirteen. At first, I was my step-grandad’s Saturday girl on the fruit & vegetable stall outside. By the time I was fifteen, my dad had taken over the stall and he set me up with a little flower stall next to his. He made me do it, but it was pitiful – it was pathetic. I used to have an Oxo tin and sometimes I only turned over ten pounds. Then this shop became empty and I borrowed five hundred pounds off the bank when I was eighteen to set up here. It was a lot of money then, when I was only getting fifteen pounds a week. My dad got me started, he saw the potential and he worked quite hard to push me do it, and he was right.
When I first started here, I used to work eight until two and then go to Upton Park to our family florist, Maggie Lenny, and she taught me floristry. She was big lady and she used to butter the bread on the bench right where the moss was! She set me on the right track. And when I got my shop, I bought her an apple blossom tree and she planted it right opposite her shop where she could see it. And it’s still there, although she has gone now. She was very bad with diabetes, so I had to clean the shop and change the water in the vases, and she’d tell me what to do. She inspired me. She showed me how to wire a flower and how to moss a wreath. Years ago, we used to moss everything. She showed me the traditional way and I’ve always stuck with what she taught me. The first funeral order I had, I wasn’t confident but she made me prepare the wreathes and moss them up, and dad took them all over to her. I had greened the wreathes back to front, but she helped me unpick them and put it right.
Even as a kid, I used to love floristry. I saved up all my money to get my mother’s day flowers. Our family got all our wedding and funeral flowers from Mrs Lenny, she was a wonderful woman and a very wealthy one too, but I don’t think you can get rich from floristry any more. It’s a hard life, the hours are long and you work in the cold. Everything has to be maintained and kept fresh. I go the market daily, my day starts at half past four and some days if we’re busy I don’t get home ’til eight or nine. You forget about your life, I’ve given up everything to make this successful – happily, because it has worked. Eighty per cent of the people that come in here, I know them by their first name. There’s a lot of families, I’ve done all their weddings and funerals. You’ve got to do it with kindness and respect, and do it properly – it’s got to be done right.”
Joanne’s father, Colin Ross, rose to prominence as a union leader fighting for the rights of his fellow dockworkers prior to the closure of the London Docks. In 1980, he came with his wife Patricia to Globe Town. They took over a fruit & vegetable stall from Robert Wheeler who had in turn inherited it from his parents who traded here prior to World War II when this was known as Green St, before the Market Sq was built. Colin sold vegetables, Patricia sold fruit and Joanne sold flowers. After his experience of the labour market, Colin wanted his daughter to have self-reliant employment and today, seven years after Colin & Patricia gave up their stall, Joanne continues in her flower shop.
So Joanne is braced, ready to supply the flowers for her thirtieth Valentine’s Day in Globe Town Market Sq tomorrow, delighting to play her part because she already knows that some of these customers will return to order wedding flowers, as the sequence of life rolls resolutely onward in the Roman Rd.
Joanne’s mother Patricia Ross at her fruit stall in Globe Town Market in 1980.
Joanne’s dad Colin Ross, a former hero of the London Docks, at his vegetable stall.
Joanne give her mother a peck on the cheek.
Photographs copyright © Jeremy Freedman
Joanne’s Florist, 122 Roman Rd, London, E2 0RN 020 8981 8420