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Eliza Begum, Bridal Florist

July 20, 2014
by Delwar Hussain

The seventh of seven stories by Writer & Anthropologist Delwar Hussain, author of  Boundaries Undermined, who grew up in Spitalfields

Eliza Begum looks like she is buried under flowers. There are large bundles of roses, gerberas, pink lilies, gypsophila, hydrangeas and chrysanthemums everywhere. This is nothing new. For the last eight years she has been making wedding bouquets from the dining room of her house just off Brick Lane.

This time, however, the order is slightly different. A secondary school in Plaistow is organising a prom night for its final year students and they want flowers – a lot of them. Eliza explains that the theme of the prom is “summer” so everything has to be colourful and bright. They have ordered one hundred and thirty-seven buttonholes, wrapped and pinned with foliage – one hundred and five single red roses, wrapped and ribboned – ten large bouquets and three massive table arrangements.

“I usually make bouquets, corsages, buttonholes, garlands, large displays with fresh flowers, bedroom decorations and headdresses. Holidays and weekends are mental and the main wedding season is obviously spring and summer. It is particularly buzzing then because everyone wants to have their weddings at the same time. I have bookings three months in advance, but then there is always a surge and I often have to refer clients to other bridal florists. Someone will always call me up and say that they need something ASAP. Or two days before an event, I will receive a message saying that they want to add ten more buttonholes to their list. They don’t understand that I have to pre-order the flowers, so then I have to find them somehow. When things get really chaotic, I enrol my husband into it as well. He has become quite nifty at putting the flowers together for buttonholes.

I like working with a client to create the overall look. I work from pictures, ideas or themes that they bring to me. Mostly people tend to want red and white colours. Carnations are durable, so I use them if someone has a particular sort of colour theme. I use celosia, which look a little like velvety brains. At the moment, I am using a lot of peonies and gerberas. The latter come in bright colours, but they don’t last very long. Orchids are my favourite. Each plant is different, unique. They come in all shapes, colours and sizes. They take a lot of skill to grow. I had a white orchid shower bouquet for my own wedding some years ago.

I do an in-house service which involves making fresh flower canopies, draping them around the matrimonial bed. Someone recently wanted me to decorate their horse-drawn carriage. The vehicle itself was like the glass one Cinderella had in the fairy tale. The bride had an image of herself being totally immersed in flowers and emerging out of the carriage with the flowers tumbling out with her. But I couldn’t do it because she called me only a week before the event. I told her that I needed to pre-order the flowers which would take some time and that the carriage hire company may not even give permission for such a thing. In the end, she settled for strings of flowers instead, which I think looked much better.

Since the recession, the price of flowers has gone up and they are much more expensive than what they were. I think it has become harder for people to weigh up the costs and benefits of them. Having said that, people tend to spend quite a lot of money on their weddings anyway and the recession hasn’t changed that. I’ve noticed that people want their flowers to look standard and uniform. They don’t want them to look natural. They don’t want their flowers to smell either. They say it may clash with their perfume, or that they suffer from hay fever.

I got started in it when I was eighteen years old and my older sister was getting married. She wanted a particular design for her bouquet and we went to a florist for a quote. They were asking for eighty pounds. I was shocked and thought I could make it myself. So I did and continued to do so.

I was working as a youth worker at the time and started teaching the young people how to do flower arranging. I was then hired to do various different youth projects related to flowers. From that, people began asking me to do their weddings. It was around then that I also did a professional training course as I wanted to know what I was actually doing.

Afterwards, I would get my flowers delivered directly from Holland. I was young and new to the business and got a little nervous by the large amounts of flowers coming in. I didn’t know how to store them all. I decided to change my flower dealer and to go to the New Spitalfields Market in Leyton and Columbia Rd Flower Market instead. It is much more expensive buying in such a way, but it is less wasteful and I can get the precise numbers that I need.

I have built up a great rapport and relationship with the sellers at Columbia Rd. I have been going there for years now. I can call them before hand and ask them to get me something, or some of them even save me flowers that they think I would like. The advice they give me is really useful too – information on storage, cutting, dying roses blue for example, how to make them last longer, that sort of thing…”

Buying flowers at Columbia Rd Market

To commission flowers from Eliza Begum email

Photographs copyright © Sarah Ainslie

You may also like to read about

Joanne Ross, Florist

Finty Chester,  Flowerseller


“I would like to thank you, readers,  for allowing me to bring to you some amazing stories from East Enders. I really look forward to the next installment.”

Portrait of Delwar Hussain copyright © Lucinda Douglas-Menzies

14 Responses leave one →
  1. July 20, 2014

    Another great story! Thanks, Delwar, For these portraits of people in the community this week, which give a great insight into the diversity, talent and energy of this corner of London. Valerie

  2. Libby Hall permalink
    July 20, 2014

    A most excellent seven days of stories.

    Thank you Delwar Hussain!

  3. Anne permalink
    July 20, 2014

    I’m new to Spitalfields Life, Delwar, and have very much enjoyed all your recent stories, and the diversity of passionate endeavour your interviewees represent. Thank you for stepping in to offer these portraits; beautiful, each.

  4. Elisabeth Mellen permalink
    July 20, 2014

    What a beautiful story, and wonderful to see the love and attention Eliza puts into her creations.

  5. July 20, 2014

    Simply exquisite and wonderful, thank you

  6. Annie permalink
    July 20, 2014

    I’ve really enjoyed these tales of everyday life. Long may they continue.
    Velvety brains: so far my favourite description.
    I truly envy people with an ability to arrange flowers. I am not gifted in that department and can only marvel. Such pleasure to be gained.

  7. July 20, 2014

    Thank you, Delwar, for your portraits of these wonderful people. I’ve immensely enjoyed reading about them.

  8. Raki permalink
    July 20, 2014

    I loved reading this article. I used to call Spitalfields market my second home as I was there every Sunday’s. And now I barely get a chance to go but its nice to get updates from your articles. Eliza’s story is very inspiring.

  9. Sarah C permalink
    July 20, 2014

    I have very enjoyed your stories Delwar and hope to see more guest posts in the future. Great story today about Eliza and her flowers. A wonderful gift to be able to arrange them so beautifully.

  10. Ros permalink
    July 20, 2014

    I have so enjoyed this and every one of your stories this week. Thank you!

  11. Bricklanemafia permalink
    July 20, 2014

    what interesting lives people live. thank you for bringing them to us. hope you can do it again.

  12. Patty/NS permalink
    July 20, 2014

    Thank you for such lovely posts, Delwar. Wishing you all the best.

  13. jeannette permalink
    July 21, 2014

    thank you, delwar, all your tales so enchanting, and adding to the great project of The City, and the abundance and diversity and creative energy it stands for.

  14. July 24, 2014

    A trip down memory lane when several decades ago we used to enjoy a Saturday evening ritual visiting two pubs; then in for dinner either at The Good Friends or later an off-shoot opened by the daughter of GF’s owners called simply Chinatown; both in Limehouse. When parking the car we were always accosted by a bunch of kids chanting “look after your car sir” and holding out their hands. We had been warned the best and only thing to do was pick 2 or 3 and slip them a sixpence – later inflated to one shilling – otherwise you’d find a scratch or two on your car after dinner. The first pub south of the river in Rotherhithe was the Mayflower (built 1550) reputed to be where the Pilgrim Fathers set sail for America. Then via the Rotherhithe Tunnel (across to The Prospect of Whitby (built 1552 – 3 years before my old school was founded) with its outdoor riverside terrace, heaving with fans of the fabulous live jazz band. More memories please!

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