Eliza Rogers creates beautiful, loose, romantic floral arrangements evocative of the wonderful still life paintings of the Dutch Masters. Primula Floral Styling is the culmination of both her formal training + nomadic wanderings through North America + Canada learning from her floral idols.
I didn't realise when I first met Eliza that I'd been following her on Instagram for some time under the pseudonym 'bonnyflame'. It wasn't until a few days later that I put two + two together + sent her a fangirl email asking if I might quiz her on all things Primula.
Tell us a little bit about your background - how did Primula Floral Styling come to be?
I grew up on a farm in Northern NSW, in a home surrounded by a beautiful garden planted by my mother. My Dad's sister was an incredible botanical painter in her early life + birthdays were celebrated with petal-covered cakes + flower crowns worn by the birthday child, so I guess flowers were always a fairly integral part of my upbringing.
Upon visiting that same Aunty in the Yarra Valley during my mid teens, I decided it would be the idyllic place to spend my eventual retired life running a florist slash 'cupcakery'... It wasn't until a few years out of school, when I realised I wasn't exactly sure of what it was that I would be retiring from, that I stumbled across the floral work of Amy Merrick. She was the first in a long line of cool, young florists I discovered working in the flower + event scene of NYC. Almost immediately a craft that I'd previously pegged as a bit of an old-girls' game became an art-form I craved to learn.
Around the same time I fell under the NYC flower spell a very dear family friend passed away. It was an incredibly tender time during which I witnessed the sweet, restorative qualities bestowed by the gift of flowers - particularly the giving of those fragrant beauties plucked from the spring gardens of so many loving neighbours. That experience really cemented my desire to work with flowers.
I deferred the communications degree I was one year into + enrolled in the floristry certificate at Southbank TAFE. I went on to complete the first two certificates over the duration of a year, which was bittersweet. I certainly honed some fantastic technical skills + botanical knowledge there, but found the designs we learned were extremely dated. It wasn't until a while after finishing my studies that my aesthetic started to fall into place + the more loose, wild and natural lines I celebrate within my work with Primula started to develop.
This new style was heavily influenced by obsessive research - hours spent fawning over the work of the aforementioned New York flower goddesses, along with the compositions found within glorious Dutch Master still-life paintings + of course anything + everything by the eternal First Lady of flowers, Constance Spry. The more I played with flowers, the better I learned to respect their natural lines + forms and never really looked back to the tight, constricted styles that I learnt early on.
Not long after finishing your formal training you travelled extensively around North America - tell us a little about this journey + how it impacted your work?
My trip to America seemed like an obvious choice + boy was it incredible - it really changed my life! Basically I bought a car in LA (a '96 Ford Explorer, soon nicknamed 'Harrison Ford') + after a few weeks spent roaming around the Californian desert with a friend, I started on my solo journey around the States.
It's funny whenever anyone asks me advice on where to go or what to see in the USA because almost every single part of my journey was focussed on nature, plants + flowers. I was sleeping in my car everywhere I went, bouncing between endless National Parks (which are of stupendous quality, nationwide) + the leafiest streets I could find in any given city, preferably bordering botanical gardens + the like. I visited the shops + studios of florists I had been following online for almost two years + had some of my first Instagram-meets-reality moments.
The sheer beauty + diversity in the ever-changing landscape as it rolled out alongside me was astounding: the colours of the desert at sunset; Montana's peaks at sunrise; Joshua Trees; colossal Redwoods; turquoise waters crashing into the cliffs of Big Sur + later melting into the grey waters of the Pacific along the Oregon coast; + wildflower after wildflower after wildflower. There were nights that I drove well into the dark, past one or two a.m., because I had spent so much time in the daytime just wandering about on the side of highways + little lanes, collecting flowers + watching the light change.
One of the most pivotal experiences I had was meeting Amy Merrick, whilst attending a weekend-long intensive workshop hosted by her + another incredible farmer-florist, Erin Benzakein. A producer of some of the most incredible, high-quality, unusual (often heirloom) varieties of flowers in the USA, Erin is the force behind Floret Flower Farm.
Needless to say, the weekend was completely ridiculous in its beauty. Erin invited us to her farm + gave us free rein to cut whatever we liked, which was the first of I think three secretly tear-jerking moments that weekend. Along with the Floret-grown beauties we had the most amazing roses to play with from Peterkort rose farm in Portland. They were true garden varieties - in all their fragrant, imperfect glory - upon seeing them I realised just how much I had been missing out on in all my time working with flowers. These were the roses of my mother's garden, crooked stems + all, which is unfortunately not something you see much of in the Australian commercial markets.
Aside from becoming tragically besotted with American flowers I also met the most kind + inspiring women during that workshop, many of whom quickly became great friends. A few weeks later it was two of these ladies who contributed to my next big moment in the USA when they threw my hat into the ring to win a free spot to a flower workshop that was being raffled off via Instagram. I was in Chicago at the time + the duo behind The Little Flower School (Sarah Ryhanen + Nicolette Owen) had a free space to fill in their workshop to be held the next day in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
I think Flora, the goddess of flowers, must've been guiding me in the USA because the next thing I knew I was driving thirteen hours overnight to make it to New York in time for the class. I remember rocking up to the Big Apple blaring Alicia Keys and Jay-Z's Empire State of Mind, perhaps slightly under-showered + definitely delirious, wondering how any of it was possibly happening.
The class was incredible (so much credit is due these ladies for the huge surge in Renaissance-style floristry that is prominent in Brooklyn) as were the surreal ten days that followed. I spent them sleeping on Sarah's sofa in Red Hook, leaving each day to explore NYC + assist both Amy (Merrick) + the team at Sarah's floral studio, Saipua, in the flowering of a couple of weddings.
From the USA I travelled up to Canada, where I eventually settled in Vancouver for six months, working in a gorgeous flower + botanical shop called Greenstems. My boss Heather was a gem of a lady to work for + remains a valued friend now. We spent countless hours discussing both the flaws + virtues of flower shop versus studio + it was in those conversations that I cemented my vision for the type of business I wanted Primula to be.
Although working with flowers on a day-to-day basis in the shop was a true pleasure, I eventually realised that my strongest passion for floristry lay in the larger-scale aspects of design, more commonly found in wedding + event styling... which led me to move back to Australia, + the way I am working with flowers now.
So what is Primula, + what services do you provide?
Primula Floral Styling is the moniker under which I provide my floral design services. The Latin name for Primrose, it is a tribute to my darling sister, Prim, who was sadly taken to be with the flowers almost ten years ago. The name was there for me long before I knew what sort of business I wanted it to be + it feels incredibly special to be reminded of her each time that I put my hands to work.
Based in Brisbane, Primula offers evocative floral arrangements to suit all weddings + events. Working by appointment, I happily travel with my services, catering from the Sunshine Coast to Byron Bay + beyond!
I also teach a series of workshops + offer private classes for those looking to add an unusual activity to their small party. In keeping with my love of wild, natural designs, it's a very relaxed way to learn about surrounding yourself with flowers... plus we provide delicious wines + nibbles in a lush setting!
In addition to the grand-scheme designs associated with even styling, I love getting caught up in making more sculptural, wearable pieces too. I really enjoy the editorial side of things, especially when incorporating botanical art into the styling of photo shoots.
What sorts of challenges have you faced setting up + running your own small business?
It definitely is a lesson in discipline - making sure to stay on top of all your business priorities, along with general 'life admin'. I work a part-time hospitality ob so I have that roster to juggle too. A lot of my work with Primula is done solo in a studio based at home, which I actually love when in the creative zone, but it's definitely nice to have a contrast in roles. My other time at work is spent surrounded by some of my favourite people, essentially being paid to hang out with friends (and sometime serve customers), so it's pretty ideal.
Running a business as an event florist is probably very similar to many creative freelancers. We're fairly flexible in our schedules, but this means we also have to create our own structure.
As someone who loves working with my hands, I'm definitely happiest when constructing a big arrangement or crawling around on hands and knees with a camera, trying to capture the shot.
Taking photos is important, as all other evidence of our work dies very quickly. I'm learning that a comprehensive portfolio goes hand-in-hand with your presence online, particularly with social media accounts, which can be invaluable tools for circulating your work. Along with a public online presence, the private aspects of your communication are really important too. It's bad, but shooting off quotes, sending through orders + just regular day-to-day correspondence are probably my most arduous chores. I would honestly rather be cleaning buckets than chained to a computer or phone.
Which brings me to money - the source of much dread when it comes to writing out those quotes! Learning to value my work + charge people accordingly is one of the biggest hurdles I'm yet to overcome, partly because flowers are still classed as a luxury item. When I started studying floristry I had grand ideas of selling incredibly cheap jar arrangements so more people could have flowers every week. I quickly learned that this was not feasible when faced with the high cost of wholesale flowers versus the rise of cheap supermarket flowers. It's taken a while but I'm getting better at recognising the labour involved at all stages of the cycle (especially for flower growers!) settling on a price that reflects all considerations fairly.
To recycle a useful piece of advice dispensed to me by the many good florists across the USA, once the bookwork starts piling up get an accountant. Unless you actually feel confident in your abilities in this arena, it will save you a huge amount of grief. I used to do admin work for an accountant + he is now my go-to man for my own business needs. He draws me mind maps + explains things simply and life is much easier with him around.
What's next for you + for Primula Floral Styling?
Having only launched my business quite recently I'm still very excited + grateful to be booking jobs. As the business grows I do hope to travel some more + eventually take Primula on the road!
Equal parts nester + nomad, I feel there are a great number of English gardens just waiting for my feet to tour them. At the same time I am just as keen to start planting a little garden of my own. All my garden babies are currently planted in portable containers because the commitment to a proper backyard still seems a bit daunting but I do want to start growing some more unusual blooms to cut + use in my work. Eventually, I'd like to grow even more. Who knows, ten or fifteen years from now international flower nuts might visit Australia + be blown away by the local flower culture just as I was in the USA last year.
Flower, houseplants + botanical motifs in general all seem to be riding the wave of a great resurgence right now so it's an exciting time to be involved in the botanical realms.
Finally, which local creatives are inspiring you at the moment?
So many great stores + studios have popped up around Brisbane since I've been away but I think I'm going to keep it simple + choose just three.
Angie Ferro being number one as she has been such a big part in getting my business off the ground. Her beautiful photos crop up throughout a large portion of the portfolio on my website. Not only is she fantastic behind the camera, she is also one of the warmest, humblest + most intelligent people I know, which makes both hanging + working with her equal pleasures.
Second mention goes to another dear friend Nabil Sabio Azadi who is one of the truest artists I know. His originality never ceases to amaze me - there are always crazy layers of profound depth to his work. I carried his book, For You The Traveller, with me around North America + finally used it upon arrival in Vancouver where it helped me to make one of my closest friends there. If you have time, please read a bit more about that particular project as a short mention by me will hardly do it justice.
Thirdly, I'd like to shout out to Jess Barty (of Sunday Social) for not only being the proprietor of the very first vintage store I fell in love with upon moving to Brisbane but for also being the creator of some damn fine ceramic works. Working down the way from her shop in Winn Lane proved a challenge to me once she released her 'Down Time' collection. As my rapidly expanding collection would indicate a good hand-thrown mug is irresistible + hers are some of Brisbane's best.
As part of the Pixel Trade project Eliza created this sweet little stop motion animation showcasing her style:
You can check out more of Eliza's heady floral designs over on the Primula website.