Q&A with School Tutor, Anastasia McGrellis

Every fortnight we invite you to take a peek behind the scenes at McQueens Flowers and meet the people who form the fabric of who we are, and what we create. Today we have the pleasure of introducing you to our London-based School Tutor, Anastasia McGrellis.

What inspired you to become a florist, Ana?

When I was 18, I moved to London for University, I studied at Chelsea College of Art. I had always wanted to work within the creative arts. Art was the only subject I excelled in, I am severely dyslexic and attended a special boarding school to improve my reading and writing. After finishing University, I worked as an artist assistant for the Lauren Baker. Embellishing sculptures (including a piano!) with thousands of Swarovski crystals. A year or so in however, and I was missing being more creative – my mum, who’s a hairdresser, suggested that I train in a trade. The idea of dealing with people’s hair was hell for me, so hairdressing was off the table! I then began looking at flowers, my Grandad was a Head Gardener at Cambridge University and I had always loved flowers and plants. So that was when I decided that I would train as a florist! 

How did you train?   

I decided to go back to college and study. I studied a City and Guilds level 2 qualification in Floristry at Lewisham Southwark College, sadly the college is not there anymore. It was here that I learnt my first skills. I was using flowers I would never have chosen, and poly ribbon! I was a flower snob back then. I remember saying, “I’m never going to use this ribbon.” The tutor had said that when you work in the shop you will have to use poly ribbon – my reply was, “I am not working anywhere that uses it!” I never worked anywhere that used that ribbon. I still smile when I think of this. 

How long have you been doing floristry for, and what kind of roles have you held in that time?  

I have been in the industry for the last 9 years. I was lucky enough to get my first work experience in a little shop in Kennington where the owner, Mary, really took me under her wing. Over the subsequent years I worked as a retail florist all over London. In 2016 I joined a large London-based floristry company and stayed there for 5 years. I worked at their various shops and locations throughout London, and over the years I really developed my style and work ethic. I also got the chance to work of some lovely events over the years and my favourite part was designing bouquets for their product photo shoots. 

Tell us how you landed your role at McQueen’s Flowers...

It was a friend that forwarded me a McQueen’s Flowers Instagram story about a School Tutor role. I thought, why not apply? And luckily enough I was invited for an interview. I liked the energy of the school and the fact it was a new challenge for me. After the second interview (where I was tasked to teach a non-florist within the company to make a hand-tied bouquet!) I got the job. 

Describe a day in your life as a school tutor?  

We are lucky in the school; we start generally at 8.30am unless we have an evening class which is later (this is quite unusual in the floral industry where super early starts are common). The students arrive at 10am so we have a little bit of time to prep. Our 4-week course rotates throughout the year so generally each day differs. Either I am teaching, supporting another tutor, or planning my lessons. I enjoy that each day is different and that I am inspired by what another tutor has designed, often picking combinations that I would of never have thought of. 

Where do you draw your inspiration?  

I’m often jokingly asked, “are you going to do something garden inspired?” The answer is yes, I love anything whimsical, romantic, or influenced by Monty Don. My favourite design so far is a landscape which me and the students created using colour tones of the 70’s. Amazing poppies, toffee roses, cherry blossom and all things spring. I draw inspiration by going back in time and picking themes based around different eras. I find it easier to be creative when you can focus on art or fashion instead of specific flowers.   

Do you have a favourite flower or floral season?  

I think most florists would answer the same, I have favourites for different seasons. I love seasonal flowers and the fact there only around for a certain period. It means we have chance to miss them and when they’re back again it’s like ‘oh hello!’ I always get excited when the spring flowers come into season or when we are waiting for peonies in May.   

What's your favourite part of your job?  

I love meeting new people and aspiring florists. They always have a passion for the industry, and it reminds me of when I first started except, they know far more than I did! I also enjoy being creative, we are lucky in the school to have creative freedom. If the learning outcomes are fulfilled, we can design what we like. Each tutor has a different style which is lovely for the students, to see how diverse the industry is. They can learn and see what style they gravitate more towards.   

What's the most challenging part of your job?   

By far the most challenging part is public speaking. I was quite naïve in the number of presentations we must do, it’s a huge part of the job. I have always been a terrible public speaking, but I would like to think I am getting better. Also being creative and getting out of my comfort zone. As florists we all have our favourite colour schemes and flowers. If I am not careful, I will revert to anything blush or coral! 

What would you say to people who are interested in becoming a floristry teacher?  

I think to be a floristry teacher you must be passionate about flowers and your craft. You can be an amazing florist but a terrible teacher. There is a lot of skills involved outside of floristry. If you are patient, good at planning and generally love flowers I would say go for it! I have loved my time at the school so far it has push me outside my comfort zone. I have met some amazing colleagues, that I have laughed with till I have cried. And brilliant students that I am still in contact with, who are from all different walks of life. 

Discover more about the McQueens Flower School and our floristry courses online here, or over on Instagram @mcqueensflowerschool