The opulence of floral symbolism in a swirl of white roses, a frothy bouquet of baby’s breath, a bunch of blooms the colours of the desert. Flowers have given Julia Hails an abundant life, stemming from a childhood in fairy-like gardens intertwined with the roots of a rich family history.
“Peonies, hydrangeas, cottage roses, a fountain of white Phalaenopsis orchids. … this is a peony here, very luxurious and gold-plated,” Julia Hails says, gently touching the creamy frills of a flower, “bold, jewel-toned darker foliage are a bit moody, like they have a dark side.”
As the florist depicts each blossom, it’s easy to be swept up in the opulent allure of nature’s floral jewels.
I’m chatting to Julia in her home studio, aptly positioned on Rose Street, Caloundra in a space accessorised by a beautiful bouquet of hydrangea, Queen Anne’s lace, saltbush and burgenoia Julia’s prepared for her photoshoot.
A passion that was nurtured in childhood bloomed as an adult; after completing a nursing university degree and a short stint as a paediatric nurse in Queensland, Julia moved to Sydney for her husband’s position in the Australian Defence Force.
Five years and three children later, the arrival of a bunch of flowers piqued Julia’s interest, prompting her to start shopping regularly for blossoms for their home and on one such flower outing, Julia ran into an old friend at Paddington Markets who invited her along to the Sydney Markets.
“Do you know that scene in My Fair Lady at the very start where they are lifting the blankets off the flowers, and it’s as though you can smell the flowers?” Julia enthuses. “It’s my favourite part of the whole movie and when I walked into the Sydney flower markets, that’s what I experienced.”
Julia returned to the flower markets every week, influenced by some of Australia’s most renowned florists, including Saskia Havekes of Grandiflora, and she was inspired to complete a design course at Pearson’s School of Floristry, a break from nursing giving Julia the chance to experiment with an early ‘sea change’ to her career.
“I started doing work for the army, a lot of the boys in Afghanistan would call me wanting flowers for their loved ones, then I started doing their inaugural ball functions at City Hall,” says Julia.
Following Julia’s husband’s return to Australia and her mother falling ill, the family moved to the Caloundra home they’d purchased with the intention of renovating years prior, with their now nine-year-old daughter and seven-year-old twins.
Almost five years on, Julia is an award-winning wedding florist, and her business, Ginger Lily and Rose, has a clientele of weddings and corporate/private events.
Julia’s affinity with floristry also traces back through her family; her mother was a keen gardener and her maternal grandmother, who Julia sadly never met, was a devoted rose enthusiast.
“This is her rose bowl,” Julia picks up a delicate gold vessel, “she had an award named after her at the Toowoomba Flower Show called the Sylvia Rose Bowl.”
However, it was Julia’s paternal grandmother who got her hooked during school holidays.
“We’d spend summers down in Victoria, she had the most phenomenal garden, and I had a very vivid imagination along with my cousin and my sister, we’d be fairies all day in the garden,” Julia smiles.
“I love ferns back from when I was a kid, they are so delicate and fairy-like and when you hold them up to the light they are like a stained glass window, stunningly beautiful.”
The decadence of flowers as a luxury is evident in the hefty price tags some blooms can carry:
- The rarity and beauty of the Gold Kinabalu Orchid from Malaysia earns it the high price of $5000 per plant
- The demand for the Saffron flower, its development and cultivation sees it attract a price of up to $1500 per pound
- The heavenly hued Juliet Rose is the most expensive rose developed, taking famed rose breeder David Austin 15 years to create and carrying up to a $5 million price tag.
“I love the old-fashioned cottage roses, that scent of a real rose is my grandmother.”
And while the blooms evoke strong familial memories, so too do the roots of Julia’s ancestors.
An aged portrait of her grandfather takes pride of place in Julia’s studio – Geoffrey Shrapnel (the surname given to the ‘shrapnel shell’ invented by Julia’s eight-times-great-grandfather who also invented the butterfly corkscrew), one of the pioneers of the resuscitation of the Buderim Ginger Factory in Yandina.
“He came back from the war, and the Buderim Ginger Factory at that point was pretty bankrupt … he said, really the only way we are going to save this is to get into export,” Julia explains.
“The factory became the biggest supplier of ginger in the southern hemisphere, and for his work he was awarded an Order of the British Empire and met the Queen.”
Tragically, Geoffrey and his wife, Sylvia, were killed in a car accident on the Bruce Highway when they were 50 years old.
“It’s terrible, but my mother’s always spoken so much about them, she’s so fond of their memory and of the family’s history that I feel like I know them anyway,” Julia muses.
In fact, Julia’s business, Ginger Lily and Rose is an ironically beautiful moniker.
“We bought this house on Rose Street, and I thought, one day I’m going to have a business called Ginger Lily on Rose and then when we went to Sydney I called it Ginger Lily and Rose. When I think about it, my grandmother was a rose fanatic and has an award named after her – it’s like I’ve managed to incorporate them into the name without realising it,” smiles Julia.
Julia shares her tips for budding flower enthusiasts
What seedlings would you recommend to grow at home for flower assortments?
Seedlings are a great way to add colour to the garden, and annuals such as pansies, snapdragons, geraniums, nasturtiums and dahlias are inexpensive and easy to grow. You must ensure you have rich, organic soil and a position in moderate to full sun that also receive a generous amount of irrigation or natural rainfall. Pansies and nasturtiums have the added bonus of being edible, and look beautiful frozen in blocks of ice for a summer soiree! Nasturtiums are brilliant as a ground cover and for someone looking for a quick garden with lots of green and pops of brilliance
What's your go-to flower to lighten up a room?
For flowers that lighten up a room you really want to concentrate on varieties that will last in the summer heat as well. My top picks are hot pink oriental lilies (although some people are put off by their perfume, you can buy 'double' varieties now too that aren't as strong on the nose!) Sunflowers are definitely happy and bright, and look wonderful with rich foliage in a squat vase. The other flower that lasts beautifully and suits our tropical climate are orchids and you can get them in beautiful rich colours now – orange, pink, purple, magenta, a combination or one colour 'en masse' has a very modern, minimalist appeal and looks beautiful as a feature on a white stone bench top. Add one or two whimsical tropical leaves and you're onto a winner!
What’s an exotic flower someone could grow on the Sunshine Coast?
There are quite a few exotic and beautiful flowers suited to the Sunshine Coast. My favourite would have to be the ginger plant. They are available in a variety of colours, shapes and bushy habits and are the best suited to our wet climate. Another popular trend at the moment is to bring your favourite plants inside 'kokedama' style. The Japanese art of surrounding little plants with moss and string – they can be hung from the ceiling or any form of 'free-standing' frame. Succulents are popular starter plants for this.
- Always consider the amount of rainfall your garden naturally gets, as well as the ability for the water to drain, before you plant anything.
- Always make sure you prepare your soil, and if you're really keen, create your own compost bin or worm farm for extra, free, organic and sustainable fertiliser.
- If you are after more shrubs and trees than seedlings for your garden, you can't go past the following in Queensland for some spectacular shows that attract birds as well as friendly insects (such as lady birds) to the garden. Magnolia 'Little Gem', Buddleia (or butterfly bush), Lagerstroemia (or crepe myrtle), frangipani, flowering eucalyptus varieties, callistemon varieties, hybrid tea roses and tibouchina to name a few.