In those first minutes of pride, glory and disbelief, Olympic champions bask in their achievement and receive a bouquet before being whisked off for interviews and everything else a medalist does after winning an international competition. On the podium, the winners receive a second bouquet, which becomes immortalized in photos seen around the world. We all know how long and difficult the journey to the podium is for the athletes, but it turns out the journey from garden to podium is also an arduous process.
The hand-tied bouquets were conceived by June Strandberg of Just Beginnings Flowers in Surrey, B.C. and Margitta Schulz, owner of Margitta's Flower Boutique in North Vancouver.
After securing the contract in 2008 (there were 58 in the running), the pair went through 23 iterations of the bouquet before the Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC) decided upon what we now see on the podium. These same bouquets will also be created for the Paralympic Games.
Piecing together a winning bunch
Besides the look, there were several factors June and Margitta had to keep in mind: bouquets have to be fragrance-free, they have to withstand all the sudden temperature changes coming in and out of the cold, they have to be able to live without water for at least a couple of days and with all that manhandling, they can’t bruise easily.
The centre of the bouquet is a striking green mum, also referred to as a Revert Chrysanthemum. According to June, Quik’s Farms Ltd. in Chilliwack, B.C. grew close to 10,000 of these blooms specifically for the Winter Games.
Hypericum berries surround the centre of the mums followed by leather leaf and then aspidistra leaves and monkey grass, which is folded in three spots. Because you can’t source these plants in winter from B.C., June carefully researched a farm in Ecuador that could supply them, ensuring it used environmentally friendly practices. “But we still matched what we would have used here,” she says. They cut down on the carbon footprint by arranging for everything to be delivered in one big shipment and VANOC offset the carbon emissions from the transportation.
The final bouquets are hand-wrapped and secured with the Olympic bow that is tied in a simple shoelace style.
What’s special about June’s business is that it’s a non-profit social enterprise. The front functions as a flower shop and the back is a floral design school. “My program here deals with training women with barriers to become florists so that they can enter back into the community, get their families back and get their life back in order,” she explains. June works closely with a couple of societies and recovery homes to place students in her program. As part of their selection process, VANOC was looking for societies who could put the bouquets together, so as the only such floral design school in Canada, Just Beginnings was a great fit for the production process.
So now, during the Olympics, June’s students—or line designers—have been busy making 25 bouquets per shift—that’s five an hour. On a particularly busy day, the shop recently sent out 150 finished bouquets. And if you happen to be in the neighbourhood, you can purchase your own little souvenir—Just Beginnings has already taken orders for Olympic bouquets, so June is also selling them in the shop.