The fresh flowers that adorned the front desk at her office were what Ajitha Pillai fell for. As front desk executive at the IT firm in Trivandrum, she watched the florist bring in a fresh bunch every morning and how the blooms instantly brought an air of positivity into the room. It became her favourite time of the day until she was sure that a florist is what she really wanted to be. 15 years after she quit her receptionist job to take up cut flower business, Ajitha says it's the best decision she ever took.
The floral twist in her life came after Ajitha gave up her dream to become a lawyer. “After getting my LLB degree, I started practice as a junior lawyer. But I hardly earned enough to sustain myself. I was battling problems in the family front too and it was important for me to have a steady income. So I gave up my practice and joined an IT firm as front office staff. There was so much at stake when I decided to move into cut flower business. It was, quite simply a blind leap of faith in flowers,” smiles Ajitha.
Ajitha started off by teaching herself to put together floral bouquets. “I bought flowers and green leaves used for flower arrangement from shops and designed a few bouquets. When they turned out alright, I took my first baby step to being an entrepreneur by approaching clubs and organizations in the city for bouquet orders. Such attempts started bringing in a steady flow of orders.”
Emboldened by the success of her bouquets, Ajitha ventured into supplying flowers and floral arrangements for events. “But I was more interested in flower arrangements in vases. Even while supplying flowers for events, I tried to work on improving my skill in flower vase arrangements. My initial experiments were with gerbera flowers. Almost always, I put one long stalk in the middle with the rest of the flowers arranged around it. Flowers can look good any which way you arrange them. But when I showed them to my friends, they were happy with what I had come up with, but all of them agreed that something had to be corrected. That made me adamant about getting it right,” says Ajitha, flashing a smile that speaks of determination.
She became a regular at flower shows, observing arrangements by seasoned artists. The visits and untiring trials at home paid off and Ajitha soon became adept at floral arrangement in vases. She expanded her business and started taking up bigger orders. “Flowers are brought in from Ooty and Bangalore when I get big orders. These flowers are left in fresh water for two days to keep them fresh. Then they are arranged as flower vases or flower baskets which will stay fresh for over three days,” she says.
“I buy flowers from local growers whenever I can. We get good quality anthurium and orchid flowers here,” she adds.
“I come from a small village called Kalanjoor in Pathanamthitta. There was this practice in my home of making garlands with flowers plucked from our garden. We used to take them to the temple every evening. When I started doing flower arrangement, I thought back to the math that was involved in getting a pretty garland done with the available flowers and in the right size for the idol. I figured that if I could it as a little girl, I should be able to come up with pretty flower arrangements now,” beams Ajitha.
She says that there is a good amount of logical calculations to be made while arranging flowers. “One side flower arrangement allows the flowers to be viewed only from a single direction. A round floral centrepiece can be a show stealer at dinners, parties or weddings feasts. After I had picked up the fundamentals, I felt surer of myself. When I felt confident enough, I decided to take up contracts of entire floral arrangements for events.”
The first large scale event for which she did floral decoration was the Independence Day parade of the state government held in the city. “I diligently completed the entire flower arrangement the night before the event. Satisfied with how the venue looked, I went home to catch a few winks. But the camera men arrived after I had left. They pulled the wires around and across my flower arrangements. I returned in the morning to see my flowers toppled over and hanging about. My heart sank; the event was just an hour or two away. But I pulled myself together and set to work resurrecting the pieces as fast as I could. I did manage to finish in time, but I realized I had to find a better way to make the arrangements stay in place until the event was done. I went on to discover that floral foams were helpful in keeping the arrangement stable, though I learned it the hard way.”
Ajitha says that she now does her flower arrangements mostly on floral foams. The foam weighs not more than a few grams when dry. When they are placed in water inside the vase, they absorb water to bloat into a mass of over three kilograms. “Floral foams will ensure that the arrangements do not move once they are placed at the intended spots.”
She says that the bright side of being in cut flower business is that it brings a lot of joy along with the money. “Flowers do fill us with positive energy and it’s good to be in their company as part of your job,” she reasons.
Her daughter Devi loves to help out when the busy schedule of class 10 allows. Ajitha believes that with some help, the local flower growers will be able to supply more decorative flowers and tap into the lucrative cut flower market. “It’s a hugely potential business and our flower farmers can benefit a lot if we could grow more of the flowers that are in demand. I want to do what little I can for increasing local flower cultivation,” she winds up.