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Meet: Marjan Medhat, NSW Government House florist

Flwoering gum. Photo - Robin Powell

When Marjan Medhat needs something interesting for a flower arrangement she takes her secateurs into Sydney’s Botanic Gardens. Robin Powell kept her envy in check when she spoke to her about the challenges of creating flower arrangements for Government House.

You go in to Government House each Monday to do the flowers. How many arrangements need to be done?

There is a standard 14 to be done every Monday and the extras depend on functions through the week: perhaps something in the dining room for a lunch, or something for investitures or the Queen’s birthday or so on.

Do you decide where to put the flowers?

No, there are specific locations where flowers go in the House and from a florist’s perspective they are all in the wrong spot! They all compete with the light coming in the windows, so they are hard to see. It’s a real challenge. You can’t use darker materials in arrangements at all, as they end up being black holes.


Merry Christmas bells! Photo - Robin Powell

Do you try to stick with classic designs in keeping with the interiors, or spice it up with a more modern approach?

I try to do something different from the previous week. That’s really the only rule. And it has to look perfect for seven days.


Do you pick, or bring flowers in from the markets?

It’s a combination. Unless there is an abundance of flowers in the Gardens I buy the flowering material from the markets, and embellish it with what I pick from the Gardens. Being able to use the Gardens opens up my palette a million-fold. Most florists would die to get their hands on the material I have. I also have a picking yard here at the back of Government House.


What are you growing in the picking garden?

We’re developing it at the moment. We won’t do flowers because we don’t have the resources to look after them, so we’ll grow things that are hard to get or particularly expensive at the flower markets, such as pomegranate, cumquat, succulents, magnolia.


Romantic reds. Photo - Robin Powell

Your background is in floristry in Holland – is it different to be working here in Australia?

The main difference is probably the professionalism of the industry. To study floristry in Holland is a four-year full-time course that is like a horticulture degree. You learn a lot about growing plants, and to do floristry well, you do need an innate understanding of plants. The other thing is the price of the material! I just can’t get used to the prices of flowers here, which even at wholesale are three times the price of what retail flowers cost in Holland!

On the other hand, when it’s waratah season, there’s nowhere in the world that has the waratahs, and the banksias, that you can get here. The quality and variety is wonderful.


Do you use many native plants in your arrangements?

Yes, I include at least one native flower or plant part in each arrangement. Apart from the fact we are blessed with Marie Bashir as Governor – who is open-minded, interested, and adores Australian plants, I think it suits the House and what it needs to signify to use natives in the arrangements. 

Photo - Robin Powell

Text: Robin Powell

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Author: Robin Powell