Lights, camera…flowers!

Wherever I am, whatever I’m doing, I would usually rather be gardening. Or in the garden. Or among flowers and plants somewhere. When I’m trapped indoors, I admit, I watch TV. Sometimes a lot of it.

That’s why I was excited to see that a local florist is connected with some of my favourite television shows, like Murdoch Mysteries, set in turn-of-the-century Toronto,  and the gritty series Copper, set in the same era in New York, but filmed in our city (now on CBC and BBC Canada, respectively).

Reed Russell of East of Eliza is nonchalant about working with the film and TV world. “My father… Our shop has done a lot of this, and we have relationships with prop and set decoration people.” “I love it,” she adds, about working in the Victorian period.

Distinctive look

One reason, she points out, is that there’s a distinctive East of Eliza “look,” very like the wonderfully full and flowery Victorian floral style. (After all, the “Eliza in the name comes from Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady.) Reed herself is “a fact-gatherer of epic proportions,” so she and her staff are knowledgeable about creating arrangements that fit the period.

The shop’s collection of cut-glass and crystal vases also helps make her popular with the prop and set-dec crowd.

Television jobs, with their comparatively tight budgets and schedules, are fairly simple to do. “They call on us and tell us how many designs, where they’ll be placed, the colours and the budget,” she says.

Films are a little more complicated to work with, because an arrangement may have to look fresh and unchanged for a couple of days in a row. Sometimes, one of the “Elizas” will dash in to replace tired flowers. Occasionally, they make a twin arrangement to replace the original.

‘Insane requests’

Shooting schedules don’t always match nature’s schedule, however – which can lead to what Reed calls “some insane requests.” She tells of one film that demanded a yellow crocus – at the totally wrong time of year. “Nowhere on the planet could you find one!” It was important to the story, so eventually, a fabric flower had to stand in for the real thing.

It’s also fairly common for the shop to have to come up with Christmas wreaths and garlands in July.

And then there was the memorable time East of Eliza had to rent an entire warehouse to store all the flowers needed for just one film. “I was working 18-hour shifts on that one,” she sighs.

Basically, she says, “If it’s legal and involves flowers, we’ll do it!”

Eliza’s picks for Easter

Easter is early this year, so Reed Russell counsels, “Put your reality hat on.”  It’s too early to buy the bigger plants like hydrangeas and azaleas. Instead, go for potted smaller flowers like muscari (grape hyacinth), ranunculus, crocus and tiny daffodils. Group several 10 cm (4 inch) pots together in a basket or other container for a full-flowered effect.

If you opt for cut flowers, treat them right. Put them in bathtub-temp water right up to their necks for a while to open their pores. When you put them in your vase, cut the stem ends on a long slant with a sharp knife. (For woody stems, make several slits a few centimeters long at the tip of the stem.)

Remove any leaves that will be below the water line and fill the vase two-thirds full with warm water. If the flower has fleshy stems, use room-temperature water. “You don’t want to cook them,” says Reed.

Mary Fran McQuade is a hobby gardener and freelance writer

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