Most people would be fast asleep, some would be nodding off, but Kylie Waldon is just starting her day.
It’s 1am the day before Valentine’s Day and Kylie, owner and manager of Waldon’s Flower Shop, is on her way to the Sydney Flower Markets, with nothing but a big smile on her face. By 3am she’s already made a few business phone calls and arrived at the markets.
While most of the state is asleep, the markets are alive with growers and suppliers, bustling around, unpacking flowers and setting up stalls, ready for the flurry of florists to come through and pick their flowers for the day’s trade and the fast approaching Valentine’s Day.
Kylie is a fifth generation flower grower and has been coming to the markets since she was three months old.
Her parents own a flower farm, which she grew up on in Wyee, growing and picking for the family business. Now, she runs Waldon’s Flower Shop, while her parents continue to care for the farm.
The shop started small in what was then called Kotara Fair. Eleven years ago, Kylie opened a second store at The Junction, followed by the Tuggerah Westfield store in 2014.
To keep the three stores stocked with fresh flowers, Kylie makes the trip to the markets three times a week.
They’re like second home and you can tell the feeling is mutual.
She’s greeted by the growers and wholesalers like a member of the family as she whisks through and collects her orders for the day.
“Florists are very set in their ways, we know what we like and what we want from suppliers, so it’s been really important for me to build that rapport with growers and wholesalers, so I can get the best product,” she says.
The markets open to florists at 5am, but as a grower, Kylie has the advantage of getting in early, beating the rush and making it back to Newcastle before most people would start work.
With her van loaded with fresh flowers - many of which are roses in preparation for Valentine’s Day – Kylie is back on the road and approaching her first stop - Westfield Tuggerah by 5am.
Here, she unloads flowers to fill the Tuggerah store before heading back to Newcastle, to drop off flowers at her Junction and Westfield Kotara stores.
The flowers are delivered before the shops open to trade for the day.
By that time, Kylie is checking the orders that came through overnight and is planning the next two days in the lead up to Valentine’s Day.
It’s one of the busiest days of the year for florists, along with Mother’s Day, but Valentine’s Day has its advantages she says.
Firstly, it’s simpler than Mother’s Day because the focus is on one flower in particular - the rose, Kylie says. Bouquets are simpler to make and orders are simpler to write down.
Secondly, it’s just one day, whereas Mother’s Day deliveries are made weeks before and after the actual day.
“Kids who can’t be with their mums on the day, order flowers earlier, so it’s busier for a lot longer for us,” Kylie says.
“I love Valentine's Day, it's simple.”
Red roses are by far the most popular flower sold, with the classic 12 rose bouquet the most sought after.
Yellow roses are the second favourite, followed by white. Rainbow coloured roses have also gained popularity in the last few years. But, red still triumphs.
“I think guys buy red roses because they’re safer, they know roses are the Valentine’s flower,” Kylie says.
“I believe the majority of guys buy them because they genuinely want to, but they do get sucked into the red rose cliche.”
Preparation for the lovefest starts two days in advance. But, it’s the night before the big day that is the busiest for florists.
As the orders trickle in, the after-work rush sees men running into the shop to buy their loved ones something special and school children coming in to buy their first Valentine a rose.
It isn’t just males buying their loved ones flowers, there is a small percentage of female customers that buy their someone special a flower on the day as well.
Roses are de-thorned, ribbons are cut and flower arrangements are made while the beeps from the ordering system continue to go off in the background.
It’s multi tasking at its best, as the florists work on the deliveries for the next day, serve customers and prepare the store for Valentine’s Day.
While all this is happening in the front of house, out the back there’s Deborah Murray with possibly the most important job of all - writing out the messages on cards.
This is the one job that isn’t done with speed, it’s completed carefully, with precision and the utmost focus on each and every word.
The scribe, in this case, Deborah, is let in to read the most intimate thoughts of men and women. Some could be made into romantic novels, others should come with a warning of explicit content.
“We’ve heard it all,” Kylie says.
“You’ve got the guys that spend half an hour thinking about what to write in the card, who are so worried about what they’re going to say and then you’ve got others that don’t even worry about it.
“I remember back in the old days men would come in and write 10 cards for 10 different women,” she adds.
“The internet has made that easier for them now,” she says with a chuckle.
It probably doesn’t come as a surprise that most of the customers on Valentine’s Day are men. Kylie says there are generally three different types of male customers.
There’s the men that have the perfect gift planned and ordered days in advance, the ones that come rushing in after work the day before and the men calling in a panic first thing in the morning on Valentine’s Day.
“Men are real last minute,” she says with a smirk.
“We get phone calls asking for deliveries in an hour, then we get calls at midday asking where the flowers are.
“People think it’s like ordering a pizza, they call, order, expect us to make it and run it out straight away.”
Although they work fast, their job relies heavily on creativity, from choosing the colour of the wrapping and ribbons, to mixing and matching different flowers in bouquets.
Kylie says each of her florists have a different style, which she can easily recognise.
“Everyone has their own way of doing things,” she says.
“I like black wrapping paper, I think it makes the flowers stand out more, whereas, if I see any flowers wrapped in white, I know that was Stevie.”
Other than creating the bouquets, the florists also consider the life of the flowers so they look as fresh as possible when delivered.
The night before Valentine’s Day, the flowers are watered and are kept in water until they’re handed to the customer. This is the personal touch offered by local florists, Kylie says.
“People get disappointed because roses just don’t last that long and we do try to eliminate that problem, but you should trim the ends at the stems and mix the flower food with lukewarm water to get a longer life out of them,” she says.
In the flurry of Valentine’s Day, the fifth generation grower says many customers become concerned with the look of the rose, in particular if the petals are droopy.
But, the perfect rose isn’t defined by its petals, but rather the firmness of its bud, Kylie says.
For lovers trying to pick the perfect rose for Valentine’s Day, simply give the bud a squeeze – the firmer the better.
The next morning – Valentine’s Day morning – starts early at the markets again, prepping the stores for the day ahead and checking the deliveries before they’re sent out with couriers at 7am.
This year, Waldon’s Flower Shop had more than 200 deliveries between its three stores. One year Kylie remembers having 768.
They come in all shapes and sizes, from a standard 12 rose bouquet, to a single rose, to bouquets with teddy bears, chocolates, balloons and even engagement rings.
“It’s a great job, because everyone is always so happy and surprised, but it’s also really stressful,” Kylie says.
“What if the person isn’t home and we’ve got an engagement ring for them?”
Deliveries continue throughout the day while the florists answer phone calls from women, asking who sent them flowers.
There’s also the men who rush in a fluster after work or on their lunch break, to buy whatever flowers are left so their partners aren’t disappointed at the end of Valentine’s Day.
“It’s quite funny watching guys buy roses, they're always acting embarrassed, but when women see a guy with roses, they think it's absolutely adorable,” Kylie says.
But, the Valentine’s rush doesn’t end on February 14. Customers continue to race through the doors of florists for days after, whether they’re making up for being forgetful on the big day or are trying to snag a post-Valentine’s Day bargain.
Ten thousand, four hundred and fifty rose stems later, and what’s Kylie’s take on love and the big day?
“There are romantics left out there. Love still exists,” she says.