We all know Elizabeth Marsh as the name and face behind the flowers, the familiar font on the bouquets that arrive at our doors budding with life. What we also know, whether or not subconsciously, is that her flowers have always been more than just flowers - perhaps due to the simple fact that Elizabeth and her team are more than just florists. Much of Liz’s success is due to her passion for storytelling, which has manifested itself in her arrangements created for individuals and enterprises across all areas.
Earlier this month, I sat down with Liz, who spoke about balancing creativity and structure, standing out from the crowd, filling the gap in sustainability, the connection between personal and professional success, overcoming fear, and turning roadblocks into opportunities. As I came to understand Elizabeth Marsh’s exceptional ability to tell other people’s stories through her art, I realised the importance of sharing her own story - with aspiring and experienced entrepreneurs across every field, with current and future clients, with everyone. The thing about Liz is that you sit down to talk about flowers, but the talk about flowers becomes a talk about life.
When we think of the roots of storytelling, we think about reading and writing: but long before Liz’s love for these things was her love of dance. As a child, Liz found her perfect world in the ballet studio, standing out distinctly from her competitive and sport-oriented family. “I kept missing the ball,” laughed Liz, in the middle of a talk about her family excursions to the country club, and how hopelessly she performed at the things her parents aced. Her mother, supportive of the ballet but perplexed by her daughter’s lack of interest in competitive sport, regaled guests at dinner parties over Liz’s first sports day, where the firing gun sounded and it was only when the last person crossed the finishing line did Liz realise that she had to run. Nevertheless, though her family recognised her differences they remained encouraging, and at the end of primary school when Liz’s best friend quit ballet, not wanting to be alone, Liz stopped too. The void that resulted from a lost passion grew over the years, and it was only when Liz began working with flowers that she realised she was dancing with them.
Flowers became a means of expression for Elizabeth: to release frustration about the things she couldn’t do into something she could do - exceptionally well - and to tell stories, all by bringing dancing into floral design. Easily prone to boredom, Liz struggled with the idea of constantly churning out the same thing for a living, and floristry was the perfect solution. “All of my customers are very different, and by focusing on expressing each of them on their own terms gives me a real kick of where it takes me to,” explains Liz. The weight that the company places on personalisation is largely due to the fact that the flower arrangements hold the purpose of telling someone’s story and values: ultimately, it’s all about them. “My work takes me on a journey of discovery,” continues Liz, in explaining her zest for sharing the worlds of her clients, “It gives me the benefit of the riches that I find in their worlds.” Sounds like a win-win.
In her early adolescence, when questions about the future were being raised for the first time by both others and herself, Liz came across an article hypothesising that humans spend well over two-thirds of their lives at work. “I thought to myself then, if I’m going to be spending that much time at work it had better be something I really love,” Liz recalls.
Interestingly, Liz never thought of herself as creative. Whilst imagination was always a key part of her identity, Liz made an active choice to harness it from a young age. As a child, Liz was a daydreamer, “To the point where I worried I was going to lose the plot if I kept it up,” she laughs. Wise beyond her years, Liz assigned herself time to daydream on the train to and from school, which brings in her structured side. Perhaps one of the most unusual aspects of Liz is the equal balance she has achieved between creativity and structure: though it is undoubtedly this key element that has driven her success. “Some creative people are incredibly unhappy because they struggle to manage their imaginations; alternatively, structured people can experience the same unhappiness when they are unable to express themselves, so I feel incredibly lucky to have both. It helps me enjoy the fruits of my labours.”
To this point, the fruits of Liz’s labours were never solely financial profit. Liz emphasizes the importance of having a vision, and more specifically of bringing her clients’ visions to life. Her process, she has stated, involves listening to a customer describe their vision, and from their description builds up a picture in her mind. But what happens if or when she can’t make sense of their vision? A great believer in the subconscious, Liz’s solution is to temporarily detach. With the act of turning her attention to something else and then revisiting the problem, often whilst driving, the image and materials gradually consolidate into an image, and thus an answer. “The creative process is not always easy,” admits Liz, “the hardest thing is making it real and tangible.” Despite this, Liz proudly admits that there has never been a time where she hasn’t achieved the vision: quite simply because the reward is seeing the vision rather than the money.
Some problems can seem insurmountable, and Liz is the first to admit that in business, each challenge is usually bigger than the last. Nevertheless, she stands by the idea that there is always a solution. Her mantra, “there is always an answer, I just haven’t thought of it yet,” has helped her keep a positive approach to problems rather than a negative one, and often in saying that, the answer appears.
“Anything that can be imagined can be achieved,” Liz says. The catch, according to Liz, is a willingness to do what it takes, which is where people tend to stop. Doing what it takes always includes facing failure, which Liz deems essential. “Facing failure is a discipline, really: it softens the ego like the effects of water on rock over time.” As someone who struggled with dealing with failure in the past, Liz has reached a point where she now embraces it.
“My uncle always used to say everything starts in science and ends in art,” Liz recounts. What is understood by this is that the technical side of anything must be mastered before you can express yourself through it. This motto is what brings Liz to take her time with the logistics around a new brief before letting the imagination run wild. For instance, if asked to create a display for a new restaurant, questions about the institution’s space, aesthetic, and building dimensions are necessary in order to proceed creatively. A floral display within a small space could easily get lost within a large space, and this is where science comes first and then art manifests itself.
But the role of the imagination is not solely attributed to Liz. Elizabeth Marsh knows the importance of listening to her clients, but more importantly, she knows to focus on what someone wants, rather than giving them what she thinks they should have - a common mistake in business which results in customer discontent. Her strength - so seemingly simple yet utterly key - is to listen to her clients and give them what they want. In doing this, not only is the result satisfaction, but in the process imaginations bounce off one another. While many people are imaginative, not everyone knows how to bring the things they want to realise to life. This is where Liz’s role is essential. To give music as an example: an imaginative person might desire a specific musical composition for their wedding, but don’t know how to write or play music themselves. In this instance, they must express their vision to - and thus rely on - a creative who will use their own imagination to bring the imagination of the client to life. It is this exact process that Liz follows in creating extraordinary floral arrangements.
Liz once told me a story I loved about one of her clients, who was adamant that she didn’t want her drawing room looking like a flower shop. She wished, she told Liz, to look as if she arranged the flowers herself. But the issue was that she couldn’t arrange flowers. And so, like the ghostwriter of flower arranging, Liz incorporated the sense of relaxation and homeliness that challenged the look of corporate flowers into a home: the room became decorated in a loose and artistic manner, and encompassed the spirit of its owner.
This very story made me wonder about the corporate sphere. Does Liz get bored when working in office spaces? Quite the opposite: emphasizing that different clients keep her entertained, Liz states that what she likes about the corporate sphere is the opportunity to explore a different range of values. In the business world, where budgets are bigger and companies aim to stand out, there is lots to play with. What Liz initially disliked about the City was its anonymity, how impersonal it felt, and its sole focus being business objectives. In light of this, always solution-oriented and one to see the opportunity where it isn’t obvious, Liz recognised her chance to influence what people were feeling. Realising her living colour palette’s ability to bring black and white logistical environments to life, even if just for a moment, Liz became committed to putting the soul back into the heart of the metropolis. And she did.
Fascinated by the idea that we are affected by things we don’t always notice, Liz shifted the atmosphere in office spaces and board rooms by recreating it in exciting ways. Bringing joy to working people and waking them up became fulfilling for Liz: receptionists would tell her how much they looked forward to seeing her week’s creations, and so with every few days, their spaces would become riper for innovation.
But what about now, in a time where offices, restaurants, hotels, members’ clubs, museums, and all institutions that used to be regular clients are closed?
The COVID-19 pandemic hit in time for Liz to commit to a personal project, one that tied into her values and consequently to the company’s. The idea for the Ribbon of Vegetation was thus born: an aim to create a green pathway running throughout London to allow animals to navigate the city without crossing the main road, and above all, a purpose to educate current and future generations on biodiversity. With a planet in crisis, raising awareness and changing society’s mindset is Liz’s first step towards making a lasting impact.
This past summer, Liz began to look at how she could align the business with her own purpose. The founder’s creativity that was initially expressed through the lost dance began to align itself with her structural side, bringing her values around sustainability to enter the game in a big - and above all outspoken - way for the first time. “There is a certain fear around talking about the things that you believe deeply in, because it’s more likely to hurt if someone doesn’t like it,” Liz says.
Liz’s sustainability values have been part of her for as long as her imagination has. In her early days, Liz’s natural need to protect the environment wasn’t a passion, but logic. “Nothing is finite and it is our collective responsibility to look after nature,” she states. “I suppose that it has now become a passion because of the sadness of losing the beauty of the natural world, in terms of richness and abundance, and everything I took for granted as a child.”
In connection to her clients, Liz has learned that never taking it personally if someone doesn’t like her work makes her more efficient. She doesn’t want to waste time and likes customers who are direct and with whom she can walk alongside in bringing projects to life. This summer, Liz expressed her own mindset and experienced the vulnerability that comes with talking about the things you care deeply about. Whilst bringing the Ribbon of Vegetation project to the table was frightening, it was also a moment of deep integrity and commitment to herself.
“I’ve always hated mankind’s need to control everything they see,” Liz said. “The thing about flowers is that you can’t really control them: at some point they’re going to die.” Liz likens flowers to pavement drawing, where the creative art that appears on sidewalks can just as easily be washed away by rain, in seconds. Liz loves this very aspect of flowers: that they can’t be kept for hundreds of years or days, and their moment of victory over mankind is their impermanence.
Liz simultaneously views the COVID-19 pandemic as both the biggest crisis we have confronted since the world wars and the greatest opportunity. Aligning her personal mission with her work’s mission was the direct result of COVID. “We reached a point where we had engaged with nature, where for the first time we put our humanistic values before logistical values, and logistical values were being made to serve humanistic values,” says Liz. The Ribbon of Vegetation project was her initiative to put a stake in the sand; to mark a powerful moment where forward is the only way to go.
In many ways, the Ribbon of Vegetation is a combination between Liz’s creativity and her structure. The creativity, after all, knows how to get people’s attention - a key component to any project. In speaking to others about sustainable ventures around London, Liz worried about hers being just another sustainable project. “Bringing sustainability into the mainstream requires critical mass. It is the attention of the people that drives institutions to implement projects like ours. That is humanistic values being served by logistical ones: that is what’s missing in sustainable projects today, and that is what the Ribbon of Vegetation brings to the party.” Liz’s structural side comes into place in putting together that support group that needs coordination: her ability to project manage and delegate jobs makes her the connection between the people.
To Liz, everything is about connections, be it connecting the dots or connecting the people. In her eyes, conflict isn’t necessary if people are communicating well, and when people collaborate there is nothing they can’t do. The catch is getting people to want to do things together, bringing Liz to the next step of her journey in exploring how to teach and helping others understand their own mindset.
In business, we all work with people who are either more structured or more creative, and Liz understands both mentalities and how they can best work together. In her role as a leader, Liz has become committed to heightening her team’s awareness of the balance between structure and creativity, and pushes those around her to leave their comfort zone. “I can’t remember the last time I was in a comfort zone,” Liz admits. It isn’t part of who she is. As someone focused on growth, there are few ways around leaving your comfort zone. “I’ve always admired people who walk the walk rather than talk the talk, and have made a conscious effort to do the same.”
Perhaps, in the same way that she has forever been a storyteller, Elizabeth Marsh has always been a teacher, in teaching us to understand ourselves, our imaginations, how to align our values with what we do every day, and how to see our work as never being truly done. It is indeed this mantra that has helped Liz to succeed over the years, to grow beyond the end points that society and even time can set out for us. To never really feel that your work is done is proof of imagination’s immortality, and Liz’s unabating steps forward encompass this.
Briefly, we turn back to the beginning. “No childhood is ever perfect, but the adults who are better attuned to life are the ones who empathize with the ‘why’ behind the differences of their family,” Liz says. “We all need our family to be different on some level, because the whole adolescent process is to reject what’s gone before, which gives us the energy to kick off.” Sometimes, if channelled in the right ways, energy and frustration get you going. And sometimes, what your parents do differently entices you to go off and do your own thing, even - perhaps especially - if they are at the other end of the spectrum.
The tangible things that help us tell stories go beyond pens, paintbrushes, pianos, and to Liz we are grateful: not just for telling stories through flowers, but for teaching us, through her art and wisdom, how to understand our own imaginations and how with a little structure and a lot of drive, anything is possible.