Today I’m going to introduce you to a very special place and special person.
Victoria Park is owned by Margaret and David Pender. I met Margaret last November when she spoke at our Garden Club meeting. Her story is so unique that right away I was entranced and knew I had to, someday, feature her on the blog.
We spent an hour together in the shop with me taking pictures and getting to know Margaret, her space and her inventory. I then sent her these questions as part of our interview:
I know this is a very broad question…but how did you come to live and work in Chapel Hill? Did you consider other places in North Carolina?
Margaret: We were living in Zimbabwe in southern Africa but the political and economic situation made things increasingly difficult for us and the security in the country was deteriorating rapidly. We sent our two daughters to college in the northeastern United States. When we were at our youngest daughter Michelle’s graduation, we decided to stay in America. My husband is an American but had to return to settle affairs. He told me to find somewhere to live and something to do! My daughters and I chose Chapel Hill by chance, rented an apartment and after several difficulties we purchased a small flower shop which we renamed Victoria Park, after our original flower farm in Zimbabwe.
What part of your work do you like best? I’m assuming it’s not the paperwork (!,) so beyond that, which part is the most satisfying for you? On the other hand, where is most of your time spent?
Margaret: I love talking to customers, listening to their stories and helping them choose flowers to suit every occasion they are called for. Most of my time, however, is spent putting together custom arrangements. Getting it right takes a lot of time and care!
Do you have a favorite kind of arrangement? What are you favorite flowers to work with and why? Favorite season? What holiday do you like best (re. flower arranging.) Because of the flowers, the colors, the feel?
Margaret: My favorite arrangements are in the English garden style and they are full of texture and soft colour and garden scents. My favorite flowers are roses and stock. Roses for their elegant shape – a shape that has a calming effect on the viewer as it expresses order and symmetry and confirms that all is well! I love stock for the scent and every time a bucket of stock comes into the shop I am transported back to my home where the buckets were all lined up on the verandah in the warm tropical air, waiting to go on the refrigerated train the next morning. I also love working with all the tropical flowers – especially protea and birds of paradise as they last such a long time. They grew in abundance in Zimbabwe and so I am familiar with the dramatic shapes they lend to style.
Do you try to “buy local,” and can you (or any florist?)
Margaret: Coming from a flower farm, I know the trials and difficulties of local farming, so I fully support any local farm that I can. Flowers straight from the farm last longer and have more fully developed blooms and are far less damaged than anything packaged and sent in boxes. We have some very good flower farmers right here in Chapel Hill and Durham and Graham.
Any secret things you just love, or don’t love, doing in the shop? Do you like to be alone in the shop, working or do you like a lot of activity around you?
Margaret: One of the things I just love in the flower shop is no secret – its Poppy – my yellow and orange love bird. Poppy is with me at all times – either on my shoulder peering at my work, or on my arm assisting with the flowers! I love lots of activity around me but sometimes I need to be alone in the shop to get everything done!
More than anything else I just enjoyed talking to Margaret, and loved listening to her soft spoken British/ southern African accent. She spoke of her life in Zimbabwe, of her parents and grandparents and their flower farm, of the increasingly difficult political…and thus living…climate and finally, of her own family’s need to leave. As an American I can’t imagine living in a country where one faced two or three police roadblocks each day on the way to work. Margaret tells of her almost disbelief and then, in time, relief of being able to drive anywhere at all in the States and never be stopped. It still catches her by surprise, this freedom, after more than ten years here.
Her flowers are gorgeous, her style is gracious and Victoria Park Florist is one of the finest of its kind in the area. You will not find Victoria Park Florist listed with any teleflora service: they are totally independent. This enables them to offer a truly personal service without the very high overhead required by those services. And it works! They have a very, very loyal following with customers from all over the country.
One fun fact for you: Margaret runs a week long day camp (for two weeks only) in the summer for children! Yes, for five days a child can come and do small jobs around the shop, put on a play at week’s end for parents, paint and crayon and be immersed in flowers and color. Many “graduates” have come back as helpers for the younger children! I know my daughter would have loved this kind of activity; what a totally unique way to spend a few days.
Take a look at “Our Story” to read more about this Chapel Hill business and if you are local, please do stop by or call, and tell Margaret that Libby sent you…