Endowed with a brilliant eye for colour and texture, Jane Packer was always ready to experiment with offbeat arrangements and materials. To the traditional arsenal of the florist she sought to introduce both daring and a degree of wit.
On one occasion she inserted branches of cherry blossom into a pink wellington boot. For Valentine’s Day in 2004 she came up with a heart-shaped box containing, not chocolates, but rose heads dipped in glitter and nestling in gold tissue; she also created a bouquet called “Sex in the City” that mixed black lace with pink roses reports the Daily Telegraph.
Even vegetables could find a place in Jane Packer’s arrangements. One bride’s bouquet combined a gladiolus bloom with grapes, green onions and ivy. She also mixed yellow roses and moss with soft rolls and speckled eggs.
The daughter of a carpenter, Jane Packer was born on September 22 1959 and brought up in Chadwell St Mary. Her father’s passion for gardening made its mark on her, and as a schoolgirl Jane spent her holidays working in a local florist’s. “It started off as a way to earn pocket money,” she later said, “but I got hooked.”
After taking her O Levels, Jane Packer left school to work in the shop full time, and spent one day a week taking a City & Guilds floristry course at Southwark College in London. She had already decided on her career — and had resolved that, to fulfil her ambitions, she would have to work in the capital.
Her opportunity came when she was asked to provide and arrange the flowers for a hotel at Charing Cross, and she quickly demonstrated her flair: “I used to raid the hotel kitchens for fruit and vegetables to put in the flower displays, as I tried to emulate those old Dutch masters who used to paint bowls of fruit and vases of flowers in their still-life studies. But I did learn to be creative with my budget as well as my flower design, which was an important lesson to learn — thinking about things from a different angle.”
She briefly left floristry to work for a knitwear company, where her encounters with graphic designers and photographers inspired her to conceive of flowers as a potential extension of interior design. She returned to the hotel, which allowed her to use her old workroom as a base to arrange flowers, and she began to approach the gentlemen’s clubs in St James’s for orders, sending her proposals accompanied by an artichoke to get their attention.
By 1982 she was in a position to take a lease on a shop off Oxford Street. “I was naive,” she later recalled. “I quickly found that the only way I could afford to pay the rent was by working seven days a week, going to [Nine Elms] market at 5am and often working through the night.” It was three years before she made a profit.
Hard as these early years were, Jane Packer used them well, and developed her own style: “I banned chrysanthemums from the shop and bought all the country flowers I could find. I used to buy sunflowers from a farmer and would go to meadows at the weekend and pick wild flowers. I have always thought that one beautiful flower in the right vase says as much as a hundred flowers.”
To get herself known, she toured the glossy magazines depositing bouquets, and they soon began to use her for fashion photoshoots; then shops and restaurants invited her to decorate their interiors. She also did work for bridal magazines, and at one a hair stylist introduced her to Sarah Ferguson. Thus, in 1986, she was invited to provide the flowers for Sarah Ferguson’s wedding to the Duke of York, a commission that sealed her reputation. In the same year Jane Packer published Celebrating With Flowers (1986). “The book was a bit of a turning point,” she said later. “We were getting letters from people in Japan and America who liked what we were doing. It coincided with flowers becoming fashionable in the 1980s as retailers used them as a statement. We got so many people wanting to come and work with us for free to learn how we created our unusual arrangements that we started a school in the basement of my home in Maida Vale.”
The school later moved to the back of Jane Packer’s new shop in Marylebone, and she subsequently opened further schools and shops in Tokyo, Seoul and New York. Jane Packer lectured on floristry around the world, and developed a brand that included products such as fragrances, ceramics and glassware.
Her other publications included Flowers For All Seasons: Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter (1989); New Flower Arranging (1993); Living With Flowers (1995); Fast Flowers (1998); Flowers, Design, Philosophy (1999); World Flowers (2003); Colour (2007); and Flower Course (2008).
In her own garden she liked to grow wild poppies, roses, jasmine and peonies. Exhibiting at the Hampton Court Flower Show, she won a Royal Horticultural Society Gold Medal every year between 1993 and 1997, and a Silver Medal in 1998.
Jane Packer, who suffered a stroke last year, is survived by her husband, Gary Wallis, who is CEO of the business, and by their son and daughter.
Jane Packer, born September 22 1959, died November 9 2011