When flower and gin lovers meet

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If you are a flower lover and also enjoy sipping gin where do you hang out on weekends? For many Kenyans, it is hard to quench both thirsts, at the same time.

This is the gap Gerald Ngari, the chief florist at Artcaffe' Market seeks to fill; organise meet-ups where people can come learn how to make their cut flowers last longer while drinking their favourite gin.

Many Kenyans are now buying flowers for themselves and keeping them in vases in homes as part of the decor. But how do you ensure the stems of your statement flowers, be it roses, lilies, alstroemeria or chrysanthemums also called mums, last longer?

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A few weeks ago, I was at Nairobi's Village Market at a masterclass-themed 'Bloom&Gin'. Participants come to learn the art of creating whimsical floral displays in upcycled bottles.

Among the attendees was Muthoni Gathumbi, the CEO of Asai Treats Bakery. She was there on a flower date with her friend Brenda Karimi. They say the flower date is interesting and a very healthy activity to do as friends.

"This is my first masterclass. I want to get better at arranging my bouquet and maybe along the way, I will get into the business of flowers," says Ms Gathumbi.

She fell in love with flowers through her business. She usually sends complimentary bouquets with her customers' orders.

"In Kalenjin, asai means a hug, so sending bouquets feels like I am extending warm hugs to my customers," she says.

"We have been taught a lot about flowers, I knew about the simple details on certain things about how to cut flowers, maintain and unwrap them."

Ms Gathumbi is not the biggest fan of roses, her favourite flowers are hydrangeas and peonies.

Her friend Brenda speaks of her love for pink flowers. ''All the creativity is amazing. I love flowers, I love receiving flowers, I love giving flowers, and so learning how to make my own arrangement is amazing. I don't think I buy flowers as often as I'd like, but I receive flowers maybe once a week," Ms Karimi says.

They describe their rendezvous as intentional and an expression of love for their friendship.

Part of what the attendees learn is how to ensure bouquets retain water. Mr Ngari, the chief florist, says a green foam on the top of the bottle acts as soil and retains water for the flowers. "You have to spray water on the foam to keep it hydrated before it turns light green," he says.

He did not grow up liking flowers, especially with the narrative about men not being flower lovers. His love for them blossomed when he received his first bouquet and discovered that flowers bloom and have a scent.

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"I used to work as a shop assistant and business was slow, so I asked my boss to make an arrangement to attract customers and I took it upon myself to source the flowers and that's when I discovered I could do things with flowers," he says.

Now a fully-fledged florist, he has held countless masterclasses on flowers.

"I have done a lot when it comes to flowers; from how to make a hand bouquet, to blooms and gin, to table arrangement, and whimsical installations.’’

How does one make sure flowers bloom?

"You have to understand that most flowers, because they have been crossed and genetically modified, have certain characteristics, which is why you find that some of the classic flowers don't bloom, but garden roses bloom because they haven't been tampered with," he says.

As for making flowers last longer, he says: ''It's all about the care package. The secret is fresh water and a little flower food every time you change the water, which should be every three days. If you don't have flower food, you can use Sprite soda, because it has simplified sugar, or use the normal sugar and bleach.''

"The normal sugar will encourage the growth of bacteria, but the bleach will act as an antibiotic on the water and kill the bacteria," he adds.

Is the shape of the vase important?

"Yes, because you need to cut your flowers according to the shape of the vase. The ones with a wider opening need a bigger bunch, the vase determines how much of the flowers you should buy, and what size you should cut your flowers.

Soil is also important in terms of acidity, the type of flower you want to grow and the bloom you want to achieve.

Mr Ngari also warns against plastic vases.

''They are not good for flowers because plastic retains moisture and dehydrates the flowers," he says.

Ice cubes

Mr Ngari admits that ice cubes help to cool the petals and stems. "Every living thing can react from its origin. When you cut a flower, it goes through a treatment and a proper way of storing it before it gets to your vase, but it has already been interfered with. If you put ice cubes in the first glass of water, the flowers will absorb the cold water and the petals will be in bloom," he says.

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Lindsay Lihinga, brand manager, at Artcaffe' Market, says they started the Bloom&Gin workshop to promote their flower section.

"The concept behind it is that a lot of people love flowers but don't know how to take care of them. We want to teach people not only how to make flower arrangements, but also how to take care of them,'' she says.

Creating an interesting concept for arranging flowers on things other than vases and also promoting recycling was the idea behind the theme of the masterclass.

Aduh Kyalo, one of the attendees and flower enthusiast says flowers bring her a lot of joy.

"I am currently embracing my femininity and flowers bring me so much joy that I wanted to learn more about them. I buy flowers as soon as the ones I have die,'' she says.

Despite her love of flowers, Ms Kyalo has always struggled to keep her roses alive for more than a week.

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For her, red roses are classic with baby breath, especially when the roses are thick, but she adds: ''I have come to lean towards chrysanthemums because they last long and I love how tall they are."

Ms Kyalo adds, "It has always been the florist who has arranged the bouquet for me, but I am happy that I can now choose the bouquet and curate a mood in my home with flowers."

Julie Smith, director of Le Decanter, who loves cocktails and flowers, could not resist the fun experience of enjoying her two favourite things to do.

"I love flowers, they are very beautiful and you can choose them according to your mood. I like roses, although I find red a bit kitschy, I prefer more settled colours like white and pink,"she says.

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