SOUTHWEST HARBOR — Between them, Jennie Keene and Rhoda Burke have more than 75 years of experience working with flowers, which will give them an edge when it comes to creating the perfect Valentine’s Day bouquet.
Both got started in high school, training at well-established businesses and have continued primping petals, trimming thorns and designing arrangements ever since.
“There’s a lot of prep work involved,” explained Burke, who recently opened Burke’s Hollow Florist in the Seal Cove Shops. “Roses are definitely our top seller. We’ll have thousands go out the door that day.”
Burke’s Hollow is located at the former location of Westside Florist, which was owned by Gail Royal and was in business for three decades. Keene worked there for two of those decades.
Last Tuesday, orders needed to be filled and the cooler stocked for sales. Burke and Keene began each arrangement with a vase, an assorted bunch of flowers in a variety of colors and a few filler plants to round out the presentation.
Once they start, both Burke and Keene seem to go into a zone. Their fingers fly, using scissors to trim the stems and quickly, but gently, rearranging stems in the vase to insert more flowers until the piece looks complete.
“When it comes,” said Burke, referring to the creative process involved in floral design, “you’ve got to go with it.”
Burke, who is vice president of the Maine State Florist and Growers Association, began her business in Sedgwick as a seasonal shop catering to weddings and the year-end holidays with wreaths and natural arrangements, as well as flowers.
“We’ve been very steady,” said Burke about her new business. “The town definitely spoke out about wanting the florist here.”
Many former Westside Florist employees are scheduled to return to help with the Valentine’s Day rush.
Preparing roses for the holiday means removing thorns – lots of them.
“Everyone does them different,” said Keene. “I’ve always done it with a knife.”
Her favorite flower is a close competition between orange roses and daffodils.
“It’s always crazy,” said Keene of Valentine’s Day. “It’s fun. You look up and the place is full of men. Most of them asking, ‘am I too late?’”
Burke has vowed to give last-minute shoppers a bit of a break by staying open a couple of hours later, until 7 p.m., the Thursday before Valentine’s Day and on the holiday, which is Friday, Feb. 14.
“The bulk of our flowers will come in Tuesday or Wednesday,” said Burke, who favors lily of the valley. “We like to keep them as fresh as we can.”