Tamara Monaghan describes the joys and challenges of the job, and why she'll never replicate a past arrangement.
The woman behind Yas Hotel's floral designs
On each of the 20 tables in the lobby of the Yas Hotel, a single deep pink rose sits in a small, boat-shaped glass vase. Each is wrapped in a delicate piece of paper that matches the colour of the petals exactly, and tied by a dainty piece of wire. Each sits perfectly in its vase at exactly the same angle as the 19 others.
In the corner of the lobby, tall glass cylinders of gladioli, roses and Asiatic lilies in vivid pinks and purples create an eye-catching centrepiece on the white grand piano, while across the room, a row of six elegant white orchids leads the eye down the pristine white corridor to the lifts.
Admiring guests are having their photographs taken by the flamboyant display on the piano. Tamara Monaghan, the hotel's in-house floral designer, looks on. For her, this is job satisfaction. "I love it when I see people taking pleasure in what I make," she says. "It's the best part of the job."
Tamara, originally from Adelaide, Australia, has been working with flowers for 22 years (she began when she was 15), and has been with the hotel since it opened. Her job is to dress the lobby, walkways, six restaurants and numerous bars and lounges - in fact almost every corner of the vast hotel - in fresh floral arrangements.
Each display lasts just five or six days, ("You will never see a dead flower in this hotel," she promises), which means the pruning, primping and spraying is an almost ceaseless task. Yet there is nothing mass produced about her creations. Drawing inspiration from the hotel's remarkable architectural features and contemporary, minimalist interiors, Tamara says each design is unique, never the same as anything she has done previously or, she says, will replicate again.
Each display is also coordinated with its immediate environment (especially its backdrop), so the flowers can make the maximum visual impact and complement their surroundings. "You don't want to confuse the eye," she explains. "Often, a single flower can be more striking than something bigger."
She says the challenge of creating something from scratch, often with limited supplies and time (she sometimes is given just 48 hours notice to fill a room), is something she thrives on, that she would get bored making the same thing every day.
The limitation of flower varieties means that she relies heavily on decorative accessories such as coloured water, beads and pearls, and she gets inventive with greenery.
Another challenge of the job is obtaining a consistent, substantial supply of flowers, which come from Kenya, Ethiopia, Thailand or China, having first been sent to distribution companies in Holland. Not all of them survive the journey. "I can open up boxes of flowers and have to send them all back to my suppliers. Sometimes they're dead, or sometimes just the wrong colour completely. When I have a last-minute huge function to cater for, it can get stressful."
During the hot summer months, the varieties available to buy dwindles considerably. Tamara is usually left to work with orchids, roses and, surprisingly, carnations. Often regarded as the low-budget flower, they're actually very underrated, she says. "They are incredibly versatile and cheap to use, of course. There is an Australian variety called Moon series (in a light, dusky mauve), which I use a lot."
Can a flower go out of fashion? It seems so. "Phalaenopsis orchids are a little passé now. They're seen and used everywhere. Before that, it was roses." She adds that she cringes at the thought of the flowers she did for her own wedding 20 years ago. "There was a lot of ribbon," she grimaces. "I thought I knew everything about flower arranging, but after just two years of training you really don't."
As part of her daily tasks, Tamara, who has previously worked with Britain's top floral designer, Jane Packer, creates all the table decorations for the hotel's restaurants and private functions. Dressing a table, she explains, requires certain rules: don't make a display too high (so that it obscures the face of your guests) and consider any scent sensitivities. Lilies, for example, aren't liked by everyone, often because of the association their strong scent has with funerals. It's also better, she says, to stick to no more than three colours in a design. Any more and it could look too busy.
If you're looking to really impress your dinner guests, however, Tamara also makes arrangements to order. Call the hotel, give her a budget and she'll make something special just for you. It's a service also on offer to the hotel's guests.
After the success of a floral design class she held at the hotel earlier this year, Tamara is looking to offer classes regularly. The pleasures gleaned from being creative with flowers is something she is clearly passionate about, and eager to share. "When I'm feeling low, I make a bouquet and everything's all right with the world," she smiles.
After giving me a practical demonstration (she is an excellent teacher), she presents me with an armful of roses and orchids so I can make my own display. I do, and not only does it look great, but it's also far easier than anticipated. And, she's right: it's also very therapeutic.