THE FLOWER ENGINEER

Man in a Suit: Andreas Verheijen, a florist from Holland, goes to market in London

From INTELLIGENT LIFE magazine, March/April 2013

THE MAN
Andreas Verheijen has fingers greener than grass. He is a master florist—what he calls "a flower engineer"—and a horticulturalist. As a boy, he would help his father, a carpenter, construct floats for a famous flower parade in his Dutch home of Zundert. But as a teenager, he was more drawn towards the stage. "It’s a bit of a Billy Elliot story," he says. "I really wanted to be a dancer but my parents didn’t agree, so I danced in secret." When they eventually discovered, the dancing stopped, and he turned to horticulture.

That was more than 30 years ago, and ever since Verheijen has worked with flowers: whether teaching floristry, running his own shop in Wiltshire, or working as part of the floral-design team at Harrods. These days he freelances, focusing mainly on decorating events—weddings, private parties, corporate bashes—with the floral fruits of his and his clients’ imaginations. The results are dramatic and decadent. A suspended "nest" of deer antlers is thick with autumnal foliage; nipped-in vases spray a ten-foot firework of stems heavy with crunchy-looking crimson berries; the pillars of an English country church are lagged with spring greens and huge white hydrangea heads. "Flowers", he says, "set the atmosphere."

Part of Verheijen’s skill is refining his clients’ visions. It’s lucky, then, that he has an art degree alongside his qualifications in floristry—and, too, that his quiet demeanour commands attention. His looks are steely, with closely cropped hair and a frosting of stubble. Yet he is poised and considerate, with a gentle manner that belies the boldness of many of his designs.

Over the years, Verheijen has seen flower-farming become big business, with genetic tinkering the norm. "Breeders will design flowers for specific markets—a white chrysanthemum for the Russians, say." In response, the florist does some of his own tinkering. Instead of simply arranging flowers in the usual sense, sometimes he picks apart individual blooms then stitches them back together in sculptural combinations more extreme than anything that could be bred in a lab. Past hybrids have included a gourd that twists itself into tendrils capped by a red bud of amaryllis, and a paeony-like cup of yellow petals that flicks out an umbelliferous tongue of wild carrot. Though built from vegetable, these creations have a touch of the animal. But he doesn’t intend them to reproduce—"the idea of them", Verheijen says, "is simply to inspire."

THE SUIT
Verheijen’s floristry is vividly, almost violently colourful—so how did he feel about this muted khaki cotton suit and quietly floral shirt? "I really love it," he says. "As I’ve got older I deliberately dress in quieter colours, so this is great. And the white belt makes it feel very summery." Would his fellow countrymen approve, though? No. "The Dutch don’t have enough tradition of dressing up," he says. "We’re too casual, too laidback." ~ Georgia Grimond

THE DETAILS
Green suit jacket, £325, and matching trousers, £165, both by Agnès B; floral printed shirt, £90, by Ted Baker; white leather belt, £110, by Michael Kors; grey leather "Kremer" shoes, £125, by Camper; customised Rolex GMT-Master II with black strap and green dial, £10,500, by Bamford Watch Department

STOCKISTS agnesb.com bamfordwatchdepartment.com camper.com michaelkors.com tedbaker.com

Photographer ALEX LAKE

Stylist CRYSTAL McCLORY Stylist’s assistant Charlene Sandy
With thanks to Dennis Edwards Flowers and New Covent Garden Flower Market, London SW8

Georgia Grimond is letters editor of Intelligent Life.