Our story

“Flowers are the smile of our soul, the magic of life and the ultimate reminder of our connection with the earth.”

Anja Van Goor co-established Flowers of the World in 1984. Since then, floral design has been more than just her business; it’s her life. This unbridled dedication is what her many loyal customers keep returning for.

Here, Anja – floral artist and author – tells her inspiring story:

The most liberating realisation in my life has been the understanding that the earth is the love of my life. A lifelong love affair with flowers has taught me the ability to communicate emotions with, and through flowers.

To inspire others to appreciate and experience the beauty that mother earth has on show every day is my mission and my passion. I often comment that “I feel like a missionary in flowers”.

It all started as a child in the Netherlands, where Grandfather worked a small plot of land after retiring as the head gardener at a castle. I often had to walk to his land after school to dig potatoes and pick beans for the evening meal. All alone in this seemingly huge garden I initially felt scared, but marvel of the giant dahlias, marigolds, sweet peas, sunflowers, nasturtiums or other seasonal flowers would eliminate any fear.

This ability to transform challenging situations into excitement and joy has become the magic power during my florist career.

My parents moved the family and their interior design business to the shop where the village florist used to be. Before long it became my daily routine to hang around the newly opened florist across the road. The girls working there would make a cup of tea after school and soon I was involved in the running of the shop.

“Can you tell the customer I am coming?”,
“Can you put these flowers in water?”,
“Can you answer the phone?”
were requests that triggered the learning of floristry by osmosis.

I was paid 25 cents for delivering flowers on my pushbike – my first experience of what it was like to make people happy and earn at the same time. When I finished high school, it was just assumed I was destined to become a florist, and at 16, the day after finishing school, I officially started my career as a florist.

A three-year course at the Horticulture School of Floral Art was the next step to master the art of floristry.

“Over the years I learned that the language of flowers is understood in many cultures and flowers smile the same in every language. Flowers truly are the smile of the earth.”

In 1984 my then husband and I moved to Brisbane, Australia, and we established Flowers of the World.

The flower industry, cultural habits and the appreciation of nature and flowers were vastly different from what I was used to in the Netherlands. In the Dutch culture, flowers are an integral part of everyday life. In our early years in Australia, and Queensland in particular, it was not common to buy flowers for the house or to take flowers for the hostess of a dinner party.Flowers were just for special occasions.

With the arrival of people from different cultural backgrounds and the more frequent overseas travel of Australians, we have seen an enormous change in the culture of flower buying. I have been intrigued by the flower-buying habits of people with different cultural backgrounds, and it has become one of our specialities to understand the flower needs dictated by people’s cultural heritage.

“I realised that the florist is for many people the last link with nature and the ultimate purpose of flower buying is to keep people connected with nature.”

My most challenging learning experience must have been in 1998 when I became desperately unwell, and after seeing many different specialists was lucky to find a holistic practitioner. He asked, “Is someone feeding you poison?” I remarked, “I am a florist, does that help?” The floriculture industry was using indiscriminately mixed chemicals without a duty of care to inform the people working with the flowers what they were handling. I am one of the lucky ones who lived to tell the tale, but it took four years to recover and feel fully human again. During this time I asked myself, “What is the purpose of floristry if it harms the florist?” I started to campaign to reduce the use of harmful chemicals in the industry. The growers remarked that they were surprised the florists had not complained much earlier!

“I realised that the florist is for many people the last link with nature and the ultimate purpose of flower buying is to keep people connected with nature.”

If florists are the last link with nature and this link is polluted, how much hope is there for us to remember that the earth underpins our communities and our economies? “Stop and smell the roses” means to be conscious of the importance of nature and our belonging in the cycle of life. Earth to earth, dust to dust – how hard is it to understand that we are all part of the earth and that our wellbeing depends on the wellbeing of the earth?

When I went back to practise as a florist, my whole understanding and approach had changed. I was going to practise with a purpose and a passion to promote the notion: “Nature can live without people, can people live without nature?”

Wherever we can, we now apply sustainable practices in our business. We handle only local or Australian grown flowers; we work with the growers to reduce the use of chemicals; we encourage the recycling of containers; minimise the use of plastic foam; we use only natural cleaning agents; we sell cards printed with vegetable ink on recycled paper. Our shop is designed to be a safe space, where on entering one immediately perceives a sense of wellbeing. Because we run an organic café alongside the flower studio, the space has become a community meeting place.

I honestly can say that I am now grateful for the experience, because I have learned so much. Is it not always said that adversity creates the best opportunity!

_Know your flower – Know yourself_is a book I produced as a result of my learning. The way your favourite flower relates to other blooms can mirror how you as a person relate to other people. Once you allow this seed to be planted and search for your bloom, you can achieve unexpected personal growth, consequently leading to the path for a happier, less stressed lifestyle. Flowers as a tool for self-development is non-confronting and the most gentle way to achieve a greater appreciation of other people and the environment.

My next learning project was presented to me by my cousin. She sent an email asking what I thought of the name for her new reiki group. TULIP – Total Unconditional Love In Practice. I thought it was very suitable and a brilliant name, and her idea planted the seed for a new appreciation for the language of flowers and ultimately language in general. It was the start of re-inventing LEXIGRAPHY – allowing the letters of each name to dictate the essence of each flower.

TULIP is one of the amazing examples: Total Universal Love Is Peace
CACTI: Careful Approach Can’t Tolerate Intimacy
IRIS: Inner Respect Is Strength
These are just a few examples which resonate with these flowers so well.
The book All Nature’s Joyful Answers was published as a result.

After experimenting with flower names, I started to define the essence of a word by using its own letters to dictate a universal truth, or common understanding. Creating the book _Word Lexigraphy_has changed my thinking and enriched my perception of language and communication in a way I would not have imagined possible.

The word Soul was one of the first words.
SOUL: Someone’s Original Universal Link

“Flowers are food for the soul – of course they keep us connected; they are that ultimate link to the natural world.”

The next word was HATE: Harbouring Anger Takes Energy
To understand the word in this manner it is possible to defuse and eliminate anger immediately.
HOPE is another word that can change someone’s perception instantly.
HOPE: Having optimistic Positive Expectations

CRIME is another one of those profound words: Cancelling Respect Is Men’s Enemy
My thoughts always take the same path when I see this word. “Cancelling respect for the earth and life itself is our biggest enemy”.

Comprehending the language of flowers has ultimately enriched my grasp of the spoken word; it has helped to balance all of my senses. I often remark that when one achieves a balance of all their five senses, the sixth sense can be opened, allowing a much greater awareness, experiencing life at a level that is truly remarkable.

The most important lesson I learned as a child was to eliminate fear and anxiety and transform negative emotions into marvellous learning experiences. It has helped me to ultimately achieve that and lead me to the understanding: “The earth is the love of my life”.