Mary and Mike Devereaux used to spend all of their holidays in France with their three children. They dreamed of a day when they might be able to spend more time in the country they had fallen in love with and in 2002 bought a holiday home in Deux Sevres. Four years later, they decided not to wait any longer and packed up their belongings in their home town of Birmingham in the UK and moved to live permanently in France.
Their home is in a small hamlet called La Grande Tranchée in the commune of Les Alleuds in Deux Sevres. Mary says “when we bought this house it had not been lived in for many years but fortunately it only needed a new kitchen and bathroom, the rest of the house just needed decorating”.
Most of their efforts went on sorting out the garden because Mary is a florist and loves to grow as many flowers and evergreen shrubs as she can. “We completely restocked the garden with flowers and shrubs and are lucky enough to have four rows of vines too. Each year we pick our grapes for making into wine and in 2013 our harvest was 111kg of red grapes which are now fermenting into wine and Pineau!” laughs Mary.
How hard is it to set up as a florist in France for an expat?
Mary advises “I buy most of my supplies from the flower wholesalers in Niort. It meant learning the French names for all the flowers I order but my wholesalers are very helpful as they know I am English and still learning the language”.
Mary had already completed a college course in flower arranging in Birmingham before moving to France. Even before making the permanent move she discussed her goals with the local Mayor and as a result has been handling all the flower arrangements for village celebrations for the past 10years – even if it meant arranging holidays around fetes!
“I’ve always thought of it as a way of giving something back to the villagers who had made us so welcome when we arrived here” says Mary. She tries to use themes for her floral arrangements, from a French flag, French painters, the seaside, the opera and even the market. “The local villagers ask ‘what is your theme this year’ but I always keep it a secret until the day.” Mary’s flower arrangements have become a talking point in the village and each year the Mayor asks if he can give the flowers to the ladies in the kitchen who have cooked for the villagers.
TOP TIP for expats in France wanting to start a business – Mayors have good networks and can really help to get a business off the ground, don’t be shy, go and see your Mayor and talk to them about your ideas and goals.
Mary and husband Mike attended a 5 day ‘stage’ training course in Limoges on starting up a new business. The course was run by the Niort Chambre de Metiers “it was compulsory to attend a course and obtain a certificate to start up in business” advises Mary. They chose to attend the English language course that the Chambre de Metiers runs in Limousin.
TOP TIP: Check with your Chambre de Metiers to find out if they hold English language courses if your French is not quite perfect.
Mike and Mary also visited their Chambre de Metier to discuss their plans and were assisted throughout the process and with necessary paperwork (of which, this being France, you can be sure there is plenty!). Mary gained further experience by working at the local markets with a flower stall. This allowed her to build up a good customer base of regulars “who use my floristry services to send bouquets to friends.” Mary also has clients in the UK who have family in France and they email her their orders for birthday or anniversary flowers.
Mary’s talents are proving popular in France and she has been featured in magazines and newspapers which has led to her becoming increasingly well known for her skills with wedding flowers. Mary has managed the bridal bouquets and floral displays for many French weddings, including the Mayor’s daughter in her village. Increasingly she is being sought out by overseas brides who arrange to marry or celebrate in France. “There is a difference between French bridal flowers and what a UK bride would choose” says Mary.
“French brides like bright colours and will sometimes require the (caleche) horse and trap which is used to carry them to their ceremony to be decorated with flowers. One French bride asked me to decorate her house and staircase with flowers, it looked very beautiful. The colour of the flowers for another French bride was bright orange and brown… so different from UK brides who usually ask for more subtle colours in their bouquets and will tend to follow trends such as vintage or get inspiration from programmes such as Downton Abbey.”
Mary works in the stone barn in her garden, renovated by husband Mike and where she has her workshop. Always the perfect temperature thanks to the thick walls, she designs and creates her beautiful displays, inspired by the view over the beautiful countryside of this very lush part of France.