Some say he’s outrageous, others that he’s outspoken, but no matter where you land on the spectrum, one thing cannot be denied, Jason Edmonds is the life and bloom of the American flower business, and has been ever since 1997 when he put his roots down on US soil.
Edmonds, a third generation flower seller, learned his trade at the wholesale markets in the west midlands of England. Almost seventy years ago, his grandfather, Arthur Edmonds single-handedly changed the way fresh produce was marketed, primarily by importing fruit and vegetables from abroad when they were out of season in the UK. This resulted in his building one of the largest produce trading companies in the country. In the school holidays, young Edmonds would visit his granddad at the Birmingham market, and as he puts it, “be a real nuisance.” Before long the lure of the markets hooked him and there was little doubt they were going to play a big part in his life.
“Down the market,” is where Edmonds says he learned the ropes. Discipline, a work ethic, the art of the deal, grasping the banter were all prerequisites for a successful trader. He embraced them all, and in the pretty unforgiving environment of the market place he soon budded to become one of the leading sales people in the trade. Fruit, vegetables, fish and meat were all sold in bulk to traders from around the country; but none of these specialties, Edmonds would take up. It would be something far removed from the hard, back-breaking work of loading and unloading trucks at three o’ clock in the morning.
“Pulling a barrow for a fresh-cut flower dealer in Birmingham,” Edmonds says is how he got a lucky break as a teenager. This was still hard work, but instead of hauling huge, heavy carts of potatoes and onion nets, he moved flower boxes around. “At the time it just seemed like a promotion,” Edmonds chuckled. Whether is was their scent, exotic color, shape, size, or beauty, flowers soon had him in their thrall.
After several years of very early mornings and tons of coffee consumed, Edmonds started his own business, selling flowers. Like his father and grandfather before him, he did things a bit differently. He soon taught himself how to buy at the Dutch Auctions. In those days there were no high-speed computers or hi-tech gadgetry, so he had to fly to the Netherlands every week to buy flowers at the Alsmeer and Honselersdijk auctions. “I’d jump a plane to Holland on Monday afternoons,” he said, “grab a couple of hours in the sack, splash water in my face, and head to the auction at around two in the morning to decide what I was going to buy.” After repacking the flowers he’d purchased he made sure he got them safely on a truck bound for England. More often than not he arrived back in Birmingham before his flowers were delivered; within forty-eight hours of their arrival, all would be sold.
“I used to don outlandish outfits, the bow-tie being my sartorial piece de resistance,” Edmonds said. “I remember, when I walked into the trading halls, all the buyers shouting ‘Waiter !’ in unison.” Edmonds, far from being fazed by the taunting and teasing, absorbed it all, recycled it, and gave it back in spades to the delight of the crowd, who before long took him under their collective wing and elevated him to the status of ‘a real character.’
In 1997 Edmonds’s life in the flowers business took an unprecedented turn. After a trip to New York City, he became obsessed with the idea of one day selling his flowers there. “The decision to leave the life I loved behind was a tough one for me, but the draw of New York was so strong I decided to give in to it.”
On his arrival in the Big Apple, Edmonds started to pound the sidewalks in search of customers. Slowly but surely he got a few people to buy his blooms and before long he was selling to some of the city’s top designers, landmark hotels and high-end restaurants; he couldn’t believe it himself.
At one point Edmonds was contacted by a movie producer who was looking for a certain flower, lily-of-the-valley, which was out of season at the time. He recalls, “ I was able to track some down from a specialty grower in Holland and fill the order. I shipped them out to Los Angeles and it was then that my business really took off. I was shipping flowers here, there and everywhere, which felt more than just a little bizarre. But it did open my eyes as to what was possible here in the US.”
On one occasion, Edmonds’s travels in the flower trade took him to the west coast where he embedded himself with some of the world’s top growers, who were happy to sell to him. He was soon shipping flowers of the highest quality throughout the entire country.
Undaunted he continued his quest to locate the world’s finest blooms, his journey now taking him to Ecuador and Colombia. With multiple contacts at the top of the flower world to work with, Edmonds settled in Miami for a few years, plying his trade in the sunshine. But the magnet of New York continued to attract him, gently at first, but eventually he could not resist its pull and moved back to the Big Apple. That’s where you’ll find him today, working his floral magic. Once met never forgotten, Edmonds is a pleasure to work with, a chirpy character who will always put a smile on your face.