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Tory Lakey at Sue Bridgeman flowers.

For four years, Wood River Valley native Tory Lakey has been helping her clients brighten their days, celebrate the big events in their lives, and, at times, help them say goodbye to the dearly departed.

As a professional floral designer at Sue Bridgman Florist in Ketchum, Lakey employs the art of assembling a small piece of mother nature to express feelings.

“My job is emotional and it has a lot to do with communicating with our customers,” said Lakey. “We are not just playing with flowers and skipping through the fields like some people think.”

Many of her upscale clients call for new arrangements in their homes every week.

“These high end clients allow us to get more high end flowers. This also allows us to be more artistic,” she said.

Lakey, 29, attended Wood River High School and moved to Missoula, Mont., and then Miami before returning home. Along the way, she discovered that she is not a city girl and that she likes the seasons.

“I also like being close to my family,” Lakey said.

Going to college was never a passion for Lakey, she said, but she accepted an offer from her employer to go to Portland for two weeks to learn how to be a florist. There, she learned how to properly care for flowers that come from all around the world, plus the colloquial terms for them. (A phalaenopsis orchid, for example, is typically called a “sale,” she said.)

Lakey also learned the terms for the many colors and textures of flowers and plants as well as the innate visual and symbolic vocabulary that cause people to like flower arrangements of specific kinds. She said a “funeral spray,” sent to the bereaved, should include a five-point “hand of god” design on the arrangement.

“It will make sense to the eye,” Lakey said.

Certain times of year the flower shop gets branches of cherry blossoms, peach blossoms, tulips, magnolias or forsythias.

“Every flower has a season,” Lakey said. “Peonies are a favorite around here, but they’re not available until spring. But then we get some things from Israel or Holland when you would not expect them.”

As Valentine’s Day approaches, Lakey said there are things people should know about roses.

“A garden rose has more scent and more petals on its little head. So they cost more,” Lakey said. “If you are going to get regular roses, say a dozen roses, make sure there is a large centimeter head size so they look right.”

Lakey said she gives a lot of credit to the store’s flower buyer Denise Tremble, who lives in Boise, but spends four days a week living and working in Ketchum.

“Flowers are living things,” she said. “They have been bringing joy with something bright and smelling nice to many people during the pandemic. They are good for people.”

Flowers are also big business and florists also have to keep up with the times. Sue Bridgeman Florist is known for using more stickwork in its arrangements, branches and wooden elements that reflect the local mountain forest environment, Lakey said.

“There are many styles for weddings,” Lakey said. “Brides know that whites and blushes are big lately. There have been a lot of elopements lately, but even then, we try to make it personal and order what a bride envisions.”

So what does a professional florist prefer personally?

“My favorite is the anemone flower,” Lakey said. “It is understated, but I love it.”

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