A Life reInspired:
“I quickly learned that the faster I respected how some stems were determined to curve against my original vision, the sooner nature and I could work together to create beauty… There, strewn along with the botanical debris across my dining table, lay any preconceived notions of where the pandemic would take me. There, with the scrappy beginnings of Friday’s Garden, I came back to life.”
Clare:Hi there, my name is Clare Lee, and I am a single mother of two, Aeryn (10) and Andrew (7), and our Singapore special, Lucy, who was rescued from a cement factory as a pup four years ago.
I am an elder millennial (circa ’83). Born and bred in Singapore, but quite honestly, I have never really felt like I fit into this structured/manicured local system. Later in life, I was told that all my incessant doodling and scribbling of poems and stories that got me penalised as a child and labelled “rebellious” in school, was classic ADHD. This is something I’m still learning to manage in some scenarios to this day, but has served as a wonderful creative asset for most of my professional life, teaching me deeper empathy on a personal level.
I founded Friday’s Garden in 2021, as a positive space to bring communities together through nature as a love language in unexpected and joyful ways. Not just a physical space per se (although our cosy botanical studio in Sin Ming where we host regular open houses and workshops has become beloved by clients), but an emotional space where values like inclusion, gratitude and having an explorer’s spirit, are given a unique voice using seasonal blooms. No design is repeated to honour the beauty of ever-evolving relationships.
Clare: I’ve always felt that my purpose in life was to help people find common ground and connection through storytelling. From freelancing as a DJ on local radio to becoming a copywriter and later creative director in the branding industry, then choosing the life of an artist before starting Friday’s Garden, storytelling has been the common thread that ties every different medium I’ve harnessed for creative expression over the past 20 years.
I was settling into life as an artist — working on small but steady digital and acrylic paint projects — when Covid pulled the rug from under me. When the lockdown hit, I lost access to my art studio (art was not deemed an “essential service”). My anxiety peaked, and I was trapped in depressive spirals until I learned that fresh-cut flowers could be delivered to my home.
My wallet learned the hard way, though, that flowers are more costly than paint. Times were already tough with the pandemic affecting commissions. Then I remembered these words from Amanda Palmer: “It’s hard enough to give fearlessly, and it’s even harder to receive fearlessly. But within that exchange lies the hardest thing of all: to ask without shame. And to accept the help that people offer. Not to force them. Just to let them.”
So I gathered my courage and did a post on Instagram saying that I would send my designs to whoever was willing to cover basic expenses for materials and journey with my experiments as I taught myself floristry. Five amazing people said “Yes”, and that was all it took to kickstart this crazy flower-fuelled ride!
Their faith and my passion has since led to Friday’s Garden’s work being on display at the Gardens by the Bay Flower Dome, styling sets with internationally renowned Forbes 30-under-30 photographer Zhang Jingna, working with clients like Porsche, Chanel and Asaru, editorials like Tatler, Elle, Bagaholicboy where we partner with their fashion stylists to create spreads for Hermés, Louis Vuitton, Balenciaga, Gucci, Christian Dior, etc, and of course, the milestone moment when reBynd brought our botanical creations all the way to New York City as part of their visual merchandising.
Never in my dreams did I think our work would head overseas in our first year. I couldn’t be more thankful.
Clare: I never expected to become a botanical designer. Floristry never crossed my mind growing up, but now I can’t imagine life any other way. I didn’t realise I could experience such pure and unfiltered joy at work until I started Friday’s Garden. I’m smiling now just thinking about the blooms we have in the studio.
I had my fears when starting out. Changing one’s industry in your late 30s is never regarded as the “safe choice”. Imposter syndrome was very real as I had no professional floristry training. Then there were the practical pressures of providing for my kids and dipping into my savings to make ends meet in the first year.
In the past, I’d have probably let my insecurities get the better of me. But I chose to focus on what made me happy. Seeing the beautiful blooms light up our client’s faces, learning about new species and hybrids every day, working with our fabulous team to transform barren spaces into lush gardens, I can’t get enough.
That’s because it’s impossible to feel down if you think about how flowers are the beautiful combination of the miracle of sunshine meeting earth and the growers’ diligence, respect and care. Months go into specially cultivating and harvesting the blooms for designers to use our imagination and skills to connect humans with each other and, ultimately, make each recipient feel seen and inspired.
Every step of the process is one of love. That’s what keeps me going. It’s a privilege to do what we do and I treasure the trust that our clients award us.
Clare: Balancing the business aspect with the artist in me. The artist in me wants to be the botanical renegade — let’s flower bomb all the things! — but at the same time, I need to make ends meet to feed my kids and support my team.
Number crunching and administrative duties have always been my kryptonite, especially challenging given my ADHD. However, I’ve learned that as long as you stay humble and honest, people will give you the opportunities to learn from your mistakes… and learn you must!
By forgiving myself, I’ve found that I actually learn faster and move on more positively to better solutions.
What has been the best thing about this new beginning, or “second life”?
Clare: I spent way too many years punishing myself disproportionately for mistakes, and when I founded Friday’s Garden, I chose the name very deliberately, to always remind myself that in a garden, different blooms grow at their own pace; resolution and success cannot be rushed.
One of the most important lessons I’ve learned from the blooms is that in life, external elements may be harsh, but that’s beyond our control. Everything in our DNA, just like plants, are designed to grow and thrive.
In the long run, deeper roots that sustain come from being patient and kind to yourself, and giving the same respect to others.
You are made to be beautiful. Trust that growth will happen naturally as long as you allow yourself to bend with the rain, and remember to always seek out the light.
Clare: Without a doubt, our incredible Friday’s Garden family. Clients, suppliers, growers, and of course, our team.
Our diverse motley crew at Friday’s Garden ranges across all ages, backgrounds — small but significant — growing from strangers to steadfast allies in a season. They have stood by Friday’s and my family from lean beginnings to each new and exciting chapter as we continue to root for each other and grow together. It was a daunting task at first, leading those with more industry experience than I had (and it wasn’t without teething issues), but I am thankful everyone had the grace to resolve hiccups together, and that they believe in my vision and our shared love for art and community.
To journey with our clients through their milestones, big or small, and be entrusted to convey their loveliest thoughts and generous intentions, is an incredibly human experience and one I’m very grateful for.
We truly have the best mix of inspirational souls that disprove any generalised theory that Singaporeans are straight-laced clones — far from it! Our vibrant Friday’s Garden community features remarkable individuals from wildlife activists to veteran thespians, passionate entrepreneurs, devoted teachers, capable SAHMs, lawyers who do pro bono cases for the underprivileged, chefs, thought leaders, athletes, singers and every wonderful being in-between who enriches our days by choosing the path less travelled.
As we carve out new concepts for the second half of 2023, I am also excited to meet new partners who are just as committed to bringing nature into the conversation of how people can better connect. We look forward to encouraging more folks to explore unorthodox perspectives of beauty and to deeper appreciate the value of botanical art.
If you could turn back time, knowing what you know now, would you make this choice — a different life/career — all over again?
Clare: Absolutely! One thing I am sure of is that time is in abundance, as long as you don’t waste it on regrets. I don’t think I’d change anything in my past, no matter how much it hurt or tested me. I can say this confidently because I’m truly loving life right now, bumps, blisters and all.
I’m more interested in how I can better share my time, instead of trying to turn back the clock. To be more appreciative of those who have rallied around me, to continue to welcome new ideas and nurture fresh talent, to share time in a way that inspires others to also pluck up the courage to move ahead from the past with eyes firmly squared on the fuzzy horizon.
Clare: At Friday’s Garden, we try to minimise material wastage by doing away with excessive wrapping for our a la carte arrangements. We use a honeycomb wrap that provides the same protection across surface area while reducing the amount of actual paper used, because of its ingenious die-cut cells that interlock/expand when stretched. It’s also recyclable and biodegradable, eco-friendly qualities our kraft gift bags also share. Our business cards and postcards are made with a high-quality Maple White paper which is FSC® certified, acid-free and fully recyclable and biodegradable.
We don’t use floral foam for our a la carte arrangements, and we also skip using cotton or tissue for our wet wraps in bouquets, again to reduce unnecessary material wastage. As for the plastic wrap to keep stems hydrated, we have even explored possible biodegradable materials including “plastic” made of tapioca flour, but so far no solution we can afford has worked out to safely contain water over an extended period. We will keep striving to be eco-responsible where we can, and aim to introduce a compost bin in the studio soon.
Paying it forward, we do try to use every part of the bloom, where the smaller shoots/buds are cut to be used in pocket posies for gifting to third-party couriers as a thank you for getting our arrangements safely to clients, and we dry/press any remaining stock for more creative projects.
Our studio in Midview City is also styled with second-hand furniture I have collected over the years, from our Victoria Concert Hall circle seats, to a vintage sideboard from East Java, we believe in restoring good quality furniture instead of simply replacing them with new spoils.
Clare: The notebook! How wonderful that paper can be created from leather scraps, each page a precious incubator for new ideas and words worth keeping. I’d love to experiment with flower pressings in it and also keep it close to sketch and scribble in new observations and anything that may spark a story.
What’s your current favourite word beginning with “re”?
Clare: My favourite word beginning with “re” would have to be resonance.
Resonance is an empowering concept that adds so much dimension to human life — found only when you choose to unlock your true self and infuse authenticity into every aspect of your being.
At Friday’s Garden, resonance means designing one-of-a-kind omakase arrangements that embrace the recipients’ identity wholeheartedly, just as our clients trust us completely with our self-expression and creative voice. Resonance allows us as creative artists to push the boundaries in style and silhouette to evoke emotions that leave a lasting impact long after the final bloom in the arrangement transitions.
Just as we bring blooms harvested from different countries and time zones together to form a harmonious piece, we hope that our work resonates across joy, solace, grief and gratitude in fostering human connections that transcend boundaries.
Photography by Hosanna Swee
Shoot location at Friday’s Garden studio