It’s early on a Saturday morning. The city is quiet, peaceful.
A lone delivery van; a Citroen Berlingo, pulls up and the driver starts unloading trays of flowers. Beautiful colours and stunning arrangements combine to create a scene that could have been lifted from the pages of a Madeline storybook.
But this isn’t Paris, this is Melbourne and the driver is Richard Barassi of famed florist and styling house, Fleur.
For the past 20 years, Fleur has been a Melbourne institution for all things floral and fashionable. From simple weddings to entire Spring Racing Carnival marquees, there is nothing that cannot benefit from good taste and great flowers.
Like many businesses, the fantastic end product is the result of a lot of work behind the scenes, and a great deal of the work is logistics.
Richard, Fleur and the rest of the staff spend a huge amount of time on the move and are looking to add a second vehicle to the business to help with increasing workload. We joined the team for the weekend and brought along the 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel Citroen Berlingo LWB to help out.
“I’m on the road most of the day”, says Richard “so comfort and ease of driving are the most important features to me. The Berlingo is a bit smaller than our usual Mercedes van, but it feels like I’m driving a car. That said, I’m over six-foot and feel like there is lots of room in here – my head is nowhere near the roof.”
Pulling up in a loading zone, something Richard says he never gets tired of, we make our first delivery to a store in Melbourne’s new Emporium centre. Then it is a quick dash down a narrow laneway into an underground loading bay to deliver the rest of the cargo. “Fleur and the girls will come here later on for the full setup and styling, so I just need to make sure the flowers and arrangements are here”, says Richard.
We negotiate a maze of racks and palettes and make for the exit ramp. “The Citroen isn’t too bad in these tight spaces, it turns easily and I can see through both the back window and mirrors really well… but I would really like a camera or at least reverse beepers as there are often pots and crates around that may or may not have been run over in the past.” He cracks a knowing smile. The jokes continue thick and fast from here on in.
Returning to the florist shop, on Rose St no less, we take on another load; this time for a wedding in nearby Elsternwick.
“There is quite a lot of room back here” Richard states as he carefully loads the colourful table settings, “and being able to load and unload from both sides is so handy. We don’t often get a choice about where we park so the flexibility is great.”
We head back out onto the road and hit some busy traffic. Both Fleur’s Mercedes-Benz Vito and Richard’s own Volkswagen Golf are both automatic, but getting used to the manual Berlingo comes back very quickly “like riding a bike”, says Richard. “It’s actually really light, I forgot it was manual for a while there.”
“I’ve always liked the look of French cars, but never actually driven one before”, Richard says as we near our destination, “the layout of controls is a bit different, and I’ll admit it took a bit of getting used to this morning, but I feel right at home now. I love the stereo controls on the steering wheel though – I know it’s not a new thing, but I’ve not had it before and I can be pretty fickle with my music” he laughs. “Also I will say I am disappointed it doesn’t have a croissant holder”.
Arriving at the venue, a beautiful historic home turned reception centre, we park on the paved driveway and unload the Berlingo.
Five or six careful trips later, the Citroen is empty and we again head back to Armadale for the next job.
“It’s like this every day”, says Richard “so you can see why comfort is so important!”
“The current van gets hot in summer and cold in winter as there is nothing behind your seats but the load area, and because we are always stopping and opening the doors, the air conditioner never gets a chance to make the car comfortable. The setup here, even with the simple barrier, is great. It’s so quiet and we’re already nice and warm and we’ve been driving only a few minutes.”
We make good time back to the shop as Richard has a chance to enjoy the peppy turbo-diesel engine, “much more fun than the van”, he says with a grin.
Stopping for a brief cup of tea back at Fleurs, Richard reflects on the morning’s running around. “If it was automatic, the girls would have run off in it and not given it back. It’s very easy to jump into and just go, but I’m the only one comfortable with a manual and I can’t always be in two places at once.”
“If I could choose anything” Richard says between sips, “I think I’d have the new Jaguar. You can’t fit many flowers in the back, but I don’t think I’d mind”.
Richard’s tank full, he and the Berlingo head to a party in Toorak with another colourful load.
When I return to collect the Citroen on Monday, the traces of a busy weekend are still in the back; a couple of left over crates, some stray leaves and petals, and a pleasant fresh smell.
Richard is out in the van and Fleur said he was a bit sad to leave the little Citroen behind. “I think they became friends” she says with a laugh.
Will it join the team?
Time will tell but I dare say the lack of an automatic transmission may be a deal breaker here. A shame as the Berlingo ticked all the other boxes.