Ian, let's not get into fancy specialized overpriced equipment. I started shooting fish with a hand-me-down Metz Mecablitz 100, graduated to a variety of Minolta flashes. Started shooting flowers and such with a pair of little Honeywells, $5.00 each on clearance. The Honeywells were good for no more than around 1,000 pops, I ran through four of 'em. These days I use little Minoltas and Vivitar 283s with VP-1s, all just go on and on and on. Cheap and cheerful, that's the ticket!
You're absolutely right, all of my flash rigs put the flashes quite close to the subject. This can make for very dark backgrounds, not always what one wants. When there is something in the background -- sometimes its pretty far away, as when shooting a tree's blossoms with the sky behind them -- and a properly-illuminated background is wanted, one needs a third flash just for the background. Yes, I have a small pile of slave triggers.