I try to employ eco-friendly practices when creating floral designs.  But what does that mean?  You might think that the very act of arranging flowers would be considered “green,” or eco-friendly.  But there are many elements of the floral industry to consider if you want to feel good about creating beauty with the treasures of nature you’re bringing into your home.

Today, we have an abundance of choice at our fingertips.  From the tiniest of flowers like lily of the valley and delicate white stephanotis, to dinner plate-sized dahlias the color of sunsets, and huge garden roses that resemble peonies, the diversity and array in the floral kingdom are literally endless.  Exotics and tropical flowers and foliage are readily available. We can get orchids, carnations, mums and lilies anytime of the year.   The choices are downright dizzying.

The floral choices at our fingertips are endless

You might pick up a store bought bouquet and have no idea where your flowers came from:  in fact, 60% of the flowers sold in the U.S were actually grown outside of the U.S.  Transporting flowers from Holland or Ecuador requires not only the jet fuel to travel, but also a great deal of packaging to protect your glorious buds and blooms.

60% of the flowers sold in the U.S were actually grown outside of the U.S

On top of that, these flowers may have been grown in a country where regulations on the use of various pesticides are looser than ours in the U.S.; where workers are exposed to harmful chemicals, as are the many people who handle the flowers as they make their long journey from grower to auction house to wholesaler to retailer to you.  Additionally, the flowers themselves may be out of season, difficult to grow, and require energy-draining practices to force them into bloom.

Don’t be dismayed, because they are many ways to avoid these imported, chemical-saturated blooms, and practice eco-friendly floral design.  First, consider what’s in your yard or garden.  If there’s not much there, and you have the space, start your own cutting garden. Seeds are cheap!  Companies like Seedsavers in Decorah, Iowa, offer organic, non-GMO heirloom varieties of a great number of flowers great for home arranging.  There are many seed companies with excellent cut flower choices for the home grower.  This year I started a cutting garden and I plan to grow even more this year!

Grow your own flowers from seed using companies like Seedsavers Exchange
Simple design I created using hydrangea from yard and Queen Anne’s lace grown from seed

If you must purchase cut flowers, try to source them from local growers who practice sustainable growing methods.  If you’re in the Philly area, check out Love n Fresh Flowers, run by Jennie Love Also check out Kate Sparks of Lilies and Lavender. Local florists like falls flowers run green businesses, where they source as many locally grown flowers as possible, and recycle just about every scrap of anything used in the store.  These are just a few of my eco heroes.

Country bouquet I designed using flowers grown by Jennie Love, in NW Philly

If you buy cut flowers from your local grocery store, inquire as to their origin, and seek out stores who sell sustainably grown cut flowers such as Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s.  Additionally, try to buy cut flowers that are in season.

Whole Foods sells locally grown seasonal blooms

When arranging flowers, I try to avoid using floral foam – it’s not biodegradable and contains formaldehyde which can cause health issues over time.  Instead, use fresh clean water and sustainable floral mechanics like branches to hold up your stems.

Use branches to hold stems upright instead of floral foam – design I created at Longwood under the guidance of instructor Jane Godshalk (branches used in this fashion was her idea)
Bunch up curly willow and put it into your container, then add floral stems

Other ‘green’ mechanics that can support floral materials include the use of sand, or fashioning a grid made from tape that’s affixed to the top of your container.  I had fun cutting up lemons and using them in the design below – they not only provide a place for stems but also acts as a decorative element when viewed through glass containers.

Use colorful fruits to hold stems upright

There are many other floral design techniques which can be considered eco-friendly – such as using less material, a principle that is found throughout many schools of Ikebana.  For example, it’s easy to create unique arrangements by grouping smaller vases together and only using one or two stems in each.  Or, it can make quite a powerful design statement to see one or two bold sunflower stems in a clean glass vase.

glass test tubes filled with spring stems
Peicha of falls flowers uses many small containers in this unique centerpiece design
Green Tip: use many small bottles with one bloom each for impact

And finally, when your flowers have faded, be sure to compost them!

Design using spring shrub blooms

be a good sport – creating floral awards

Have you ever imagined the Greek athletes, crowned victorious with laurel wreaths at the ancient Olympic games?  Or wondered why the sprig of laurel has come to symbolize victory, and is imprinted on modern Olympic medals?

Apollo wearing laurel wreath

There is a story behind the laurel wreath – and of course it’s somewhat torrid and involves various Greek deities.  In order to prove his arrows were as powerful as those of Apollos, Eros shot Apollo in the heart with a gold tipped arrow, forcing him to fall in love with a nymph named Daphne, who was also shot by Eros – using a lead-tipped arrow.  The leaden arrow turned her against Apollo, and all men in fact, making her prefer hanging out in forests alone.  Apollo pursued Daphne unrequited, his love all-consuming.  Even in her flight from him she was alluring.  Eventually he gained on her and her strength failed, at which point she begged her father to save her, which he did by turning her into a laurel tree.

sculpture by Gian Lorenzo Bernini – Apollo e Dafne: Apollo chases Daphne and she turns into a laurel tree.

“Since you cannot be my wife,” said he, “you shall assuredly be my tree. I will wear you for my crown; I will decorate with you my harp and my quiver; and when the great Roman conquerors lead up the triumphal pomp to the Capitol, you shall be woven into wreaths for their brows. And, as eternal youth is mine, you also shall be always green, and your leaf know no decay.” The nymph, now changed into a Laurel tree, bowed its head in grateful acknowledgment.

Ross Smith of CSU, first place M-21 North American winner of the Long Distance at North American Orienteering Championships, wearing a head wreath I created from bay laurel and eryngium

The laurel was part of my inspiration as I created the victors head wreaths and other floral awards at the illustrious North American Orienteering Championships this past October.  Laurus nobilis, also known as Sweet Bay or Bay Laurel, is not only used for victory crowns, it’s an herb commonly dried and used in soups – bay leaf.  When fresh, if you crush or rub the leaves, a sweet scent is released.  That is the sweet smell of victory, of course.

Ali Crocker, of CSU, first place North American F-21 winner of the Long Distance at the North American Orienteering Championships – at dinner, she’s still wearing her crown! (iPhone pic – sorry not great)

Here is superstar Ali Crocker again, wearing a wreath bedecked with seeded eucalyptus, spray roses, and waxflower. She was the first place North American F-21 winner of the Middle Distance at NAOC.

Sandy Fillebrown of DVOA, the astoundingly amazing event director at NAOC, offered me this floral opportunity – which I’m proud to say was roots to blooms very first ‘outside of the family’ commission.

My car filled with flowers at the lakehouse we rented. It was a pleasure to do floral design surrounded by such incredible beauty.

Because the sport of orienteering is a family tradition, and something I’ve just started doing in earnest this year, I was doubly excited for this floral challenge! My worlds were colliding.  In fact, not only was I creating these awards, I was competing at this event – run in the morning, award ceremonies in the afternoon, make more floral awards at night!

Orienteering Control at NAOC’s Model Event

Orienteering is a sport that requires speed and smarts – using a map and compass, you must navigate through unknown terrain to find the points on the map that correspond with orange and white flags in the woods.  It’s a timed event, and you compete against others in your age category.  NAOC is basically the top event in North America, so these floral awards were going to the top 3 athletes in the male and female age 21 category for 3 days of races. (That’s 18 awards for me to create.) First place awards were floral head wreaths.  For second place awards, I created neck garlands like leis, and third place got a handheld bouquet.

Top 3 male finishers at NAOC in M-21 category on Sprint Day – Ross Smith (CSU) Andrew Childs (GMOC), and Eric Kemp (OOC)

My work area at the lakehouse – on a dropcloth

I made the bouquets first, since these could be in water right up until they were given out.  I used bay laurel, spray roses, eryngium, miscanthus from my parent’s house, euphorbia from my garden, italian ruscus, goldenrod, sunflower, hypericum berry, ‘garnet king’ mums, ‘bronze cushion’ pom pons, ‘purple bride’ kale, and craspedia.

3rd place awards – bouquets

Louise Oram (GVOC) holds her 3rd place award for the Long Distance at NAOC.

Bouquets were wrapped with twine – photo by Julie Keim

Each night, I made the neck garlands for the next day’s awards. The neck garlands were really a blast to make.  Essentially you are just stringing carnations together – and I wouldn’t use any other flower because the carnation is the toughest and has a big huge calyx – the green base of the flower that connects with the stem.

Serghei Logvin (GHO) North American M-21 2nd place winner of the Long Distance at NAOC. He is rocking his neck garland by roots to blooms!

1- Measure out a length of string or yarn (I used yarn because that’s what I had and it’s comfy on the neck.) The length is to your liking.

2- Cut carnations right down to the calyx.  I used 26 carnations per garland.

3- Set out a design you like on the table in the intended shape.

4- Thread an embroidery needle with your length of yarn.  Pierce the first carnation from the bud to the calyx end, moving the carnation down your piece of yarn.  I continued through all 26 carnations this way – from bud to calyx – but if you wanted the flowers to be facing upward on both sides of the chain when worn, you would split your flowers in half, and pierce the second half from calyx to head.  This is a bit more difficult to physically do.  I tried it both ways and ended up liking the look of the flowers all going in the same direction, which means that when you wear it, one side starts with the calyx side up, and one side starts with blooms side up.

Samantha Saeger (NEOC) and Ken Walker Jr (CSU,) second place North American F and M 21 winners of the Middle Distance at NAOC.

When the neck garlands were complete, I put slipped them into cellophane bags and stored them in the fridge overnight.  Once out of the fridge, I think they lasted for a few days.  The same goes for the head wreaths.

Floral awards were sealed in cellophane, and stored in the fridge

Head wreath detail, photo by Julie Keim

Creating a head wreath is not a difficult process, but it requires patience and dexterity.  There are a few ways to do it, and some I previously blogged, but I found the best way (and most comfortable to wear) to be the following:

1- Measure out a length of bind wire to the size of a small head – about 21″ or 22″.  Be sure to leave a few inches on either side, fashioning these into loops. (So total length 23-25″)

2 – Take your base material (foliage like laurel, seeded eucalyptus, ruscus, etc) and lay it against the bind wire.  Using floral tape, tape the stems of the foliage onto the wire.  Continue taping the stem, around leaves.

3- Add more foliage as you go. The floral tape can be tricky to work with.  It just takes practice to maneuver it around leaves. You can either add flowers now, or go back later and add them.  I created the foliage base first, and then added the flowers in groupings by taping the stems onto the wire with floral tape.  I used roses (spray roses, small buds) and waxflower.

4- Try it on.  Look in the mirror.  See what looks out of place and trim back or move materials around.  Finally, thread a ribbon through the two loops you created and tie in a bow for ease of changing the length.  Voila! You have created a head wreath, so fun to wear.

It was really an honor to crown these amazing athletes with custom awards.  Photo by Ken Walker Jr.

Samantha Saeger (NEOC) and Ross Smith (CSU) crowned with my wreaths of Italian ruscus and waxflower. They were first place F-21 and M-21 North American winners of the Sprint at NAOC.

Creating these custom sport awards was a great learning experience for me, and it was such an incredible honor to see my work worn by the top North American orienteers! I would like to thank Sandy Fillebrown and DVOA for the opportunity, and Peicha Chang of falls flowers for assisting me with acquiring floral materials, and her instruction on making head wreaths for the wedding work we did previously was also very helpful.  I really enjoyed this project and hope there is more sporting award work in my future!

notes from an autumn gone wild

Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.  ~Albert Camus

packing up the car to the gills for a fall wedding w peicha

I would rather sit on a pumpkin, and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion. ~ Henry David Thoreau

pumpkin scouting at linvilla

Delicious autumn!  My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.  ~George Eliot

wreath by peicha of falls flowers

The fall has been a busy one, with big changes in my personal life, a scary family illness, my very first independent floral job, and competing at a national sporting event. I’ve also been working with Peicha of falls flowers on the weekends, helping her do wedding designs, and it’s really been very eye-opening and fun.

Peicha creates a bridal bouquet using garden roses, white dahlias, lady’s mantle, hydrangea, and eryngium

This particular wedding reception was in a bride’s home, which made it very special.  Here bride Gillian is holding her bouquet.  She was calm and happy, and totally stunning!

I had the most excellent time creating a garland for the railing in the foyer using a multitude of beautiful materials, like amaranth, dahlia, eryngium, roses, hydrangea, kiwi vine, and more.  They are little bowers or bundles of flowers that I wired together, then attached to the leaf garland which we wound with large ribbon.

This was so fun to make!

Check out the falls flower blog post on this beautiful wedding!  Somehow a picture of me doing disco got included.  Cuz you should be having fun in life.

I’ve also been back at Longwood Gardens, taking floral design classes in order to complete my certificate.  I was so excited to finally take a class from the impeccably organized Cres Motzi…this class was Creating a Statement – Grand Designs. In this class Cres really showed us some great ideas especially for how the mechanics of large arrangements work.

Cres Motzi creates a grid using tape over the mouth of this large glass container, then adds branches

It’s great to create these large arrangements – but how on earth do you transport them? Cres had a good idea about using 2 milk crates, with the bottom cut out of one and then zip tied together to transport this big guy.

Cres adds greens, rose hips and kale. it’s getting grander by the minute!

When it comes our turn to play, we are arranged in groups of 3 since there are 2 large designs to make.  I was more than lucky to find myself alongside Melissa, a wonderful person I met back at Lilies and Lavender.  This year is a very exciting one for her as she creates a floral business at her home.  More developments on this to come, because obviously we get along really well.

melissa is in my group creating some grand designs

melissa and i having fun together

Our Grand Design – atriplex, italian ruscus, amaranth, hydrangea, peach stock, leucodendron, safflower, alstromeria, etc

Okay, so the Grand design we created had an intended recipient – my dad at the hospital.  He was having issues with his innards and would require surgery a few days later.  But after really looking at the above design I felt that it was too funereal.  So, I ripped it apart, and using other materials both from the garden and from the extra flowers we got at class, I created this little fall basket full of love.  I wasn’t able to snap a great picture of it, too much in a hurry to see my dad.

‘get well’ basket for dad – roses, lilies, nandina berries, atriplex, hydrangea, stock, amaranth, some anemone from the garden (oh these don’t last by the way), fennel seed from garden, alstro, and grass flower heads

After he recovered and was on his way out of the hospital, I was glad to hear that he gave the basket to his excellent team of nurses as a thank you! (Next, I created floral awards for a sporting ceremony…that need to be blogged in their own separate post coming right up.)

Surrounded by flowers…a good thing to be

Through all of the craziness of moving, worrying about my dad, driving all over tarnation, flowers have kept me sane.  I believe that creating/designing with flowers is part of my recipe for personal success.  I am somewhere between avocation and vocation…where will this path lead?