eco-friendly

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
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lilies and lavender

A little while back, I visited a very unique flower farm in Doylestown, PA called Lilies and Lavender. The head honcho, Kate Sparks, gave my friend Jane and I a tour of her four acre sustainable farm.

Kate Sparks, the cowgirl of cut flowers, amongst the zinnias

Here, Kate and her team grow many types of cut flowers using only organic fertilizers and the least harmful pesticides. Black plastic mulch is used to prevent weeds from growing. I saw many bees buzzing and birds flying, and it seemed to me a very happy place where the circle of life remains unbroken.

Snapdragons growing like gangbusters in the hoop house

Kitchen scraps are fed to worms, creating worm compost that is used to add organic matter to the growing medium

Delicious dark purple calla lily has a happy home

The acreage is long and narrow, but goes on and on. Each time we passed one section, I thought we’d reached the end, only to find there was more around the corner. While the farm is not weeded in a pristine way, each group of plants is clearly thriving under the Kate’s green thumb. She has more energy and works harder than most human beings, you can tell, and I think it comes from the fact that she’s doing something that she loves.

Calendula – an herb for healing but also a beautiful cut flower!

Cerinthe is one of the more unusual selections you”ll find here – I love it.

Bouquet of goodness from L&L contains huge dill flower heads!

Lilies and Lavender sells their flowers at both the Doylestown and Rittenhouse farmers markets, at their farm stand out front, and to select local florists. That’s us, we’re the lucky local designers today!

Melissa, Kate, Jane and Christine after our tour of Lilies and Lavender farm

Jane Godshalk, my wonderful teacher from Longwood Gardens and mentor extraordinaire, took some beautiful bouquets home to create rectangular table centerpieces for an upcoming event. Inspired by Kate’s commitment to sustainability, Jane wanted to keep this design as eco-friendly as possible. She used Excelsior, the non-toxic, biodegradable wood packaging product as the mechanic for stabilizing the stems, wetted down with a fair amount of water. Sure beats using the non-biodegradable, formaldehyde-laden floral foam!

Jane packs the containers with excelsior, then adds water. She begins her design with hosta greens from her own garden

VOILA – Jane Godshalk’s designs using locally grown flowers from Lilies and Lavender

Thanks, Kate Sparks! I know I only scratched the surface of your operation here, but that’s because I already desperately want to come back. PS You could be a jeans model.

Shucks, here’s one more lavender/bee shot for Kate:

spring design using a kenzan

My goal:  to create a spring design in rectangular container without using floral foam; because I’m trying to practice earth-friendly floral design.  You get pretty hooked on using floral foam, because there simply is nothing else like it out there – when you put the stems in, they stay put.  But sometimes that creates an unnatural look, and the stuff itself sure is unnatural (and not biodegradable, and not good for you, etc.)  Hence my experiment with using a kenzan, or frog, for a more complicated arrangement using spring shrubs and bulbs.

I used only one kenzan, because that’s all I own at the moment.  My supply of all things floral is growing…but this is one area in which I’m sadly lacking.  They do come in many sizes, and are popular in Ikebana.

start with branches – point of emergence is centered and radiating outward

I think the fact that I only had one kenzan actually forced me to remember my lessons in point of emergence.  If you have no point of emergence – the place where all your stems seem to come from – then your design will look chaotic and just not good (unless you’re doing a parallel design – for every rule there is an exception. By the way, this is the same container I have used before for parallel designs.)  The point of emergence for this design should be somewhat centered and mid way down into the container, fanning out from there. I started by placing all my woody material in, which additionally I had sliced vertically for better water absorption.  This included snowball viburnum, and two kinds of azalea (one fuschia, one yellow deciduous.)  I had some lilac but it was too toasted.

making a mess is so much fun!

my cake spinny thing makes arranging so much easier!

Then I added the big stemmed items (hyacinth,) the tulips and a few greens; and of course water at the very end.  It was harder to work with the kenzan in this arrangement than floral foam would have been, but I think the result is a more natural look, don’t you?  Maybe more wild and messy than I would have liked, but I guess sometimes you just can’t be in control of everything.

Now will someone please invent an eco-friendly floral foam? It shouldn’t be that hard!