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

intro to ikebana – longwood – day two

Midori Tanimune, Longwood Ikebana Instructor, Sogetsu School

Instructor Midori Tanimune, a diminutive and ageless Japanese woman with twinkling eyes, begins the class with a story about herself.  When she was 11, living in Japan with her family, her father tragically passed away.  She had spent every day talking to her father in the fields, and they were very close, so when he died she didn’t know what to do with her grief.  Her mother, having no other answers, sent her to tea ceremonies and Ikebana class once a week after school.  Midori would listen to her Ikebana teacher, and talk about herself, and as long as she came home with a flower in her hand her mother did not question her.  “Ikebana saved my life,” she whispers, but through a smile.  It will teach you to “clean up your soul” and respect nature, respect silence.  I look around at my classmates in surprise at this raw emotion I did not expect to feel at 9am in the Acer Room at Longwood.  There are some other watery eyes too.

Poem by Midori

Midori is in the Sogetsu School, the newest Ikebana school founded in 1927.  In this school, they use unconventional materials alongside fresh flowers.   Their philosophy of Ikebana is that “it can be created anytime, anywhere, by anyone in any part of the world and with any kind of material.”

one of Midori's designs courtesy of

Also, the teacher must make the arrangement towards the student, which I imagine might be difficult, given all the precise angles, etc.  Midori explains that if we see something we want her to do or to change, to speak up.  I know I certainly don’t feel qualified to do that at this point!   As she creates several different designs for us, none of which I got very good pictures of I’m sorry to say, certain words of wisdom pop out at me.

  • The moment you’re making it is the most important.
  • Never put the kenzan in the middle of the container in Moribana. (Kenzan is the device with points meant to hold the stems.)
  • Use a cutting bowl to cut stems underwater especially for spring flowers.
  • There are 3 main elements when creating an arrangement in Sogetsu Ikebana: Line, Color and Mass.  Line = Space.

Basic Upright Moribana photo courtesy of - 365 days of ikebana

Our first lesson is to create a Basic Upright Moribana Arrangement. Moribana, as you may recall from Day 1, means “piled up flowers.”  And the basic upright arrangement is the most important, “because all freestyle comes from this.”  There are 3 main stems and specific rules about how long they should be and at what angle they are placed in the kenzan.  We’re using a long low container for this.

Julie's moribana design - beautiful

Shin is the First Main Stem, and Midori calls this stem “the husband.”  The measurement of this stem is the most important, as the other stems will be fractions of it.  The shin should be 1 1/2 times (the depth of the container + the diameter of the container.)  The Shin stem goes in first, in the back center position, placed straight into the kenzan and then turned slightly to the left, as if bowing.  In the arrangements we’re doing, the Shin is a Willow stem.  Choose a side of the stem that will create depth, and trim the stem accordingly to create the strongest line.

Soe is the Second Main Stem, and Midori calls this stem “the wife.”  The Soe is 3/4 the size of the Shin, and goes in second in the left front position.  She is placed straight into the kenzan, then pushed to a 45 degree angle towards the arranger’s left shoulder. The Soe is also a Willow stem.  In choosing how to place the stem visually, don’t think radially.  Think about the stems ‘conversing’ with themselves.  (This was not a natural thing for me to do! I’m so radially oriented!)

Hikae is the Third Main Stem, and Midori calls this stem “the child.”  The Hikae is the shortest stem, and 3/4 the size of the Soe, and goes in the right front position. She should be placed straight into the kenzan, then pushed to a 75 degree angle towards the arranger’s right shoulder and opposite from the mother or Soe. We used a Lily for this stem.

my Moribana with diagram

Next, you should “invite all your friends to the house,” by placing in other supporting stems of the same material – lilies and willow.  But these supporting stems, or Jushi, must never compete with the main stems for line or space.  Always keep the spaces between the main stems open.  And when placing the supplemental “friends” in, make sure some of them are angled towards the main action of the house, so they’re all having a conversation with each other, rather than angling them radially.  Make sure they create movement.  Also, remember that smaller blooms are placed higher in an arrangement, and larger ones LOWER.  Then, place one main flower at the center to “close the door,” and add some greens or pittosporum in our case, to hide the mechanics of the kenzan (not too much but just enough).

Midori helps us get our moribanas right

After a nice long lunch break, we’re back to create the Basic Upright Variation No 4 – Nageire Arrangement in a Tall Vase.

Midori with Upright Nageire Design we are to make

Nageire is Japanese for “thrown in” and usually utilizes a single long branch with shorter branches and flowers at the base arranged in a tall upright vase. And while there are only 2 main stems (the Shin and the Hikae,) there is NO KENZAN, or device to hold the stems in place, so the mechanics of this will be a little tricky.

Create a supporting branch in the shape of a Y for your Shin stem

The first order of business is to cut a supporting branch that will hold the Shin, making sure there is water in the vase first.  Once you place your stems in, that’s it, it’s really hard to move the container without displacing the stems!  So, your supporting branch will be a few inches lower than the container’s depth – and where it touches the bottom of the container, it will be cut straight, not on a slant.  Cut a slit in the top side and widen it out – this will create a Y for the Shin to sit in.  The Shin stem, a flowering Quince branch, should be as straight as the material will allow, and should be cut up the center so that it can connect strongly with the supporting branch.  The end of the Shin should be cut on a slant and touch the side of the container for support.  Actually there are some rules about the stems and where they can touch, that are basically all about how to anchor things so they stay in place best.

rules about stem placement in nageire

Getting the Shin in right is easier said than done! Midori has to help all of us with this.  We are not used to working with this mechanic but it’s SO cool once you learn it!

Julie trims the Shin stem to create an even straighter line

Then you will add the Hikae stem – in this case a big white Chrysanthemum.  The Hikae must be placed at a 75 degree angle towards the arranger’s right shoulder, just like in the Basic Moribana arrangement.  But in this design, there is no Soe.  The Hikae stem should be against the back wall of the container to get the proper angle away from the Shin, and you can gently bend your stems to fit them in.  Then place some supporting mums in, and then take a little left over mum foliage to hide the mechanics.  Nothing in this design should be hanging over the back edge of the container!

Midori helped my design by pruning back the quince branch to reveal the buds that were popping - so they became more evident

I recreated my Nageire when I got home, placing it in front of my sister's art called 'Night Birch'

I loved this class and I loved Midori.  She is such a special person and made all of us feel like we deserved an A+ for our designs.  I learned a lot this day, and also felt spiritually connected to what I was doing. Thanks, Midori!

Midori and I laughing about how hard taking a picture seems to be

Photo of Midori at beginning of post courtesy of – New Castle Delaware – Arasapha May Market 2011’s Facebook page