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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poppy pride

You poor neglected blog.  It’s just been too nice outside, and there’s been too much fun stuff going on to tend to you.  But I have some floral gifts for you today, in the form of poppies.  Yes, poppies!

Larry and I inspect the poppies – they are about 5′ tall!  Photo by Brandon Adamek

Papaver somniferum ‘Hungarian Blue’

I started these Hungarian Blue “bread seed” poppies from seed on March 20th of this year, a Seedsavers purchase. I love buying stuff from Seedsavers because I really believe in their mission, which is all about saving and sharing heirloom seeds to preserve genetic diversity.  In fact, they maintain thousands of varieties of different plant types – from amaranth to watermelon – in one of the largest seed banks of its kind in North America. They also store varieties in back-up locations at the USDA Seed Bank in Fort Collins, CO and at Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway, which houses the most diverse collection of food crop seeds anywhere on Earth.  Seeds are tucked away safely into the permafrost in the mountains of Svalbard, just in case we lose our crops due to some type of catastrophic event.

Back to my poppies.  These are Papaver somniferum ‘Hungarian Blue’ – a rare heirloom variety whose blue purple petals quickly emerge, crinkled and shiny.  This is the variety whose seeds are most often used to grace the tops of bread loaves and bagels.  Mmm.

The Hungarian Blue poppy (is actually more purple)

Buzz

The flowers don’t last long, but luckily the petals fall away to reveal a milky green blue seedpod, which will be full of edible poppy seeds when they dry out.  I’d like to save some for replanting, use some for baking onto the tops of bread or muffins, and use some seedpods in arrangements for Thanksgiving.

Aren’t they cool?

a garden of my own(-ish)

Okay, I’ve done a lot of digging in the dirt, at other people’s houses. For money. I’ve taken classes in ornamental horticulture, worked at NYBG, and been a TV garden editor for Martha Stewart. But I’ve never envisioned my own garden and created one. What would it look like?

Photograph: © Country Life Picture Library, from Gertrude Jekyll and the Country House Garden by Judith B. Tankard, Rizzoli New York, 2011

No, not like that.

I guess I tell myself that my excuse for never making a garden of my own is that I got caught up in television production, a career that has served me well over the years but also required an unhealthy amount of ignoring my own life. But if I’m being totally honest (and I think I should because this is my blog,) gardening and I parted ways after a traumatic event that occurred at Martha’s house in Maine. Yes, I’m going to blame it all on Martha.

garden mothra: i drew this mustache on using GIMP

We had Dan Hinkley as a guest, you know the fantastic plantsman of Heronswood fame, and I was the producer and garden prep person for a segment we were to do on shade treasures. Since Dan travels the world collecting rare specimens and cultivating them for trade, you can imagine the amazing plants he had brought for the Skylands property! (And he’s also the sweetest guy you’ll ever meet.) This would be a chance to educate folks on some of the possibilities for shady areas, so we had a good variety of stuff out there. As I’m prepping Martha for the segment, she looks at all the “shade treasures” and says, “what’s all this? I can’t plant all this here! I only want one kind of plant here, Solomon’s seal.” I tried to argue with her (bad idea) about the fact that we had already discussed every inch of the material and she had already agreed to all of the plants going into the ground, but she was steadfast. It was her garden, of course, so we turned it into a Plant of the Week segment on the very beautiful Solomon’s seal that Dan had brought. Yes, we flew him across the country to talk about ONE PLANT. I think I was more upset about that than anything else.

Polygonatum odoratum

But…in this process of arguing with her, and trying to convince her that the plant variety was important for education, she hooked onto the idea that I was more of a television producer than a gardener. She looked at me with those see-everything brown eyes and said, “You’re not a real gardener.” This was pretty much the only time Martha ever made me cry in the entire decade I worked for her. I almost quit right there. And I think I really took that statement to heart, and followed the TV production path instead of the gardening one. It was quite stupid of me, to listen to someone who has minions that make her gardens. And stupid of me to let this one sentence sink into my bones. It doesn’t mean I can’t grow a few fucking flowers. (Addendum: please don’t get the wrong idea about Martha. I have so many good things to say about her, and her beautiful gardens, and all the opportunities she gave me, and the Emmys we won, and everything I learned…but I just had to tell that one little Fleur de Mal.)

ANYWAY…now that I’m ‘in-between’ TV gigs, or maybe done with TV altogether, this gardening/floristry/plant path is once again beckoning to me. I’ve begun dreaming about my garden…made possible by my amazing parents, who said they’d let me have a little patch of earth on their property to play with. Oh golly! Really? I hope they’re serious! Because I already ordered some seeds from Seedsavers Exchange! That’s the first place I thought of, because they offer heirloom varieties of seeds that gardeners from around the world save and swap each year.

cosmos

I’m thinking cutting garden with some herbs and veggies thrown in. In other words, it will be totally utilitarian with a bunch of stuff I love. Keep it simple, try to be successful at something small. Neat and organized. I haven’t measured or really taken this to the next level by cordoning off an area yet, because I don’t want to scare my parents off of the idea. I must admit I went a little crazy on the Seedsavers site today, and I know I will have to scale back (bearing in mind I also want to order plants too.) I need to do this in the proper order, starting with doing a LOT of research and reading about what plants perform well in zone 7a (yes, that’s right, we are 7a now with the new USDA plant hardiness map!) and are also deer resistant. I hope to create a spreadsheet with all the salient facts to help keep me organized. Last night, I fell asleep with a cut flower book in my lap and tonight I plan on doing the same. This is my Seedsavers order:

The cukes are for my husband, who has been talking about pickling for the last 1700 years. This is the year to do that, too, I hope. Enjoy the new moon energy!