Easy Ideas for Sustainable Floristry

When I took my first floral design classes, I was surprised by our almost exclusive use of out-of-season, imported flowers to learn techniques.

But beyond the flowers themselves, I couldn’t believe the chemicals, plastics, and utter waste involved. I remember going to a class one October, excited to think that we’d be working with kale and mums. Instead we stuck carnations and dyed preserved oak leaves into a block of floral foam which we had carved to fit into a hollow plastic pumpkin. Maybe I was under the influence of the floral adhesive fumes, but I believe that was the moment I decided I had to start my own eco-floristry business. We were talking about FLOWERS after all.  How could this not be a natural, “green” industry? There had to be an alternative. 

I knew that of all places, my city of Madison, Wisconsin would support an ecologically responsible florist. This progressive college town was called “30 square miles surrounded by reality” by Lee Dreyfus, future governor of Wisconsin, while campaigning in 1978. The phrase stuck, and we even have a newspaper now called 77 Square (reflecting our bigger size these days). We live here with peace, love, urban chickens, and bike paths that get snowplowed first, before the streets. The city will provide residents with not only trash and recycling bins, but also with rain barrels and compost bins. People here care about where our food is grown, that our lakes get cleaner, and that everyone has a voice.

We care most of all that the beautiful “unreal” life we’ve created here can be sustained for generations to come. I think we have the right idea here in Madison, and it seems like more and more folks in all sorts of cities are considering more closely what we all buy, use, and send back to the earth.  You might be one of those people.  Or…you might just like these ideas because they will save you money!  Regardless of the purity of your motivation, I hope you enjoy looking through my sustainability photo album, and find an idea or two that you can use with your own flowers.

The Mason jar trend will surely wax and wane, but these used jars will always be in ample supply, and make attractive vessels for your flowers. Put the word out with friends and relatives, and you might be surprised how much is available and that people are happy to unload. I have a contact at a company that does decluttering/downsizing for seniors, and she is able to provide me with more jars and vases than I could ever use. I have scrubbed up recycled Starbucks Frappuccino bottles to use for events; with the labels off they look just like old milk bottles. (Dairy chic!) I posted a note on Facebook asking if anyone drank these regularly, and it turns out many people do, and they were happy to save them for me.

Check thrift stores and garage sales for containers and tins. I love to “Pot a vase.” In other words, tuck a small vase or jar into a larger container filled in with a potted plant. Your buyer will appreciate flowers which can be planted outside and enjoyed even when the cut flowers are done. I have done this with potted herbs as well, and even included a recipe that uses that ingredient.

Plastic floral picks, I banish you! Use an iris pod or slice one end of a dogwood twig to hold an enclosure card. Bamboo is a sustainable wood, and I guarantee local restaurants have overstock chopsticks you can take. Just ask!

Another sustainable material:  burlap. Marcia Terrones of Blue Plate Catering in Madison says “Burlap, barns, and Mason jars are the ‘it thing’ for weddings this season.” Have you ever looked at Pinterest? Do a quick search for “burlap bridal” if you need convincing of this trend. I can get 10 free bags a month from a local coffee brewer, Ancora Coffee. They are huge bags (they held the beans!), often have cool text printed on them, and are the perfect look for many bouquets. I can fit 6 burlap-wrapped bouquets in my basket when I deliver by bike. When I want to use color to tie my bouquets, I use recycled ribbon made from silk saris. Some is torn from vintage saris, and some is byproduct of the sari production industry. Yes, it travels a long way to get to me (carbon footprint guilt), but I still think on an important level this is a sustainable material. When I use a silk sari ribbon that is a perfect match for my local delphiniums, it makes me pause a moment and consider our interconnectedness.

We have come to the issue of how to hold flowers in place. Can you imagine working without floral foam?  One idea: At the hardware store buy ½” wire grid and cut out a disk that fits the inside of a Mason jar lid.  I have found this especially useful for thicker stems like kale, as I can snip a bigger hole for it in the grid, and poke the wire nubs into the kale stem to keep it in place. I think a similar, although more delicate, lattice could be made from natural materials, like ribbon grass. Tangles of grape vines, chicken wire, rocks, and antique floral frogs can help stems stay in place at the bottom of a vessel.

But frankly, isn’t this an over-blown issue?  If stems are arranged cleverly in the right container, they will stay in place. They counterbalance and brace each other. Obviously, a hanging sphere of flowers is probably not possible, but more often than not there is a sustainable work-around. One of the best media for holding winter materials in place is…wait for it…DIRT. Winter event idea: try using potted rosemary plants, and infilling them with spruce and dried flowers. Use opaque containers like a tarnished tea set, and no one will know your dirty secret. For summer and fall events, try grapes or watermelon! Thread grapes onto wire, close crown with floral tape, and poke flowers into the north pole of each grape. For that special girl in your life, this crown couldn’t be sweeter. 

Additional resources:

Silk Sari Ribbon, helping to bring women in Nepal and India
out of poverty:  www.DarnGoodYarn.com

Great ideas and discussion threads:

Materials Safety Data Sheet for floral foam:  www.fdionline.net/fdi/public/files/msds/SO-Oasis_Floral_Foam_2009.pdf

Facts about burlap: www.luftandco.com/burlap-green-eco-choice/

Leave it to Martha to create a hanging sphere with moss and succulents:

A site to help you stay on top of these rustic wedding trends. You
might not even know that you are competing with “brooch bouquets.”

Ann Sensenbrenner

Farm to Vase

Ann Sensenbrenner is the owner of Farm to Vase in Madison, Wisconsin Contact her at [email protected]