What’s Old Is New

A crowd of folks swarm the stage at the ASCFG Nashville Grower Meeting, buzzing around the baskets and tables full of dried flowers, creating hand-tied bouquets of unique floral and textural ingredients, picking out their elements like bees visiting flowers, zipping from one choice to the next. After a riveting talk on dried floral trends and techniques by Emily Daniel of Basil & Bergamot, watching this scene unfold was truly a delight to behold.

Even though I was itching to get my hands on some of those dried beauties, I chose to stand back and watch the melee. It was quite enjoyable to take in the frenzy and also quite indicative—first of the amazing group of enthusiastic individuals who make up the ASCFG, second of the resurgence of the dried floral trend which we are smack dab in the middle of.

When I attended my first ASCFG conference, oh maybe 6 years ago, I remember talking to some long-time (and about ready to retire) ASCFG members and asking about their business and history. They said they started out growing all everlasting flowers in the 1980’s, but that at some point a decade or so later, the market just tanked. One year dried florals could support their entire farm, and the next there was almost no market left and they were forced to switch gears. While no one wants a market so volatile that the rug can be pulled out from under them, we are also all aware of shifting trends and how we must adapt, along with changing climate and changing prices and all the other challenges in our industry.

That being said, the fact that dried flowers have made a serious comeback over the last few years is a great boon for flower growers. The new look of dried flowers is unique and exciting and the advantages are many. As growers we can utilize more of our harvest especially when crops are abundant and markets are slow. We can extend our sales into the winter months, when many of us without heated greenhouses have little to nothing to sell.  Our customers, whether they be wholesalers, florists, or end users, have a non-perishable product, not the norm for the floral industry.

I have been growing flowers for over a decade. And honestly, other than drying a few bundles for myself here and there, I didn’t purposely grow and dry anything in quantity until a couple of years ago. I thought the look was dated, and to be honest, ugly. But once I saw what others were doing with the dried flowers nowadays, I started to rethink the technique and get really inspired to try my hand at it. Luckily for us, in Arizona we have such a dry climate, it is practically perfect for drying just about anything.

To start things off easy the first year, we simply dried what we couldn’t sell fresh, and used what we dried to make wreaths. The next year, we added some lovely mixed everlasting bouquets, very easy to make and so much faster than making wreaths.

This year, we finally started to plant more quantity, variety, and specifically certain colors to use for dried material. We made harvesting for drieds a weekly prioritized task, so we wouldn’t miss our window of opportunity, and I kept lists of materials any time I saw someone using something as a dried element that I hadn’t thought of before (hello flowering oregano!). We organized our dried ingredients better than ever before in large plastic storage tubs with lids all labeled clearly to make the storage and future use way easier than in the past.

We are currently selling straight bundles of dried flowers at the farmers’ market and they are selling fast, which I could not have predicted even a year ago. I am getting so many requests now for dried material from florists and other artisans and shops that I realize I need to devote a lot more energy, land, marketing, and possibly even infrastructure to dried flowers. Wreaths are still our best-selling dried product, but every area seems to be picking up momentum, even in our very behind-the-trend neck of the woods.

Moving forward, I’d like to be able to offer a comprehensive list of dried flowers to my wholesale customers, start pressing flowers for bakers and crafters, and try growing some new-to-me varieties for the sole purpose of drying. With the antiqued and natural look so popular, it actually creates even more options for foraging grasses, twigs, and pods, letting flowers sun-bleach in a greenhouse, or even utilizing over-mature flowers left out in the field for even more of a dead look.

While I like to think of myself as a bit of a rebel (one who likes to buck the trends), the fact is we are all influenced by them in some way or another, often without being conscious of the effect. But when we are in the business of sales, we can never think of ourselves as too good for trends. We can do our best to be unique and forge our own path, but we still have to give our customers what they want. Hopefully what we want and what they want can have some significant overlap.

I was listening to a TED talk recently on “How Sampling Transformed Music”. It really hit me how in all of art and all of life really, we are building on what people have done before. With social media, that may be happening faster than ever before. While there may be nothing completely original in this world, we can take the elements of what someone has already invented or created and add something fresh and new—or in the case of this flower trend, something dry and dead. Humans have been drying and preserving flowers for 4,000 years and since that time the dried floral trend has come around again many times. I don’t know why, but this made me feel better about following a trend—I guess because I used to turn my nose up at dried flowers and now I am singing their praises. I wanted some way to justify that. I see so much negativity going around about people copying other people. But I am not convinced that anyone has the corner on originality. I say use what you see around you and try to inject a bit of your own style and aesthetic. Or just fake it ‘til you make it.

I am so excited that the dried flower trend is still picking up speed. I am seeing great ideas everywhere, from dried floral wedding bouquets and installations, to mixing dried and fresh florals for a unique look, to the ever-popular wreath workshop. It makes sense logistically and financially, at least for our business, to have more options for what to do with our flowers. It makes sense for us to extend our sales window and have winter work for our farm crew.

If you are interested in learning more, I definitely suggest you watch the video from the Nashville meeting in the Members Only section of the ASCFG web site. It’s called “Making a profit from dried material” or “What to do with dead stuff”.
I’d love to see what you all are doing with dried things, or hear insight into the trend or questions you may have. Please post on the ASCFG Facebook group or tag a photo on Instagram with #whattodowithdeadstuf