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Blooming Marvellous

When it comes to food, we now understand much more about the importance of eating seasonally, locally-grown produce whenever possible.

Why would you want to eat something that has racked up airmiles and doesn’t even taste that good? Yes, strawberries in November, we are talking about you! You cannot even begin to compare a strawberry grown in Spain and transported here in the depths of winter with one you pick from a field in July that has been warmed by our own sun. Yes, yes, we know it is the same sun, but you know what we mean!

We also understand about fast fashion and why it’s not really in the best interests of the planet to buy clothes that have been churned out in a highly questionable manner and are designed to be worn only a handful of times. Slow fashion is a much better way to go.

Shouldn’t it be the same with our flowers? They have a massive carbon footprint thanks to their long supply chain and transportation around the world.

Traditional floristry relies on imported flowers. They are largely grown in a very unsustainable way, relying on

· high levels of chemicals, which has a real impact on biodiversity and pollinators

· vast levels of energy for heating the hot houses

· huge volumes of water where the soil health has been depleted

· more often than not, cheap labour

It doesn’t get any better once the flowers have arrived in this country. All too frequently a typical bouquet needs

· plastic ties

· cellophane wrapping

· glue

Given all that, why would you buy a bouquet of flowers that have been intensively farmed in South Africa or Kenya when you can find something interesting and beautiful on your own doorstep?

Because, just as you can’t get locally-grown strawberries here in November, you can’t get beautiful blooms either?

Not quite true. Perhaps, what we need to do is think again about what constitutes a stunning floral display. It’s not actually masses of flowers. It’s often the foliage that makes the arrangement stand out, and the foliage can come from all kinds of locally-grown shrubs and trees. In fact, it can come from the branches you have cut down when you have been pruning. Just like avoiding food waste, we can avoid garden waste too.

You’ll get a much more interesting flower arrangement if you take your cue from nature. Look at the colours, not only of plants, but also of the tree, the lichen, the moss and notice which flowers look good growing beside them. Use different textures and shapes to create appealing displays that mimic our natural surroundings. The old adage is that flower stems should be one and a half times the size of the vase and that odd numbers of blooms look better (they same the same about plants in the garden).

Wildflowers are – for very good reasons – increasingly popular in our gardens, so maybe we should start to think the same way abut our cut flowers. Locally-grown and seasonal flowers may not have the uniformity of those shipped from the Netherlands, but that actually makes them more beautiful. They change from day to day and from season to season. No two seasons are ever the same from one year to the next in this country but that makes for a much more beautiful display.

We often get flowers along with food waste from the supermarkets for our Community Fridge. Thank goodness they are not just throwing them out. Even the most unpromising bunch can be rescued. If only a couple of the blooms are intact, just use them to make a smaller bunch. Add a bit of greenery if you can and in no time it can look quite stunning.

We learned such a lot about sustainable floristry at our recent workshop run by Stephania and Vinciane from Branches For All. As is so often the case, some of it made perfect sense when they pointed it out, it’s just that we hadn’t really thought about it before.

Of course the green oasis is made of plastic, and of course it can only be used once. Admittedly, we hadn’t really thought about the chemicals it contains, and hadn’t fully thought about those that claim to be bio-degradable. Of course, that’s not absolutely accurate in every case.

New products are being produced to take the place of plastic non-biodegradable florist foam, but it probably won’t surprise you to know that it is generally more expensive than the original, so we were relieved when Vinciane suggested we use chicken wire instead. Even if you are using plastic-covered wire, you shouldn’t worry because it can be re-used. Back in the day, before the foam was invented, florists used sand and moss to keep their flowers where they wanted them to be, so we could go back to that too.

Like so many ‘new’ ideas, sustainable floristry is not really new at all. We have all seen the old floral frogs, or floral pin holders – those vases that have a metal, slotted ‘lid’ – in second hand shops. They can be reused as often as you like. What have we said before about Granny knowing best?

And speaking of vases in second hand shops, what are you going to put your flowers in? Why, almost anything. Old vases, obviously, but why not a jug, an old tin can (tie a ribbon round it, or cover it in fabric if you like), a biscuit tin, a bottle? We used all these things at our workshop, all reuseable or recyclable.

As for the flowers, to keep the food analogy going, blooms that are grown here, rather than imported en masse, cost more, like organic food. It shouldn’t be the case, but it’s up to us really. If we stop buying them, the shops will quickly realise they will have to change their offerings. If more of us choose to buy the sustainable versions from smaller producers, the price will go down.

The Victorians understood this. They tried to extend the seasons with their glass houses and raised beds (which increase the heat). They dried flowers to use in the winter, often preserving them under glass to protect them from the dust, and we can do the same.

Vinciane told us a lovely story about the Victorians. Obviously, this applied only to rich families, but still, it shows that they knew a thing or two about avoiding waste. It was traditional for brides to carry myrtle in their bouquet, but instead of disposing of it after the big day (which wasn’t nearly as big and extravagant as today’s wedding days, but that’s another story altogether!) the gardeners would take a branch and propagate it in the greenhouse, before giving it to the bride who would keep it at home, ready to pass on to the next generation for their wedding.

This is just the kind of thing Branches for All are doing too. They noticed that their floral gardening business produced around one tonne of waste each season and decided to do something about it. They now re-use and re-purpose much of this ‘waste’.

They propagate new plants from cuttings and use their prunings in their floral displays.

When they collect their arrangements from their corporate customers they re-use as much as they possibly can. The branches have often grown roots because they have been in water, so, naturally, they are re-planted so the cycle can begin again. Anything that can’t be re-used is composted.

We started this blog writing about seasonality.

Imported flowers require so many chemicals to grow and to keep them fresh on their journey. You then touch them. Not good for florists, and not good for you. So, no roses in February. Give your loved one lilacs instead. Or what about giving them spring bulbs that will grow on and flower year after year (too schmaltzy to say that suggests your love will grow stronger each year, rather than fading after a week or two?)

One final point. Many restaurants and hotels feature glorious flower displays. They are, of course, provided by professionals so might it be worth investigating whether the supplier is working in a sustainable manner? Like anything, once you know about these things you start to notice – and question – more. And, as we always say, we have the power to bring about change by making informed choices about where we spend our money.


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