Earlier this year, at an evening panel discussion on floristry at London’s Garden Museum, the conversation turned towards sustainability. And stayed there for the rest of the evening. Many seasoned professional florists were present, with heaps of knowledge on how to be more sustainable in their work; many more had come up with incredibly inventive ways to ditch polluting floral foam (oasis) or use less water and shop local.
But just as numerous were the plaintive cries from audience members on how to understand these methods, how to get information and how to apply it to everything from simple flowers at home to more intricate displays for the local church or events.
There’s a sea change happening in floristry – just as there’s a huge step change in the way we are all thinking about our responsibility to the planet. The Sustainable Floristry Network – with 40,000 members and counting – advocates floral design “with the smallest environmental footprint possible.” Professionals, including royal florist Shane Connolly, have now started posting videos and images on Instagram showing what goes on beneath their incredible creations – the unglamorous, clever architecture that underpins sustainable flowers.
But what’s been lacking, until now, is a book that brings all these methods, tips and innovations together. Young florists Sarah Diligent (of floribundarose.com) and William Mazuch, who met in 2018 when they both took part in the annual British Flowers Week installations at the Garden Museum, have gone on to collaborate on projects, and have now co-authored A Guide to Sustainable Floral Mechanics, which they are crowdfunding via Kickstarter.
“When I went to college the standard way was to use imported flowers and to make almost everything in floral foam,” says Diligent of her training at Merrist Wood college in Guildford seven years ago. “I didn’t realise there were other options.” Concerned by what was actually in the dusty green floral foam she was using, she then went on a mission to find out more about sustainable floristry. When she found that there were no guides on the subject, she started to buy books that predated the invention of floral foam in 1954: “We’ve been decorating palaces, halls and houses across the globe for centuries so I thought that there must be other ways of doing things before this stuff existed.”
Unsurprisingly, her go-to authority became the great innovator Constance Spry (1886-1960), known for her creative, can-do approach in which she commandeered everything from soup tureens to jam jars and produced incredible work that was also sustainable. “I realised there were other approaches,” says Diligent. “If she could do it and was winning gold medals at Chelsea and was well respected, I realised it is viable, it is achievable.”
At the same time Diligent was learning more about British flowers and realised the florists using them were not using foam. “Initially,” says Diligent, who then changed her working methods, “it was massively challenging, but once you know alternative methods it doesn’t take longer to make arrangements, it doesn’t cost me more. I am reusing chicken wire and pin holders and water tubes – I don’t need to keep reinventing the wheel.”
Mazuch, conversely, is an industrial product designer who trained at Central Saint Martins before working with a string of architect clients. When he took some time out, he fell into floristry, initially helping his mother with jobs, before collaborating with Sarah and others on events and installations. Aside from his love of flowers (“I’ve always been in and around nature, and always been around plants,”) he brings a pragmatic head that is all about using the best materials and streamlined logical methods.
They may come to flowers from very different directions, but the pair realised they had to do something more proactive. “I teach floristry as well,” adds Diligent, “and so many florists at my classes and one-to-ones kept saying ‘I wish there was a book on this’. Well we know about this, we have the information. It almost felt like we had to do a book. It would be irresponsible to know all this and not to share the knowledge.”
The book covers everything from conditioning (because there’s a misconception garden flowers don’t last, which, says Diligent, is not true) and the myriad kit you can use to avoid using foam, through to step-by-step instructions on how to create urns and garlands, bouquets and buttonholes, arches and hanging installations. There are also chapters on wreaths and natural funeral arrangements, as well as flower crowns and corsages.
To ensure that instructions were crystal clear, the pair looked at recipe books, car manuals and Ikea instruction booklets and commissioned line drawings to illustrate each method. They then road-tested the instructions on novices, making tweaks and adjustments as they went. They’ve already had requests from flower schools, who want to give all their students a copy of the book; the potential to really change the way people work is huge.
“Given that we are aware of the issues with single-use plastics going into waterways and not biodegrading in landfill, there simply isn’t the justification to teach floristry using single-use plastics,” says Diligent. “I think that using them will become unpopular and this will drive change.”
What’s clear is it’s possible to work on almost any scale without using foam. There are tips on how to create simple structures, such as a grid of tape on top of a vase, that anyone can do, but equally there are step-by-step guides to magnificent occasion structures, too. “If you’ve never done a whole arch foam-free you might think ‘I’m not sure how I’d do that’,” adds Diligent. “But if you’re armed with the information, it makes it feel like it’s possible.”
Visit kickstarter.com and search “Floral Mechanics” to support the book