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  • Writer's pictureLaura Giles

What is a “sustainable florist” and why does that matter for my wedding?

Maybe you’ve heard the buzz about floristry lately and the terms “sustainable” and “florist” put together? Maybe you haven’t but, for sure, we are all familiar with the words sustainable and sustainability. Let me, as a local florist in the Ann Arbor area, shed a little light on the world of floristry and why choosing a “sustainable florist” should matter for your wedding!

What is sustainability? Oxford dictionary defines it as “avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance”.

I chose to become a sustainable florist because of the waste that I saw in the industry after a one day event. A single wedding can produce hundreds of flowers that can still bring joy to someone, thrown out vases and plastics that could’ve been washed and reused, and especially the amount of used floral foam sent off on trash day.

Let’s break this down a bit so the non-florist can better understand…

What Floral Foam is…

Are you familiar with what floral foam is? Once you see this image below you realize it is everywhere! Commonly used in wedding work, centerpiece arrangements, and funeral work this is a staple for many brick and mortar florists.

Invented in 1954 by Vernon Lewis Smithers, this was hailed as the answer to all florists' prayers for a reliable water source, a stem holder, an easy way to transport arrangements, and an all around helpful tool in floristry work. Soaked in water, these bricks can increase their weight by a factor of nearly 40. Back then, the world was not as aware of what factors the environment would be facing and the reality of the biodegradability of everyday products. Now after almost 60 years of use by the floral industry, floral foam is being slowly discarded as the automatic go to tool for floral arrangements, bridal bouquets, and even large scale floral installation work. This single use plastic product has been found to have very detrimental effects as it is made up of carcinogenic compounds that include carbon black and formaldehyde. Floral foam is not a biodegradable product but rather breaks down into a microplastic which is harmful to us as humans and marine life in our oceans.

Weddings can sometimes see the biggest use of floral foam and the amount of these bricks used to pull off many centerpieces and large installations are staggering. At the end of the night, you might see hundreds of used, water soaked bricks packed in black garbage bags ready to head out to a landfill. I am not passing judgment on florists who use floral foam, I am simply saying that we have to all take a look at our practices and consider at least cutting some of our dependency on this product.

What did florists do before Floral Foam?

In the “old” days, florists had to rely on their imaginations and creativity to create floral arrangements for all sorts of life occasions. It is something quite beautiful to see these time proven techniques coming back to the forefront of the floral industry. Since I began my business, I have relied on these techniques and have taken floral sustainability courses and spent a few sleepless nights problem solving for an installation or particularly challenging presentation of flowers that I was asked to create.

People in our industry like the amazing Passionflower Sue (who lives right here in Ann Arbor!) have provided invaluable tools and ideas. Sue’s "hydration chamber" is my go to for all the wearable flowers I produce for a wedding - boutonnieres, corsages, floral crowns, floral rings… all of these products spend some time hydrating and drinking up water for their big day. The hydration chamber is not as scientific as it sounds either, it is simply an airtight container with damp paper towels. This allows hardy blooms to drink in not only from stems but through all the pores of the flower, plumping them up and making them reliable for the time they are on show during a wedding. It is a time saving gamechanger and is so simple!

Another great reusable and foam free product used back in the day and now used again is chicken wire! Believe it or not, this is the best tool I think we have at our disposal if we want to practice sustainable floristry. We use chicken wire for all our large installations! Starting first with a copper structure, we surround the base with a layer of chicken wire. Next step is to “green” the base with layers of hardy foliage and greenery. This step is super important but not hard to achieve. There are lists and lists floating around the internet about greenery that can stay out of water for the length of an event. Finally, we add the flowers. We rarely have to use water tubes as, again, there are many flowers that will last well out of water for the length of a wedding ceremony and reception. Roses are on that list but so are dahlias, carnations, cremons… When we do need water tubes, we reuse them again and again. I have yet to recycle a water tube. Chicken wire is also reusable and we use the same pieces over and over, bending them into new shapes and cutting them to fit a different application.

A favorite completely foam free mostly foliage arch from a wedding last year at Zingerman's Cornman Farms. Copper base with chicken wire and loads of fresh seasonal greenery and corner flowers. This structure looked exactly the same at the end of the night as it did the morning we installed it!

Another small sustainable decision we have made is to use chicken wire in all of our vessels as the base “mechanic” for centerpieces and statement pieces.

We have never found that being a sustainable florist has curbed our creativity. Rather, I believe it makes you a more creative florist as you are already thinking and creating outside the lines of what is convenient and easy. Finished arrangements look natural and not stiff and I know that the stems are in fresh water instead of a hazardous green foam. It’s a win/win!

Here is foam free, no water tube, chicken wire framed tree installation for an Elopement wedding at Cornman Farms. Tied onto the tree using twine and hemp. All reusable or compostable...

Other sustainable practices include using moss, using twine instead of plastic zip ties, hidden water containers, composting all the paper packaging and cuttings when creating floral pieces, using “kenzans” also known as flower frogs, and even newly created sustainable alternatives like the Agrawool Bricks (made from Basalt Wool) and Oshun Pouches (made from organic coir). Although some of the new alternatives are still costly and have some setbacks, I know that even now, there are folks in the floral industry working on a better way that is safe for the human behind the flowers but also planet friendly.

I mentioned earlier about the used flowers that “still could bring joy to someone”. We save all the flowers not taken home by our clients or their families after a wedding and donate them. We have local places that receive them as well as a nearby hospice in Saline, Michigan. There, they are made into small bedside posy’s for the patients. My clients love this repurposing of the blooms! Recently, a large corporate event at the University of Michigan chose to save all the vessels for me and all the flowers so they could be donated to the hospice. The bowls and compotes were washed and dried as well as the chicken wire structures inside them, ready to be used for another event. The flowers were all donated! A simple decision and a small act but one we all felt good about!

I am encouraged that I am a part of an industry as a whole that continues to look forward to create, simplify, and problem solve while still providing beautiful florals for couples on their wedding day and other important life events.



Instagram @little_workshop_floral


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