Right now I’ve got two bouquets in front of me. One is fresh — yellow mimosa and catkins. The other is dried — ethereal, delicate and surprisingly cheerful. Both are the way ahead: sustainable flowers.
They’re made with native greenery or blooms, zero air miles and no pesticides. They’re seasonal or dried in season, and local — all concepts we take on board when it comes to fruit and veg but which somehow escape us when we come to flowers.
Eco floristry is taking off, with a new wave of young florists who share an obsession with sustainability. What’s interesting is how creative florists can be when they’re restricted to native produce.
But there’s no getting away from it; this period of late winter before the blossoming of spring is a tricky time to find much other than bulb flowers.
One creative solution is the traditional option — dried flowers. In times gone by this meant dusty bunches of papery purple limoniums. Now dried is cool.
Given a choice of dried, fat, mopheaded hydrangeas or imported scentless roses, it’s no contest.
The trend has been captured in a book coming out in April, Cut and Dried (Laurence King, £17.99), by Carolyn Dunster, a botanical stylist and garden designer who created the catkin and mimosa bunch, and with it a neutral dried bouquet.
Lots of plants dry well, she says: “roses, lavenders, mophead hydrangeas, thistles, alliums, gypsophila, achillea, many herb varieties and most grasses.”
One of the easiest are alliums. Dried, they become “intricate globe-shaped structures that are pure works of art”.
Her method is simple — when flowers are at their peak, pick on a fine day and remove the lower stems. Slip a rubber band round them and hang upside down from coat hangers in a dry room.
Most take four weeks to dry but you can speed things up by cutting the stems short and putting them in the microwave for 10-second bursts until the moisture evaporates. Set with hairspray.
Milli Proust is typical of the new breed of sustainable florists. Right now she’s not supplying fresh flower bouquets, just dried, and they’re exquisite.
The idea of sustainability runs through her organic horticultural practice.
“I’m a small-scale grower,” she says, “and grow everything on less than an acre. I dry a portion of my crop every summer to use through winter and early spring.”
Wolves Lane Flower Company is a micro flower farm in Haringey run by Marianne Mogendorff and Camila Klich.
They use seasonal, scented flowers, untreated with chemicals and pesticides. They aren’t supplying flowers until the end of March.
“Having to wait for flowers means that you appreciate them more,” says Mogendorff.
This year they’ll be keeping more for drying. “Dried flowers have got over their Seventies vibe — gaudy and dusty,” she says. “And the dried flower resurgence works really well with British flowers.”
The London Flower Farmer works with its own seasonal flowers on three acres of reclaimed ground next to Walthamstow Wetlands.
Treea Cracknell’s bouquets this month are “scented narcissus from Cornwall and tulips from Lincolnshire plus some branches from my field. In all honesty February should really about flowering shrubs, trees, hellebores and snowdrops”. Heaven.
Grow your own sustainable flowers
The most sustainable flowers are ones you grow yourself. You can get a surprising amount from a small space.
Sarah Raven’s new book, A Year Full of Flowers (Bloomsbury, £25), is about extending your season. Plant dahlias this month. Later, from seed, cosmos, phlox, nigellas.
David Austin Roses supplies English roses for cutting — fragrant Silas Marner, perhaps. Old roses are fabulous: Comte de Chambord or Ferdinand Pichard with stripy blooms. I love moss roses: try Old Pink Mossfrom Austin.
As Dunster says: “Once we start to learn about the flowers that are in season, it makes it easier to choose British-grown flowers that are full of character, scent and individual quirks — elements that are always missing from flowers that have been imported and flown in a state of semi-suspension half way across the world.”
She’s right. Let’s make our flowers green.
Where to buy sustainable flowers
Milli Proust does dried bouquets from £35, and super-small bouquets for £12. Her fresh flower bunches will probably start from April.(milliproust.com)
Treea Cracknell of The London Flower Farm does fresh and dried bouquets. Seasonal flower subscriptions are from £25 for a small bouquet or from £40 for a bucket of blooms. (londonflowerfarmer.co.uk)
Wolves Lane Flower Company isn’t supplying fresh flowers yet, but from April to September it offers bouquets and a subscription service for £40 for a bucket of flowers. (wolveslaneflowercompany.com)
David Austin Roses has the best roses: Silas Marner, £22. Old Pink Moss, £18.50. Ferdinand Pichard, £18.50. (davidaustinroses.co.uk)
Sarah Raven does a wide range of flower seeds and, from March, seedlings. (sarahraven.com)
Chiltern Seeds has seeds for interesting cuttable shrubs as well as flowers. (chilternseeds.co.uk)