Floral innovations

Jane Bradley, owner, floral designer and stylist at Brook & Earl, on sustainability in floristry

Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod

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Published: 3 September 2021

This Article was Written by: Katie Hill - My Green Pod

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This article first appeared in our ‘Why organic is the answer’ issue of My Green Pod Magazine, distributed with The Guardian on 03 September 2021. Click here to subscribe to our digital edition and get each issue delivered straight to your inbox

As a relative newcomer to the business of flowers, I was shocked by how slow and backwards the industry is.

In my previous life I worked in the greetings cards and fashion sectors; I’m not saying they are in any way perfect, but at least they are moving in the right direction.

Card manufacturers are beginning to use only FSC board, while fashion brands are introducing sustainably grown fibres and recycled materials to their clothing. In comparison the floristry industry is lagging far behind – on many levels.

Defying convention

The good thing about being a newbie is that it’s easier to break the mould, and in any case I’ve never been one for conforming.

I am now navigating my way round sustainable floral mechanics – using only seasonal flowers, finding out more about their sources and buying locally grown where I can. I’m just about to start growing my own cutting garden on the Broughton Sanctuary, where my business is based.

On Valentine’s Day you won’t find a single red rose in our studio. Why fly a rose halfway across the world – from Kenya, Ethiopia or Latin America – just to tell someone you love them?

I have used red roses in the past, but now I feel a responsibility to educate my customers by instead offering beautiful British-grown Smith & Munson tulips, stunning ranunculus or – my favourite – hellebores.

The decision to use seasonal flowers and foliage has been really liberating for me; limiting my choice has improved my creativity and defined my floral handwriting and style. Working with the seasons is so rewarding; using what nature gives us as the year unfolds keeps my work fresh and interesting.

Sustainable floristry rules

Sustainable floristry can be a bit of a minefield – I have certainly lost sleep over what’s right, what’s wrong and whether I am buying from the right sources – so I have given myself some rules.

I will (and do) buy seasonal flowers from the Netherlands to get the choice and the quality I require. The overall impact is far less than flying flowers around the world and probably not much greater than buying from Cornwall or Scotland.

I support local growers including Flowers by Season, a Yorkshire grower with the most beautiful blooms and foliage. They are reminiscent of the flowers in the garden of my childhood home: Antirrhinum majus, Alchemilla mollis and Eremurus stenophyllus – lots of cottage garden favourites.

I forage from the woodland at the Broughton Sanctuary, which throws up an abundance of foliage, twigs, sticks, berries, cow parsley and grasses.

Our business cards are made from recycled T-shirts from moo.com, the paper we use to wrap our flowers is recycled and recyclable and our plant-based tape contains zero plastic. Even the cleaning products we use in the studio are from Bower Collective, which vets products and suppliers according to sustainability criteria.

Inspired by Constance Spry

I have pledged never to use floral foam, which is made from synthetic, non-recyclable plastic and created using a combination of carbon black, formaldehyde and phenolic foam – all of which are toxic. I can’t believe that some colleges are still teaching floral foam techniques to students!

Instead, I opt for chicken wire and moss mechanics, with baked bean tins, fresh soup containers and jam jars placed to hold the water.

A huge inspiration and role model for me is Constance Spry, the British educator, florist and author of the mid 20th century.

One of the many ways Constance brought innovation to floristry was in the way she used balled chicken wire to hold plants and flowers in a way that resembled their natural growth.

Her unconventional designs continue to be a massive influence on today’s florists, and the fact she even used vegetables and weeds in her work fills me with joy – I love a bit of dock flower in a design!

You can’t eat an elephant

By using my imagination in wild and wonderful ways I can create new structures for my work and designs and keep pushing the boundaries.

I’m particularly proud of the mechanics I dreamed up for a woodland funeral I was asked to do earlier this year. I made a structure out of willow, criss-crossed and tied with jute string and filled tightly with moss. It worked perfectly and looked beautiful – plus it was completely biodegradable.

A great friend of mine often uses the phrase ‘you can’t eat an elephant’, and I agree. I am moving in the right direction and every little bit helps.

I will carry on learning and pushing the boundaries when it comes to how I approach my work; I’m certainly no guru, but I’m doing my best to save our beautiful planet in my own small way.

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