Premium

How to go plastic-free with your flower arranging

As concern grows over the environmental
impact of floral foam, Clare Coulson looks
at some more sustainable ways to display
As concern grows over the environmental impact of floral foam, Clare Coulson looks at some more sustainable ways to display Credit: GAP Photos

Last year the ever-expanding stacks of plastic plant pots that we all harbour in sheds and greenhouses became a hot topic for gardeners in the wake of Sir David Attenborough’s eye-opening Blue Planet II series and it’s one reason why many of us are starting to shop in a much more planet-friendly way – recycling, reusing, repurposing.

But there’s still a more sinister threat lurking in utility rooms and under sinks in the form of bricks and cylinders of green floral foam. Invented in the Fifties and used by florists and home arrangers ever since, the hugely useful absorbent, lightweight foam seems innocuous until you think of its non-biodegradable particles flushing down the drain and, eventually, into the path of marine life. It also contains some pretty nasty chemicals, including known carcinogens.

While manufacturers are trying to develop alternative biodegradable foam, the “no floral foam” movement has gathered serious pace. There are high-profile advocates, including Royal Warrant-holding florist Shane Connolly & Company, which uses greener, sustainable floristry techniques. And if these florists – often working on a grand scale, can create without the foam, so can the rest of us. For many, it’s a case of going back to old-school methods – chicken wire, pin frogs, moss and other supporting tricks.

So, as we all start to cut and display spring’s earliest blooms, think carefully about how you arrange them – and choose a greener, more sustainable way to do it.

Chicken wire

Ideal for opaque vessels and large displays, chicken wire is a very versatile support material. This lightweight mesh can be moulded into cylinders, spheres and more organic shapes for larger structures, such as arches and staircases. It generally retains its shape without additional fastenings and can be reused endlessly.

Chicken wire can also make a multilayered scaffolding within a vessel – to support stems low down as well as higher up. You can find different colours of chicken wire, including copper if you plan to use it where it will be seen.

Normally, the regular galvanised wire recedes well behind foliage if you are using it in a free-form structure.

Pin frogs

Victorian Lead Flower Frogs Credit:  RK0HRB

Brigitte Girling, of Moss & Stone Floral Design, is a fan of pin frogs, or kenzan, which she collects from antique shops or second-hand shops. They are reusable, cheap and come in many different sizes that can be used in almost any container.

These weighted discs are topped with a bed of pins and can be placed into the bottom of a vessel – you then push each stem into one of the prongs. Because of their shape they are useful for Japanese ikebana-style arrangements, where stems are arranged in elegant, carefully considered and often minimalistic displays, and often in shallow containers. Kenzan are used widely by Japanese floral designers.

But, says Girling, they are also useful as a secondary support act. “I’ll sometimes use a pin frog in the bottom of a vessel if I am using chicken wire. It makes it really secure if I want to use a heavier branch in the arrangement. They are lovely and heavy, too, so they stabilise the pot.”

She also advises sticking the pin frog down to the base of the vessel with Floral Fix to prevent any movement.

Moss

sphagnum moss has similar qualities to floral foam Credit: Alamy

Girling is also a fan of sphagnum moss, which has similar qualities to floral foam: it retains moisture with its spongy texture and can be compressed into different-shaped containers, including wreaths, urns and pots.

For many of us, it’s also free, as it can be raked straight from the lawn. Compress handfuls of moss into your vase, where it will provide support for the stems.

If moss is discoloured and you want to use it in a clear container, Girling suggests dousing it with boiling water to refresh the vivid green colour.

Twiggery

Make sure the twigs you use criss cross to provide support Credit:  GAP Photos

For wild-looking, large arrangements, create structural support by using branches of shrubs or trees – place these into your vessel first and make sure that side branches cross or come close enough to provide support on all sides of the flower stems. Depending on your arrangement, you could use branches with berries in autumn, winter-flowering stems, or blossom in spring so that the branches are also a part of the design.