Sustainable Flower Arranging, Part One: Frogs
We successfully weaned ourselves off of flower foam over at Lola Event Floral & Design. It’s not been easy. The green yuck (floral foam) is just so efficient and when you’re in a bind, it’s easy to revert back to what’s easy. (Isn’t this addict talk?) You can hear more of my whining about it in this previous post. I discovered (though I hate to admit it) that my short term anxiety over time restraints during event production, delivery, and setups trumps my noble desire to run a more sustainable operation. But thanks to the waggling fingers and stoney resolve of some of my employees, the interwebs, and some colleagues, I’ve been kept on the straight and narrow. Hopefully I can be that motivation for you. If I can build some new greener neural pathways, you can too. It’s definitely a different way of approaching arranging, but we’ve developed some new processes that we can be proud of. So proud, in fact, that we’d like to share them with you.
(And by the way, I documented this tutorial with On-Site Reporter, an app that facilitates this sort of thing. Read more on that at the end. And as a bonus, it just happens to be created by the most wonderful man in the world (hubby)).
We’ll start with what’s easy. Flower pin frogs. Little metal pucks with pointy ends to grip your stems. They are great for securing a few stems as you make a stem cage support for the rest of the arrangement, or for use in a low dish where there isn’t much room for support. I make sure my frog and bowl are dry and secure the frog to the bowl with some floral clay.
I’ve got a potted azalea that doesn’t have a home so I cut off a piece of the mini shrub and secured it to the frog. Woodier stems like this will have to be jammed in. Careful you don’t impale yourself! I also want to add some pussy willow but the stem’s too thick for me to jam it on with all these other plants in the way so I go ahead and add some clay to the end to give it a bit more adhesion. This stem is dried so I’m not concerned with it actually being under water- just in there enough to stay in place.
Next I’ve got some monstrous ranunculus, a hellebore plucked from my yard, and a few more bits of foliage. And that about does it. Don’t need much.
So cute… so healthy… Loooove. If you deliver this you’ll just have to remember to water again when you get there.
Now for some glamour shots.
We’ll be going over a bunch of different methods for getting interesting foam free looks, so follow us to keep up to date. And if you’re thinking about going foam-free, do it. Hesitant? Of course, but do it anyway. You’re a freagin’ MacGyver, you’ll figure it out.
AND if you want to know more about On-Site Reporter, check it out. It basically allows you to document any site visit or process with steps by matching photos with dictated or typed in notes. Chronological photos and notes are then sent to you. No more confusion wondering what you did when- BOOM. It practically puts your tutorial together for you. At the time of this article, we’re (ehem, I mean) THEY are still working on some quirks with the android version. But i-phone is good to go. Let us, er… they know what you think.
Designing with Seaweed
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Ya, this bouquet is great and everything, but it’s missing something. I dunno, something slimy, something…. that smells of the bonny brine of th’ foamy tide.” (Oh, you think in pirate-speak, too?)
Yes! Well we think so too. And so did the creative thinkers over at Seattle Bride Magazine when they asked Lola Event Floral & Design to contribute to their ocean themed feature for the upcoming issue that will hit stands this week.
Sliminess and smell aside, seaweed is alluring because first, the sliminess and smelliness means probably no one else will be working with it and second because the translucency and watery quality epitomizes the ocean and our Puget Sound region. Third, the texture is so unique.
Check out the lovely translucency in this gorgeous image from this winter’s Northwest coast inspired post.
Well, we thought we’d share with you what we learned while working with this ocean grower.
First some rules. Seaweed is habitat for a variety of species with erosion control properties that are so important for coastlines. Just as we don’t rip plants out of forests to play with, we don’t rip seaweed from rocks. Luckily, there are plenty of pretties just layin’ about awaitin’ to be haaaaarrrvested. (back pirate, back… sigh). There are also some restrictions on which beaches you can harvest from. For more info, peruse the fish and wildlife page on shellfish and seaweed harvesting.
We harvested a bunch of different varieties but were most successful with the little curly red/ purple seaweed and these large green leaves.
We started by rinsing our seaweed in cold water (warm water makes them super gooey) and setting them out on some wax paper. We wanted them to be sealed so that they would maintain shape as they dried and preserve the coloring. We wanted a clear and flexible coat. For this we tried Golden’s Self-Leveling Gel and High Solid Gel to test the best product.
The Self-Leveling Gel is above and the High Solid Gel below. These are found in the acrylic paint section of your art store. They were both applied with a soft brush (big, floppy, cloud soft) so it wouldn’t pull the delicate plant. Both mediums produced a clear seal, though we went with the self-leveling gel because it produced a thicker coat that added heft to the delicate leaf so we could really play with it. We did find that the coloring changed drastically during this process. We have not tested whether this is due to a reaction with the sealant, or exposure to the sun. It’s worth giving Mod Podge a shot to test it’s colorfastness and to save some money.
After carefully flipping the pieces, we coated the other side, let dry completely and curled it into these unusual tufts cascading out of the arrangement below.
The arrangement is placed in a recycled glass vessel with plant roots (a nod to the eroding land into the sea) and plants with shapes that mimic sea life. We also sealed mussels shells we found after a sea bird feast. The interiors are a lovely opalescent blue that really glow with a little gloss.
Enjoy! Don’t forget to pick up a copy of the new magazine! Let us know what you think.
That’s a nice bouquet, bow lady. Needs some seaweed.
Waterlilies a.k.a. Nemesis Jerklips var. “Drama Queen”
Possibly one of our greatest strengths, and biggest draws over here at Lola Event Floral & Design, is that we take on and work out some pretty challenging endeavors.
Original ideas with unclear approaches? We find one or three.
No information on where to find or get something unique? We find it… or make it.
You don’t think we can strap that to our pickup truck? Oh, we think we can.
You saw a waterlily arrangement at a Los Angeles event and want to do something similar for the Pacific Science Center King Tut Gala? You’ve heard they are difficult to work with? And you need them for not one night but two?- Puh-leez. It’s a flower, we can figure it out. This thing is going to be Tut-tacular.
We’ve not worked with waterlilies before, and as it turns out, not a lot of people have. Apparently they are difficult. But, we figured, it has been done. No ambiguity there. So, if there is a solution, we are the ones to find it. And the lack of information out there was just fuel to the fire to jump into a floral experiment that can be shared.
For challenging tasks, we try to fail early and often to work out the unknowns. I, personally, love this process. It’s like little clues to a multi-dimensional puzzle that always comes together. THIS process, however, had me in a battle with a flower- a flower I expected to figure out on Round 1: Waterlily, meet Human. But after Round 2: Waterlily Pamper and Coax, the flowers were given a new name “Jerklips”, though “Pond Scum” was also a contender. Round 3: Waterlily and Human Accord had me thinking we were going to be all right, but after the Final Round: Humans are Slaves to the Waterlily it was clear I was still being schooled by a swamp grower.
Here’s our story… (you can skip to the bottom if you don’t want the play by-play)
We would need about 100 white waterlilies. Two months before the event, we found a local grower. Done. Commence online and phone research. At this point we learn that waterlilies are pretty short-lived to begin with. We learn that they open up every day, and close up every evening usually by 4pm. They have about a 5 day life. They are cut on the first day of opening, shipped the second, so we’ve got a 2-3 day window. They are happiest in warm weather under direct sun. So the challenge is… get them happy enough to open and get them to stay open well after their natural inclination is to shut tight.
Hmmm….warm and sunny, tricky.
One month before we checked in on our supplier to see how our little lovelies were growing… They were NOT growing. What was an “Absolutely they will be ready” turned into a “No way they will be ready”.
Our new supplier was found in Texas where warmth and sun abounds. Texas Waterlilies is a privately owned aquatic plant grower and not only had more waterlilies than I would ever know what to do with, they also had a wealth of readily available knowledge, top-notch customer service, experience selling cut flowers to floral designers, patience, and a man named Dusty with a way of speech that a Texas man named Dusty should have. Finding these people was relief and happiness. I immediately ordered about 10 of their hardiest, toughest, awesomest waterlilies.
Round One: Waterlily, Meet Human
The lilies were shipped overnight and arrived around noon wrapped in wet newspaper and sealed in a plastic bag. The plastic bag was packed in bigger box with some extra padding. The day was what, we Seattleites, would call a sunny spring day. Probably around a high of 60 degrees F. We immediately cut the stems under water and put them out on a sunny ledge- half in flower solution the other half just in water. The tight buds nudged open just a little tiny bit. As the afternoon wore on, we switched them around to the warmest areas of the lot, finally landing on the hood of my pickup, the hottest spot I could find. Not a budge. We moved them to a hot plate- formerly used for my sweetie’s awesome buckwheat pancakes. (You owe me, waterlily!) Still nothing. N-O-T-H-I-N-G .”They must just be totally shocked”, I thought. “Poor little guys,” I thought.
Oy, more research was needed. I floated the waterlilies in the shop and frantically called Dusty, who was nice enough to return my call on a weekend. “Just get them above 80 and in the sun, ” he says.
I also learned that the stems have to stay wet. (Oy, that shoulda been a given)
The next morning, I opened my shop (which gets pretty warm with the doors closed) and what did I find? Half open waterlilies in the dark. So apparently it’s more of a warmth thing. I can get warmth better than I can get sun. Day two I put them in warm water but it was too late. they were done. Time for Round Two.
Round Two: Waterlily, Pamper and Coax
Round two came like the first, but with some extras (thanks Dusty). This time they were kept in the sunniest place in the house since it was clear warmth is what we were after. I put a layer of plastic wrap over their water bath and I cranked up the heat. Fifty percent of them opened- a little. The others, nothing. And at 4pm they were all shut. They received the name Jerklips because they when they shut, they really do shut all the way, there is no visible sign that they intend to open again at all, ever. There is no communication to the human caretakers. Jerks.
Then something happened. On day two with the same conditions the lilies that were half-opened on day one were ready for business on day two. (the other half never opened). Good enough! They are absolutely glorious when they are open. We melted down some waxed and applied the wax at the base of the petals with a squeeze dropper.
We drove some over to our clients for a meeting so that they could determine for themselves if the level of openness was going to be sufficient. We found that even with wax, after 4pm they closed in a little- and sometimes wonkily. After 10pm they were just “okay”. We suggested an alternative flower, but our client was firm that it had to be waterlilies- MORE WAX!
Round 3: Waterlily and Human Accord
We chose to use only the white waterlilies for their color and because they stayed open the longest. We received the waterlilies and immediately put them in warm water inside a bath with plastic covering. The lilies had the rest of the day to relax in water before they were open enough to wax. Be prepared for them to close up after their day of rest. This is a horrifying time because they look like they will never open again. They will.
The next morning (about 7am) we added more warm water to get the water temp back up. Around 11am, most of them were open and glorious! The duds (buds that don’t open) improved to 40% instead of half the shipment. This time we waxed more heavily, filling up large pools of wax, not only around the petals closest to the middle, but in every petal clear down to the base of the flower.
The entire waxing and wait time was about 8 minutes PER FLOWER! Since we would need about 120 lilies, that’s a lot of labor. We tested a 6 minute lily just to see if some time could be saved.
By the way, check out how much the flowers close just during the waxing process. Pre-wax is on the left and immediately post- wax is on the right. And here is a cross-section of the stem. Be sure to cut the stems under water. I’m not fully sure how this plant works but you can tell by looking at the cross-section where the water is. If you see water pulled up into the quarters, that is good. If the capillaries are open and free of water, I’d keep cutting under water until you see water.In the photo below, the end closest to the camera is free of water while the other end has water trapped. Not totally sure, but I assume that is good.
For our needs, we wanted the waterlilies to last two nights, so we did not have to replace our 8 minute waterlily with another for the second event. Here is what the lilies looked like at midnight on day three! Not bad at all! As you can see on the right that the 6 minute waterlily did okay, but not as open and stunning as the others.We figured we could reduce some of the browning by fussing less with the extraneous wax.
Final Round: Humans are Slaves to the Waterlily
This event has taught me that, when you figure it out, don’t change ANYTHING. We ordered enough lilies for slightly less than the best case scenario. We needed 90-110 waterlilies and ordered 220 to account for the duds and have a few left over to change out any particularly frazzled lilies for night 2 of our event. The 80 degree worked so well, I wondered what would happen if we increased the temperature. Afterall, a Texas spring is in the 90s, not the 80s. I wondered if we got the temperature up to 90, if we would have more success with the buds that did not open. Long story short, that was a bad idea. The humans and the lilies sweated it out and we ended up with a lot of stressed out flowers and a greater fail rate than even round 2 had produced. Luckily, we set up the waterlily arrivals in two shipments to optimize the lilies preferred timeline. The second delivery we shifted back to the tried and true method with great results. We ended up still having to substitute some lilies on night two of our event with peonies.
Waterlilies, we appreciate your tenacity. Please know we are your friends.
In summary, here is our recipe for getting great waterlily cut flowers in our cool climate:
- Order about double the waterlilies that you will need. Texas Waterlilies was incredible to work with.
- Get waterlilies in 80 degree water bath as soon as you can. Indoors or if sunny and cool, under a plastic row cover or greenhouse .
- Cut stems underwater and remove floating bits.
- Use cups, or some other device to anchor the stems under water. The curved stems will want to curve up sometimes with the exposed end out of water. Ensure most of the stem stays moist.
- Cover bath with plastic and let rest until the following morning.
- The following morning, add warm water early (we did about 7am) to get the water temperature back up to 80. We kept water temps between 80 and 85 and air temps between 70 and 80.
- Between 10 and 12, all the waterlilies that you will get will probably be open. We’ve had some luck opening lilies that are almost all the way open by transferring them to a new fresh warm water bath, with recut stems.
- Move waterlilies from water to a cup or class so that petals can dry out of the water. Keep stems in water- recut stems
- Prepare a hot plate and dropper. Keep a stash of droppers in a glass of hot water on the hot plate. The droppers get jammed and it’s faster to grab a new one than it is to unclog the dropper.
- With a dropper and melted wax, apply wax to the inside of the flower just under the very first little petals. Move outward and as wax dries, apply more to create thick pools. Tilt flower as needed to get wax in between the very bottom petals.
- We found that 8 minutes was optimal to get lilies to stay full and open the longest.
- Take care not to remove wax, touch the petals, or generally fuss with anything that is not the base of the petal. The petals bruise easily. Once dry, place back into water bath or keep in glasses for transport.
* We did not use floral solution after Round 2. We seemed to be getting the same effects without it but more experimentation would be useful here.
If you have some other experiences with waterlilies, we would LOVE to hear about them.
Flower Lore for the Month of May
I have an interest in flower history, lore, beliefs, any weird things people of olden (?) times believed or did with flowers. Many of them are a little scary. So many more are so sweet.
I have a copy of Flower Lore by Hilderic Friend written in 1884. It’s chock full of interesting bits about flowers but frustratingly written in flowery language that leaves me interrupting my reading to google long recycled words. The cadence of the writing makes my reading voice (in my head) sound wispy and drawn out. I get crazy eyes and my body starts moving like a possessed flutist in a symphony.
Too much! For the frustrating language and the crazy-making transformative powers, this book has sat in the “purge” pile three times, only to be tried again.
So here is a bit of interesting stuff from the book. In France in the eighteenth century, it used to be custom for the groom to send his bride a little nosegay of fresh, in season flowers every day leading up to the wedding…. um, yes please. The Duke of Montausier send his sweetie pie an artist’s drawing of a flower and commissioned a poet to write a verse about each flower and bound it together in a volume. Every. Day.
Another tidbit involves Lily of the Valley which is kind of the flower of May. It is supposed to represent the return of happiness and unconscious sweetness with the coming of Spring according to the Language of Flowers. (One of those books similar to a color book that says by painting your walls orange, you will be excitable) Also, with a blossom shaped like a crown, it is called the Crown Imperial and represents Majesty and Power. Especially interesting given Kate Middleton’s bouquet choice. Apparently lily of the valley has been incorporated into every royal bouquet since Queen Victoria. This bizarre book even alludes to the flower being Jesus’ favorite. Oy.
Here’s an interesting note on Queen Elizabeth’s wedding gown and flower choice- taken off of dovima_is_divineII’s page on Flickr
Queen Elizabeth’s wedding gown
“After eight revisions , the 27 year old Elizabeth chose a white gown with an empire’s worth of floral emblems: a Tudor Rose (England), a thistle (Scotland), shamrocks (Ireland), maple leaves (Canada), wattle flowers (Australia), ferns (New Zealand), proteas (South Africa), lotus flowers (India), leeks (Wales), and for Pakistan, three emblems—Wheat, Cotton and Jute. In the same “cover the waterfront” spirit, she carried “an all-white bouquet featuring orchids and lily of the valley from England and Wales as well as stephanotis and carnations from Scotland and the Isle of Man.”
And by the way who knew Jesus had a favorite anything. Brings up all sorts of other questions. And if he had a favorite flower, what was his favorite food? Did he have a favorite cup? pair of sandals? A BFF?
Using lily of the valley in your DIY arrangement? When you get the flowers, pick or buy the ones with most of the flowers in bloom. Closed buds will probably not bloom. Pull apart the stems from the leaf bases and recut them before putting them in water. If they are droopier than they should be, submerging in a water bath can help.
A Sustaina-Ball Flower Arrangement
Everything we learned, we learned in kindergarten. Right? I don’t know if you remember this little craft. You may have been too busy eating the dried paste off your desk…. waaaaait, that may have been me. In any case, this is a great craft to be resurrected and given new life. And so fitting that this arrangement is all about new life. Springtime and sustainability. Everything about this arrangement is either recycled (glass vase), organic, or local AND organic. This can be traced back to our other kindergarten lesson, be good to the earth.
These string balls are so versatile. I love their airy forms. If you’d like a how-to, I used the instructions from Wednesday Designs here. Although, I must say, I will mess with the recipe next time. Maybe leave out the cornstarch. I didn’t like having to break out all the little glue windows. However, I may have been too gloppy…. sometimes I can be too gloppy.
Local sustainably grown flowers included Viburnum, Hellebore, Agrostis, budding pussy willow, Green Ball Flower (I actually don’t know the real name), and parrot tulips.
And here is one of our clam-mouthed parrot tulips.