To be honest, I have no idea what attracted me to floristry in the first place! After completing my master’s degree in anthropology, I changed course and went back to school for landscape design and gardening. I ran a small design and garden maintenance business while my kids were little and then returned to school again to study horticultural therapy. This led me to a beautiful (albeit short-lived) career as the horticultural therapist and lead gardener for the healing gardens program at our local children’s hospital. Able to experience first-hand the therapeutic benefits of flowers and nature, this work further fuelled my already long-standing belief in the power of the natural world and the importance of looking after the Earth.
More as a fleeting interest, really, I enrolled in our local floral design course in Calgary – thinking that, perhaps, it would provide a creative outlet as my girls were transitioning through high school and university. Instead, the course made me angry and confused. Each week I was given another piece of floral foam and bunches of imported flowers wrapped in non-recyclable plastic. How could a profession that seeks to showcase the beauty of nature be shrouded in so much plastic?
It was this frustration that launched my foray into sustainable floristry. Since launching Prairie Girl Flowers in 2018, I have never used floral foam or imported blooms. I have travelled to the US, the UK, and to other parts of Canada to learn from noted designers who share my principles of sustainability.
This is also one of the many reasons I created the Sustainable Flowers Workshop, which I hold in Calgary each year in September. 2021 will be our third workshop and each year I bring in different instructors to teach foam-free mechanics, instruct on socially sustainable business practices, ethical foraging, and many other topics.
With so many weddings and events cancelled here in Calgary, I found myself back in the garden. Growing more flowers and expanding my cutting and vegetable gardens, I found my peace. This time away from events also gave me the opportunity to investigate further education that could help expand my reach and ability to affect change in the industry. All of which led me to the master’s degree program (ALM) in sustainability at Harvard University. I have completed one of nine courses to far and am looking ahead to my residency in Boston when I will present my thesis topic and get to work on the arduous job of researching and writing my thesis.
In terms of my day-to-day work, creating with locally grown, pesticide-free flowers brings me the most joy. I feel happy working with them with my bare hands – something I can not say is true with some greenhouse grown or imported blooms. Growing my own flowers also fills me up and provides me with an array of gorgeous blooms that I could not find from any of my floral wholesalers. Creating seasonally-relevant designs is important to me, so cutting from my own gardens is the best way to showcase what is in season where I live.
One of my greatest strengths has been my outspoken nature (although I suppose some would not consider that a strength!). I have used my small platform as a way to educate others about the unsustainable parts of the floral industry and the importance of us moving away from traditional mechanics (such as floral foam) and the traditional reliance on imported blooms.
The @nofloralfoam movement has created significant awareness regarding the hazards of not only floral foam, but also other single-use plastics in our industry. However, we still have a long way to go. High-profile florists, HBO television series, and viral videos still feature floral foam prominently and most consumers, I would say, have no idea that floral foam is bad for the environment. Moreover, floral foam manufacturers continue to greenwash their products and dupe the public (and florists!) into thinking that foam will biodegrade and not harm the planet.
For me, it is easiest to respect florists that refuse to use floral foam in any of their designs. I also respect florists that follow the slow flowers movement and use local, sustainably grown, seasonal flowers. Floral designers who follow this model of sustainable and seasonal floristry are the future of the profession. In a world where we are increasingly aware of the threats to our ecosystems, climate change, and pollution, the only path forward in our profession must be founded on sustainability.
For my business, sustainability means:
never using floral foam
only using domestically grown, seasonal flowers and foliage
never purchasing plastics in any form (e.g. corsage containers, polyester ribbons, etc.)
recycling and composting all waste
reusing all components of my mechanics (including chicken wire, zipties, etc.)
choosing vintage vessels before purchasing newly manufactured vases, compotes, etc.
educating my customers and colleagues about sustainable practices in the industry.
1. Chicken wire
2. Burlap or jute twine
3. Unbleached paper for wrapping bouquets
4. Great snips!
5. Flower frogs
At all levels of the industry – from wholesalers to florists to consumers – there needs to be increased education about where our flowers come from, how they are processed, the chemicals that are used to treat them before they arrive in our homes, and the design tools that are used to create arrangements. Point of origin labelling on flowers would be a start. But more than that, adequate labelling on products such as floral foam could help inform designers and consumers about the implications of using these plastic products.