becoming sustainable

moss foam free flowers

I’ve been thinking a lot about the direction of my fledgling business and how many times I come back to sustainable floral design and my wish to be a foam-free florist.  I have the unique opportunity as both a seasoned florist but a new business owner to set certain standards and put them into practice much easier and faster than more established businesses.  When you have 50+ weddings on the books, or Teleflora orders are coming in daily, it is hard to suddenly change course – even gradual change is difficult while managing expectations and obligations that have already been set forth. 

Few industries are free from the need of sustainability, and ours is no different. This is why it’s important to have forward thinking momentum, and while it would be much easy for me to use what I already know and put it right back into practice, in the long run my business would benefit much more if I did the hard work now rather then later. 

There are (unfortunately) many aspects of the floral industry that can be viewed as environmentally negative: floral foam, plastic, pesticide/fungicide use, importing/exporting – it’s sort of shocking how much impactful waste comes from an industry built on nature and beauty. While I’d like to be in control of all these components, realistically it’s impossible; just as it is impossible for us to control it in our everyday lives. But every effort counts, and if we’ve learned anything, when a practice becomes more popular, we influence change where it is needed.

I was trained in the traditional way using many mechanisms for floral design, and floral foam played a big part in it. We have known for awhile now that floral foam is many things; on one hand, it holds water, makes arranging a breeze, and is widely and easily available. But on the other, it’s a single-use messy product that causes micro-plastic pollution and is probably not so great for our own health. This seems at odds with what we do as florists.

So what are the alternatives? Are there any?

The short answer: only a few. There are some products being sold (even by the very people who make the toxic stuff) that are supposedly more environmentally friendly – even reusable. Some are made of wool. some claim to be compostable. However, they’re all really expensive alternatives because they are not widely accepted, so not mass produced. I can’t just head up to my local supply distributor and grab a big ol’ box, and what is the incentive if it also costs way more? I do not like the idea of passing it on to the customer, or even taking the hit – this is a business, after all…which is when your mind sort of travels back to just using good ol’ floral foam and calling it a day…

But there is one other alternative that really speaks to me, because it sort of embodies who and what I really am – and that is using moss. I am big on foraging, and big on reusing, and big on composting. The idea that an arrangement I create can mostly go back to the earth in a positive way is a very exciting idea for me (whatever, let me nerd out a bit). Why moss? Sphagnum moss can hold water 20-30 times its weight. It’s also naturally sterilizes, so no need for cleaning it with harsh chemicals, making it fantastic for re-use.

I have seen moss logs created and generally understand best practice methods, but I had yet to do it myself. After searching the internet high and low for a decent quantity of sphagnum at a good price, I thought it might be better to look around locally. I stopped by my favorite nursery, but they weren’t carrying moss – yet. I ran into my nearby big box home improvement store’s garden center and found they had orchid moss (which is apparently sphagnum moss, and what I needed). I bought two small blocks for about $5 each (yeesh), knowing I would have to dedicate more time later in finding it for a better price – at least it’s reusable!

I also learned that you can just ya know, go outside and find moss. I have never done so with a purpose, so I didn’t realize how in reach it could be. I simply walked the perimeter of my yard and found – A LOT of ground moss. It never even occurred to me it was there. And the best part? It’s entirely free. I grabbed some (but not all) so I could track how long it takes to regenerate. Foraging will most likely not be my only option, as I will need to find a source for purchasing larger quantities, but for now I’m pretty happy with my discovery.

Does this also mean no floral foam ever again? In hindsight, my design style calls for much more natural applications, so really, if you love my work, then nothing will changeI am really enjoying learning alternative ways to arrange everything from compotes to large scale arrangements without foam; building and adding water sources and using more natural material. I will continue practicing until I perfect it. Sustainability is happening and I am happy to make my contribution, however small. We are just getting started.