A workshop full of flowers
Two weeks ago I had a workshop full of beautiful flowers all prepared and conditioned ready for running two floral design events in my local pub for the Saturday before Mother’s Day. After months of organising and promoting, my events were almost fully booked and I was looking forward to meeting all my guests and sharing my passion for flowers.
It wasn’t to be. On Friday 20th March, there was an announcement on the news to say that all pubs and restaurants were to shut from midnight on Friday. I had a workshop full of fresh flowers and had spent a small fortune on materials and tools.
Some of my workshop guests kindly ordered Mother’s Day flowers when they heard the event couldn’t go ahead, so I made up some hatboxes and delivered these instead. Not the same as learning to make one yourself, but I hope the boxes made some lovely mum’s happy.
Waste not, want not
Even after delivering the hatboxes I still had a workshop full of flowers. I decided to make as many designs as I could from my remaining flowers and to share my construction and mechanics through some tutorials. This is the first of four tutorials made from the same overflowing workshop of flowers. I hope to make more throughout the spring as my own flowers begin to bloom.
A foam-free design
I made this bright funeral spray arrangement without floral foam. I admit (probably controversially!) that I do still use floral foam but I am trying to find ways to reduce the amount I use so that I can confidently offer the option of foam-free to clients. I have found practicing construction without foam to be really helpful, especially for checking the design will hold well. I guess every florists worst fear is for a design to wilt before it’s time! My experience with foam-free has shown that the designs hold very well, though for some flowers they are more short-lived in foam-free so being selective about content is a must.
- Wet sphagnum moss
- A suitable tray for designing in
- Small gauge chicken wire (un-coated if you want to avoid plastic completely)
- A compostable caddy bag
- Paper covered wire (or strong garden twine)
- Your choice of flowers and foliage
- Wire cutters (and gloves for handling the chicken wire)
- Florist knife or scissors
- A selection of skewers in a variety of widths (for making moss holes for fragile stems)
- A turntable if you have one – makes designing so much easier
I used a square wooden tray (25 cm x 25 cm x 5 cm) as my base, but you could use compostable bamboo/palm leaf plates. Cut out a square of chicken wire a few inches bigger all round than your container so that you have spare for adding a little height and for tucking in around the edges.
Add a layer of extra water-retention
Open out the compostable caddy bag and tuck it into your base so that most of it is covered. If you have a larger container, add more bags and give them a little overlap. The intention is not to make the container completely water tight, but to just help to retain more of the water in the moss for longer.
Moss it up!
Add a mound of nicely damp sphagnum moss to the tray. Pack in as much as you can fit. Don’t be afraid to ‘dome’ up the moss as this bit of height will give you the space to add stems that trail over the edges of the container. Once you’ve crammed in as much moss as you can manage, lay over the chicken wire and carefully tuck in all the edges. Make sure not to leave any sharp edges exposed and try not to have too many patches of multiple layers of wire as these will be harder to add stems to. I’ve found that if I get something wrong at this stage, it’s best to just take it apart and start again than to try to force flowers into over-meshed areas.
Secure the tray
Your mossed tray should look something like this. With a bit of height and a neat layer of chicken wire. For added security, use wire or strong twine to tie around the container and the moss and chicken wire contents. Top up the moss at this stage with more water.
Green it up
Begin greening up the design. I like to use a turntable to design on as it’s easier to spin the design around and check the balance from all sides. A turntable also allows the stems to drape as you’re designing. I used a mixture of eucalyptus, pittosporum, ivy, laurel, fatsia and very small leaved hebe.
It doesn’t really matter what foliage you use, but try to vary the shades of green you use and add interest with different textures and leaf shapes. Firmer ivy trails make great outline shapes for the pointed ends of a design. Dark, glossy foliage adds depth. Here the eucalyptus adds a lovely grey-green.
Build up the design outline
Gradually build up the outline you want. A single ended spray would have a shorter, more rounded end and a longer, pointed shape at one side. A double spray would have points at both sides. You can make your shape as tight and controlled as you like with very precise checks on your stem lengths. However, I prefer a looser, more natural style. Don’t forget to leave yourself some room for your flower stems – you may need more space than you would usually leave if working with foam to allow for easing delicate stems into the moss.
Add flowers – make use of tools to help you with delicate stems
This is where I got carried away and put nearly all my flowers in without remembering to take more photos! I used a selection of red, yellow, orange and multi orange tulips, some lovely orange-yellow Germini’s and a few sprays of sweetly scented genista. I added the Germini’s first, followed by the tulips and lastly the genista. I used skewers to make holes in the moss for both the tulips and the Germini’s as both have very soft stems.
If possible, I’d recommend trying the design with sturdy stems when you have a go for the first time – roses are great, really easy to insert, as are chrysanthemums, stocks, delphiniums, peonies – anything with a strong stem. Then when designing with softer stems, stick to the skewer technique and buy or harvest a few extra stems to allow for those few that will have you cursing under your breath!
You get used to the feel of whether you’ve chosen a good spot for the stem to be inserted. I snapped a few stems this way until I got used to the level of pressure needed. Be aware with your tulips that they will continue to grow and move toward the light – so if you’re going to use tulips in a design like this, you wouldn’t want to make it any further ahead than the night before and ideally on the day that it’s needed.
Finally, top up the design with more water (don’t forget the moss can hold between 10 and 12 times it’s own weight in water so try to use that capacity to benefit your flowers) and store somewhere cool until ready to deliver.
How did the design hold up?
Here is the design a couple of days later. You can see that the tulips have certainly ‘wandered about’ a bit and they’ve opened up beautifully. The design is still damp and nothing has wilted too badly – though the Germini’s are just starting to go soft.
After I started making the design, I remembered I’d bought some of these very sturdy seed trays made from bamboo and (oddly!) rice. The trays are made by Haxnicks and you can expect them to last for around 5 years before they begin disintegrating. Then they can be crumbled up and composted. When I completed the design, I nestled the wooden tray into the bamboo tray – You can see it on the photo at the top of the blog and the last photo below.
When I next do a similar design, I will just use the bamboo seed tray as the base. It holds water well and is very strong for squishing in chicken wire without any damage. The trays measure 37 cm x 23 cm x 5.5 cm. I also think the colour of the tray lends itself really well to designing with flowers, it’s not too strong or obtrusive so even if parts of it are visible under the design, all is not lost.
For a completely compostable design, I would make a similar arrangement on a flat base of twigs held together with twine and use the compost caddy bag stuffed with moss tied on top of the twig base. I’d leave out the chicken wire and the paper covered wire. I’ll attempt this in another tutorial – I’m sure it’s not as easy as I’ve tried to make it sound!
Thank you for reading. Next tutorial will be a large-scale, foam-free urn in gorgeous soft pinks and greens.