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Foam-free tutorial – large scale urn

Hello again and welcome to my series of free floral design tutorials.

Today’s design demonstrates that it is possible to create a large scale design with traditional foam-free techniques.

If you’d like to have a go yourself, this is what you’ll need:


  • Large urn.  This one is a fibreglass urn with an aged-look, but you could create in anything that is of a similar shape in a decent size.  This urn is 40 cm tall.
  • Waterproof bowl or liner that fits snugly into the urn without dropping down into the depths.  My 24 cm diameter plastic bulb bowl nests in the top like a glove.  Be creative – ice-cream tub, plastic milk bottle with the top cut off, tupperware box – whatever is the best fit.
  • Damp sphagnum moss
  • A biodegradeable compost caddy bag
  • Chicken wire
  • Wire cutters and gloves
  • Floristy tools – a sharp knife and/or scissors, string/wire, pot tape (or florists tack depending on the best method for securing your waterproof liner)
  • A couple of skewers of different diameters
  • A selection of ready conditioned flowers and foliage of your choice.

Another item that is useful but not necessarily essential is a footstool or step (the finished design will be tall!)


Check the fit of the waterproof liner in the urn.  You may need to pack out the very bottom of the urn with some scrunched chicken wire to prevent your bowl dropping too low.  The rim of the bowl should be a little higher than the rim of the urn and the moss should mound up higher still.  This will give you the space to insert stems so that they can arch downwards in the design.  Remove the bowl from the urn and set aside ready for the mossy filling.

Take a very generous quantity of very damp moss (you won’t be able to easily redampen it when the design is made, so cram as much water in from the start as you can) and stuff into the compost caddy bag.  Fill the bag almost to bursting, add a little more water and then twist the bag top very tightly and tie off with string or a paper covered wire.  Turn the bag upside down and push carefully into your waterproof container so that the tying point is hidden underneath.  The bag should fit snuggly into your container and ideally be mounded a fair bit higher than the brim.  If not, keep adding moss filled bags.

My caddy bag ended up being a little loose – cram it in even more than this!

Cut a square of chicken wire just a little bigger than your liner. and place it over the top of the moss filled bag.  Carefully tuck all the edges down between the bag and the bowl.  Try not to over fill with wire as this just makes it harder to get stems into the moss.  Try not to tear the bag if you can as this not only holds more moisture in, it also helps to hold stems firmly.

Bag covered with a layer of wire

Insert your liner bowl into your urn and fix securely so there is no ‘wobble’!  Depending on how snug the fit, you might want to use either pot-fix around the edges of the bowl or put a cross of pot tape across the top of the chicken wire and tuck under the rim of the urn where you’ll disguise with foliage.  If the liner is still wobbly – now is the time to faff with it until it is really secure.  The finished design is pretty big and carries some weight – so be absolutely sure it’s fixed well.


If you follow ‘the rules’, your finished design height for an upright design should be around 1/3 container to 2/3 flowers. So for my 40 cm urn, the height of the tallest flowers/foliage would be around 80 cm and the overall height of the design would be 120 cm.  Even when working on a traditional style design, I sometimes go with the flow and go a little bigger or smaller depending on the shape and style of the container and the kinds of flower materials I’m working with.  The key is to put in a few of your outline stems and to step back and think about the design and the proportions you want.  For a big design, don’t be afraid to go big!

Flowers and foliage

Most stems I’ve used last well in moss – some have a slightly shorter lifespan in moss than in water or floral foam.  I’ve found gerbera and germini to be a bit fussy about moss, but if you are designing for an event, they’d be fine for a couple of days before going all diva on you.  Make sure all your stems are very well-conditioned, trim off any nodules on the stems as these rip up the bag and make inserting into the moss quite tricky.  I always use a florist knife to trim the stems to a sharp point as this makes them much easier to insert.

remove any nodules, side branches or thorns before inserting into mossed bag

Begin by greening up the design.  Insert stems firmly and deeply in the mossed bag.  Strong stems pierce the bag really easily and if you’ve very tightly filled the bag, they will feel very secure.  The chicken wire gives even more security with the grid holding stems firm.

I used pittosporum, a few different kinds of eucalyptus, ivy and these gorgeous big fatsia leaves.  Cover any mechanics and the bowl, drape a few stems downwards and remember to keep stepping back to check the shape of your design.  Allow for plenty of greenery for a large design like this and I like to use at least 3 different types to give variety, texture and to give different shades of green.

Once you’re happy with your green framework, begin adding your flowers.  I find it easier to add all of the same type of flower before moving on to the next type.  This helps to stop the urge to put the flowers into ‘lines’.  Begin at the top (this might be where having a footstool comes in handy) and then step the blooms diagonally downwards so that there is a rhythm through the design.  You don’t want the flowers being all on the same level.  You also don’t want them to be perfect mirror images on either side of an imaginary line running up the centre of the urn.  Insert the stems so that they look like they’re radiating from the same point deep within the design.  Continue to add your flowers in the same stepping diagonally downward motion (or upward if you find it easier).  For any delicate stems, I use a skewer to pierce a hole in the bag and moss before inserting the stem.  I always leave the really delicate stems to the end as it’s easy to damage them as you are inserting other stems around them.


This design is for a pedestal display and is to be viewed mainly from the front (a little from the sides).  Therefore the back of the design doesn’t need to be flowered and can be relatively flat.  The front profile of the design is curved – this gives balance to the design, both physically and visually.  Some stems are placed deeply into the design and some not so deep so that the surface of the design doesn’t feel ‘one-dimensional’.  If you’re struggling with the outline shape or placement of the blooms, I find photographing the design and then looking at the photo rather than the design itself to be really helpful.  Oddly, your eyes can somehow pick up on problem areas easier on a photo – for example, they’ll see a group of stems too bunched together or one that is set too high in the design.  Don’t ask me how, but it works!


When you’re happy with the design (keep stepping back to check), you can add more water to the top of the compost caddy bag and some should drain down into the moss through the holes pierced by the stems.  You can also spritz the flowers and foliage with a light mist of water to help maintain freshness before the design is needed.   The bowl can be removed to make transporting the design easier if necessary and then re-fixed in place when needed.

Finished design

Here is the finished design which lasted 3 days in moss (and would have lasted longer except on the 3rd day the gerbera’s had already started to sulk).  For a longer lasting design, you may want to experiment with different blooms).  I re-use my chicken wire, moss and plastic bowls so this design has minimal wastage.

Nice BIG design with lots of impact for not many stems!

I hope you find the tutorial useful.  If you have a go – please share your design with me, I’d love to see it.

Next up: Designing a matching pair of smaller table centrepieces (when, like me, you find matching pairs hard!)  Again, the next design will be foam-free.

Anne-Marie x

2 thoughts on “Foam-free tutorial – large scale urn

  1. Hello Anne-Marie I’ve just discovered your tutorial after searching internet for bamboo food trays to use for ‘ no floral foam’ arrangements. I belong to the Flowers From the Farm group have you heard of this group? I have been making similar non foam arrangements for a while and it’s a generally accepted way forward for the flower farmers now.
    Just wanted to tell you how brilliant your tutorial page is with clear photos.. thanks for sharing on the internet.
    Dewdrop florals ( not got a webpage yet)

    1. Hi Polly, thank you, I’m really glad you like my tutorial series. I’ve been a member of flowers from the farm for quite a while now and really enjoy the support and friendship that the membership brings. I grow on a small scale here in Yorkshire, but also buy in British flowers throughout the summer months. I do try to remember to share more of my tutorials but it sometimes depends how busy I have been. It’s certainly been a very busy Christmas!

      Here’s hoping we can eventually get back to more weddings, parties and celebrations this year.

      With best wishes

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