Public outcry over plastic pollution in the world’s oceans filled the headlines following the BBC’s ‘Blue Planet’ series. It focussed a spotlight firmly on micro-plastics, the tiny particles which we can barely see, which build up in water courses, rivers and oceans and in the digestive systems of aquatic creatures.
As Flowers from the Farm planned its Chelsea Flower Show display over the winter of 2017, the public controversy over plastic pollution in our oceans was daily headline news.
As people working with flowers, we already understood that floral foam, the green bricks which form the foundations of so much modern floristry, wouldn’t biodegrade in our compost heaps. We knew floral foam would only physically break down into smaller and smaller pieces, rather than into elements which could be reabsorbed and recycled by natural decay and the soil. But until Blue Planet, perhaps what hadn’t been considered so widely was where the tiny green flotsam in waste water goes after soaking floral foam.
The ground swell away from floral foam to more sustainable floristry was growing, and the Flowers from the Farm team decided that for our Chelsea debut, we’d be the first floral display to commit to going 100% foam free. Many of our more delicate garden flowers prefer cool fresh water to anything else, so we embraced the challenge and worked over the winter to find alternative methods to support our blooms for the duration of the show.
People have arranged flowers for hundreds of years, and long before the advent of floral foam, so it was just a matter of getting creative and testing out different ways to keep our flowers hydrated successfully. As our display was a farmer’s cart filled with buckets of flowers going to market, the main part of the display was simple enough in theory – all we needed to do was keep our buckets topped up with fresh water for the duration of the show. In reality, this ‘simple’ solution was not so simple: to reach the tallest buckets on top of a high cart which was in turn raised a foot from the ground on a display plinth, we needed tall people with good balance wielding long spouted watering cans from stepladders!
The back of our display had flowers tumbling from the rear of the cart as the farmer slept. He’s blissfully unaware of the unfolding crisis and the two children are trying frantically to gather the flowers and alert him to what’s happening. The challenge was how to get water to our tumbling flowers without it spilling everywhere! An ingenious insert was made to fit discreetly inside the fallen crates. This held recycled cans at an angle which held our bunches of flowers. We filled these daily with as much water as they’d hold without it spilling out and monitored water levels each morning before the show opened.
We chose growing wildflower turf to blanket the base of our stand. The meadow segments at the front of the stand flanking our lovely straw horse, Flora, were made by inserting tubes and small jars into a wooden frame, filling them with water and then covering the mechanics with moss to hide the receptacles once the flowers were in place.
On the cart, we had buckets holding as much of the display as possible, but for the side view many of the flowers had to be displayed horizontally, to show through the edges of the stacked crates. As these couldn’t be in water, we had to soak various materials in water and wrap them around the ends of the bunches, wrapping again with compostable bags to retain as much moisture as possible.
Every morning saw an early start with the watering can, topping up and refreshing as much of the stand as possible before the visitors poured in again to view our gold-medal winning display.
It may not have been the easiest way to make a show stand, but we were really proud to showcase sustainable floristry methods, especially when we saw the colossal mountains of foam being used elsewhere throughout the floral marquee. It is hugely gratifying, as the first foam free display, to see that since our debut the RHS has now banned floral foam across all its shows and we hope that this will help to move more florists away from using it as the automatic, unthinking choice.