Flowers are the quintessential gift for Mother's day. They are available everywhere – from cellophane wrapped bouquets at the gas station to artful arrangements at the florists. Yet do you know where these flowers come from or how they were grown? Do you care?
Truthfully my answer to both of these questions used to be 'no'. They were flowers and they were available – end of story. I do not consider myself a granola-eating, Birkenstock-wearing tree-hugger (and have no issues with those who do), but I do care about the environment because I consider life a precious gift and feel a responsibility to avoid harming the land or the lives of those creatures who depend upon it. My complacent attitude about the cut flowers industry has been challenged and changed thanks to the recently published 'The 50 Mile Bouquet' written by well-known author and valued friend Debra Prinzing, beautifully photographed by David Perry. The subtitle to their book is 'seasonal, local and sustainable flowers' which made me think. Seasonal and local I could understand but sustainable? What does that mean exactly? Thus began my education.
When my children were young they used to gather small posies of flowers for the table; primroses and forget-me-nots in spring or a sprig of lady's mantle in summer. I still enjoy cutting a few flowers from the garden to bring indoors and it is a simple way to reconnect with Nature. My flowers are grown with love and whereas they may be humble offerings, David's photo essays show us how perfect even a single stem can be on a sunny windowsill. Moreover such garden arrangements are a 50 feet bouquet. They haven't been shrink-wrapped, treated with preservatives, cut days ago, trucked across the country or lost their fragrance. They have grown in rich soil, pollinated by bees and visited by butterflies. They are just minutes from garden to table.
In a world where we expect perfection at any cost and from any source an attitude adjustment is needed. The perfect floral bouquet can be prepared using stems from our own gardens or purchased from local flower farmers, freshly gathered and grown without unnecessary, harmful chemicals.
This book is a more than a journey, it is an enlightening adventure. Within the pages you will meet inspiring people such as Bess Wyrick, founder of Celadon & Celery Events, a New York-based eco-couture event design and floral décor company. Bess hosts popular hands-on workshops teaching hostesses and budget-conscious brides how to create table centerpieces and bridal bouquets without breaking the bank or harming the environment. Participants learn far more than how to cut a stem or de-thorn a rose, however. While learning designer tips such as threading a rose stem through a hydrangea to give a multi-tiered effect, attendees gain an understanding and appreciation that using what has been grown locally (without chemicals) and is in season is rewarding on a deeper level. Debra describes this as "designing with intent rather than just tearing off the cellophane wrapping and shoving the stems into a vase".
Anyone who can make something beautiful from blackberries – besides a pie – has my respect. Yet a wonderful couple from the Skagit Valley, Washington does just that from their Jello Mold Farm. They consider themselves 'stewards' of their 8 acre farm and hold themselves accountable for protecting the various residents such as trumpeter swans and ospreys as well as their natural habitat. This is something I can very much identify with as I strive to maintain wildlife corridors, protect and enhance their habitats and be mindful of the fact that the bears, deer and frogs were here before I was. (Shame about the voles mind you!) Their definition of sustainability is leaving the land in better shape than when they found it. I can go with that. (We're still digging out huge lumps of asphalt that were dumped into our stream years ago) And their blackberries? A cut spray adds an unexpected touch to more traditional floral stems in an arrangement. Why not?
Lest you think that such sustainably grown floral bouquets are little more than a handful of buttercups and daisies, venture into the book to meet Arthur Williams, Denver floral artist and owner of Babylon Floral Design. With more tattoos and piercings than I want to think about (I hate needles) you can bet that Arthur isn't into cute posies. Rather he is known for his over-the-top, unconventional designs. On the day that David and Debra visited, Arthur was creating living theater using a hollowed out tree trunk for a vase which he filled with giant ornamental rhubarb leaves and flowers supported effortlessly by a few iris and lilies. Clearly this is no cookie-cutter floral design business! Yet the ingredients come from local growers who care enough about the environment to avoid the use of pesticides, together with clippings from his own back garden.
Who else will you meet on this floral journey? Flower farmers, floral designers, market vendors and other creative individuals who are committed to enjoying what the land produces without harming it all tell their stories, each one unique yet threaded with a common passion.
How can I possibly do justice to a book which has taken years to document in just a few short paragraphs? This is not just another garden book, nor a book about flower arranging. It's an invitation to learn how to fill your home with beautiful bouquets that have been grown locally and lovingly. Get designer tips, ideas for seasonal flowers (perfect for garden planning) and harvest the wisdom of seasoned growers. It's also an invitation to a mindset change.
My Mum is 84 and lives in England. She has gardened all her life, wins an embarrassing number of awards for floral design (I missed out on that particular horticultural gene) and until she read this post had no clue she was 'eco' anything, let alone green! Mum just does what she does best – she grows a veritable bounty of flowers which fill her home year round with perfume and color, offering passersby an ongoing visual feast and frequently sharing her home grown bouquets with others (invariably over a cup of tea).
Happy Mother's Day Mum – and I promise this book will be on its way to you by the time you read this!
Purchase your copy of The 50 Mile Bouquet here.