FREESIA Challenge

Some of my followers may know I have shifted professions to a degree. Formerly, I was intensely focused on edible landscaping and agriculture design. The deep research of that time is what fueled this blog’s vast reserve of information.

Long story short, demand for my skill set shifted into more aesthetic designs. I began marketing much of the perennial crops from my perennial plantings to florists. Alongside selling the harvests of my perennial systems to florists, I’ve become more involved in floral design.

Recently, I entered a challenge centered around Organic floral design -which basically means the design is biodegradable, and made with the well-being of the environment in mind.

The design centers around perennial crops from my food forest and perennial gardens. The statement I submitted with the design is included below. I thought many of my followers would find this new way of looking at flowers of interest.

The design I submitted for the FREESIA challenge.

Materials List:

70 inches twine (natural hemp)

Botanicals list
1 stem light pink peony
1 stem pink peony.
3 stems white or pink single ranunculus
1 stem pink Lupine (Russell’s Hybrid)
1 stem Digitalis ‘Pink Gin’
3 single stems (or 1 larger, deconstructed stem) Thlaspi arvensis dried seedheads
15-20 stems dried Schizachyrium scoparium (varies in height)
5 stems Tridens flavus dried seedheads
3 stems pink Helleborus x hybridus
3-5 Apium graveolens flowers (varies in size and branching)
5 stems Eleagnus umbellata foliage
1 stem Rubus fruticosus flowers
1 side branch of Phylostachys bissetii bamboo cut at each point of branching to yield 4 to 8 small branches.

Sustainability Statement

This modern-romantic, refined wildflower bouquet features all locally grown botanicals. Aside from the twine used, everything in this arrangement was grown and harvested within a few thousand feet from each other on my family farm in East Sparta, Ohio

The weddings where I have used this arrangement as a centerpiece -usually in late May -have been within 40 miles of the farm. 

Several of the botanicals have function on my farm beyond cut flowers.

The eleagnus foliage is a nitrogen fixing plant. This means that, via an association with certain bacterial fungi in its roots, it pulls nitrogen from the air. This nitrogen is an essential nutrient for plant growth, and is a primary component of most fertilizers. As the eleagnus plant pulls this nutrient from the air, it does not itself require any fertilization from the grower, while still producing large amounts of biomass for arrangments. In fact, the trimmings not used in the designs, and biomass harvested via a management protocol called “coppicing” -regular trimming to the main trunk -are very rich in nitrogen, and are used to make compost, the main fertilizer in sustainable, organic farming.

Eleagnus is a woody perennial, which requires no inputs whatsoever other than labor outlined for coppicing. In this climate, I do not water or fertilize this crop at all. 

Although this foliage is in a class of its own, with silvery color, undulating margins, excellent vase life, and often long, straight stems depending on cultivation method, the most similar commonly used foliage comparable to this plant in the floral industry is pittosporum. 

The eleagnus plant has another benefit of producing edible berries. 

The apium also has multiple uses. It begins in our gardens as an edible, culinary crop -a celery alternative. After a few months of harvesting the leaves and stems for culinary use, the plant naturally goes to flower. At this point, the stems are no longer available for edible harvests, transitioning to a second harvest of cut flowers. Multiple harvests saves on the labor and resources of water and fertilizer necessary to establish a crop. This plant already is low input, growing without supplementary heat, little fertilizer, or water. So the multiple harvests makes this flower a very sustainable choice for this floral design.

Similar commonly used flowers apium could replace within the industry are orlaya, and daucus. 

Lepidium -a filler often available from mainstream wholesalers -is another native, naturally occurring plant for me. Often it grows on the edges of our gardens. 

The rubus flowers used is a wild blackberry. This produces edible fruit later in the season. As it is a woody perennial, input for this crop is little to none. It grows as a wild plant in the area, and provides habitat and food to many wild birds and insects. 

The lupines are another nitrogen fixing plant. This one is a herbaceous perennial, and again, needs little to no inputs to obtain a harvest of the flowers. Within my perennial gardens, the plants seed themselves. In practice, I actually do nothing directly to maintain the plant after the initial introduction of seeds.

Digitalis is a biennial to short lived perennial, and grows in woodland conditions for us, in our perennial woodland garden, where it seeds itself from year to year. When we want to increase production, we may start seed in reusable plastic flats, transplant to similar reusable cell-flats, and transplant to the perennial woodland gardens in its first year. No irrigation or fertilizer is used for this crop other than organic compost. 

Peony are herbaceous perennials which can produce flowers for decades after establishment. Inputs of organic compost, and rock dusts for minerals are applied every few years to maintain robust flowers. My preferred rock dust is carbonitite -a rock powder mined from Canada. As I am a distributor for the product in the local area, my product is delivered in 2000 lb totes, minimizing its carbon footprint. In this climate, no inputs of water are provided to peony beyond the first year of establishment.

The ranunculus is grown in high tunnels on our farm. Our current practice uses plastic to cover a high tunnel greenhouse, and floating row covers held on aluminum wire. Both of these covers are used for 2-5 years before recycling. The ranunculus is sprouted in an organic potting soil mix, including peat, and perlite. Overhead watering -applied by hand using a hose on our small scale -is our usual irrigation practice. As the ranunculus are inside a greenhouse, all water must be provided via this irrigation. As ranunculus are heavy feeders, a foliar feed of organic fish emulsion and alfalfa meal are applied once for fertilizer.  

The tridens grass is a native species which appears in our hayfields and pastures. The standing stems are harvested in late winter. At this time, the stems are bleached to near white color by the sun.

The schizachyrium is another native species, commonly called “poverty grass” for its aptitude to grow on poor soils. It appears naturally in our hayfields and pastures and, as the name implies, thrives on neglect. 

This grass has extensive utility in floral design, as it produces attractive tips at each node on average every 4 inches up the stem. So a 2 foot stem can be broken into 4 to 8 usuable short stems as is the case in this arrangement.

Thlaspi is another naturally occurring plant in our gardens we do not intentionally plant, We enjoy an abundance in the garden by means of selective, lenient weeding, particularly among our garlic. In fact, the synergy of the garlic and the thlaspi produces the straightest, largest thlaspi stems. If cultivated, the inputs required to obtain a harvest are little to none. 

The drying and bleaching of thlaspi actually occurs in the field from the summer sun. Shortly before the garlic is ready for harvest, the thlaspi are dried, bleached, and ready for easily plucking from the ground. 

The inner core of bamboo is from bamboo grown on our farm. It grows with no input and has many applications including animal fodder even in winter months when grazing is unavailable. Most any small twig can be used to make this core with the technique for tying mentioned in the core explanation. Bamboo is preferred for its stong, but thin, branching attributes, which easily allows the bouquet to spread, yet itself easily hiding in the design.

Choice of Supplies
Since hemp twine for use in the US is often grown in Canada, it is more local than jute -which often grown in Bangladesh. Depending on the processing (use of mineral oils in the case of jute) hemp may use little to no chemicals in its processing. This, hemp proves as the most sustainable twine to be used in this design, and most aesthetic.

Bamboo Inner Core:
The inner core is one of the truly unique, and advantageous aspects of this design.

It is made by crossing 4 to 8 small bamboo branches, tying them with twine, to hold them at a sharp, 45 degree angle to the horizontal. 

In this particular design, the core of bamboo is first covered with 8 to 10 stems of deconstructed schizachyrium. 

Creation of this core can be done months, to even years in advance -as is my usual practice. Not only does this jumpstart a sharp angle to the arrangement wen assembling, the core provides a base measurement for the fresh flowers. 

In this case, the design adheres to a ratio of 3:5:8:13, with a 3 inch stem below the binding point, and 5 inches above, for a total of 8 inches in height, with a 13 inch spread. For my own hands, this measurement is roughly the width of my 4 fingers below the binding point, 2 above, and 5 in spread. With the assembly of this core happening well in advance, I can ensure all the cores are this ratio, to make assembly of the finished bouquet much faster and more accurate when time is of the essence pre-event. 

Assembly of each core takes approximately 10-15 minutes, with later assembly taking another 10-15 minutes. 

From a sustainability standpoint, the core reduces the materials used, while creating this wide-spreading look. This core can reduce the floral materials used by 5 to 10 percent. 

From an aesthetic standpoint, the core jumpstarts the perfect conditions for a spreading angle of the stems. It also creates a more airy look. I often place a large focal such as the peony right against the core, so it has room to open without any impediment, making an airy, dramatic appearance. 

The bamboo binding uses 24 inches of twine since it is woven under, and over, the bamboo stems to lock in the sharp angle. The binding for the outer core once the schizachyrium has been added uses 16 inches.

Choice and Impact of Design
The shorter stem length of this design maximizes the economy, utility and in many ways, the sustainability of all stems used. As mentioned for the schizachyrium, one stem can have far more impact on a shorter design where its deconstructed stems may be used. Another aspect of short stems is that crops grown with less fertilizer and irrigation – often outside of a plastic covered greenhouse, may likely have shorter stems. Hence, a design such as this can more easily opt for organic, sustainably cultivated flowers without worry the flower may be unfit for the design due to stem length.

In weddings where I have used this design, I have created height using a 5×24″ clear glass vase to elevate the bouquet above the line of view at a table. This is alternated with bouquets in 5×5″ clear glass low vases, below the line of view.

I chose to use this design, rather than one designed at the time of the FREESIA challenge submission, because the palette, and seasonality of the design and botanicals are more applicable to the classic wedding season in late May through June. This time of year has significant impact on revenue for my own business as a floral designer. I consider it a highly impactful contribution to sustainable designs for other event designers.


  1. Hi Luke, I wasn’t aware of your change of direction to aesthetics. I had been wondering about you though and what you were up to so it is good to read your post above. You certainly do your homework and approach everything with such rigour and focus, it’s always impressive.

    The bouquet in the photo is lovely and the newly weds in your area are blessed to have the choice of sustainable flowers. Sending you all good wishes from the UK, Anni

    Liked by 1 person

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