Sustainable Stems

Sourcing Environmentally Thoughtful Flowers


It seems that there’s nothing sweeter than a colorful bouquet in winter. Whether for a wedding bouquet, table arrangement or for celebratory holiday decor, botanicals  brighten up dark days. I always love something floral in my home, especially when the sun and light is lower this time of year. But finding flowers that are beautiful AND sustainable in the off seasons may seem a challenge if you shop in the usual places.

Many of these Winter bridal bouquets and floral arrangements are grown in less than healthy conditions.  80% or so of the flowers grown for the U.S. are imported from other countries like South America using a multitude of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides.  The plant products are then packed for shipping with preservatives and other chemical treatments in order to withstand the lengthy transport and to maintain visual appeal.  This adds to the chemical load of the growing environment and the laborers who work with flowers.


Here are some tips for environmentally conscious Cold Season Botanicals:

• Check out your local farmers market and don’t be shy! Visit with the farmers and chat about what they’re growing.  I find this such a pleasure–and I have such a soft spot in my heart for flower growers.  Sweet doesn’t begin to describe many of them! It means more when you know a little history of the gardener that worked to bring the blooms. Even in winter there are often things of beauty to be had, such as branches pruned from the farm orchard. It’s an opportunity to support your farmer in the off-season but you might need to cultivate your Winter sources. Farmers and Gardeners like to know they have buyers for unusual botanicals before they harvest them.  I’ve found that they are often happy to bring non-traditional farm offerings to the market if they are able to sell them.   I’m always surprised by the Winter Greens, daffodils, tulips and lilies that are available in our Winter Market here in Missoula, much earlier in the season than you’d expect.

winter bouquet• Consider dried flowers. When handled well, dried flowers last for months so one bouquet can replace a series of fresh bouquets. Lavender and other fragrant herbs add scent as well as color.  Dried flowers are air dried and have never been refrigerated.  Dry your own flowers by hanging them upside down in a well ventilated, dark space to preserve the best color and fragrance.


• Try gilding. I use non-toxic gold mica to gild leaves and seasonal produce. Metallics can enhance the winter palette available to you outdoors and it works so well during the holiday season. Pretty vases and containers of shimmery metals or iridescent glass are particularly welcome in winter.

• Incorporate household items. Wrap bouquets with an heirloom piece like a vintage ribbon, lace or linen. For tablescapes and household décor, mix foraged plants with items from your own shelves. Display cherished domestic pieces. Celebrate what’s already yours!

DSC_2111• Hunt for seasonal sprigs. Find color in unexpected places like Willow or Dogwood twigs, bare branches, and wild grasses. Add other elements like cones, mosses, lichens, small stones or other woodsy finds. Display organic fruit or produce for short periods. Nothing’s prettier than a ripening pear or lush pomegranate. When they’re fully ripe, eat them up and hunt for your next delicious collection. Try a bowl of quail eggs, small onions, or garlic–their skins can appear almost iridescent. I love kale and flowering cabbage–so gorgeous with Winter pansies or unusual primrose varieties.

•Use lighting to add sparkle to winter stems.  Pretty beeswax or soy tea candles in glass votives look lovely nested in sprigs of winter greenery or twigs.  Short strands of LED lights can illuminate a dark area more efficiently than a larger watt bulb and add a decorative touch to larger tree shaped plants like ficus, mini spruce or pines.


• Ask for Seasonal and Sustainable Flowers.  Be acquainted with your local florist! If you want fresh blooms, see if your favorite florist can stock organic and/or local blooms grown in the U.S.  Try tucking one fresh flower into a dried arrangement, wreath or collection of greenery and mossy twigs. An accent bloom looks striking and brightens up the space. There are almost always American Grown flowers available from growers on the coasts and southern areas.  Here in Montana, we can  get California, Oregon and Washington blooms and flowering plants all Winter long.  If you’re used to buying lots of arrangements in winter, try forcing bulbs like paper whites or amaryllis. Orchids bloom for very long periods of time and are beautiful in Winter.  Herb and green plants are another choice-especially when potted in pretty containers.

DSC_2862Despite all efforts to push consumers toward sustainably grown produce, little attention has been paid to flowers.  Sourcing Winter flowers can be an adventure if you put a little creativity into the search. No matter where you live, there is beauty all around you.