Part 1: How to Build Sustainable Large Scale Installations using Foam Free Mechanics

I love building large scale floral installations.  I also love to spread my passion for Sustainable Floristry!  The floral industry is a dirty business.  We can all take part in cleaning it up with the installation methods I share in this two-part blog post!

In Part 1, I explain the “why,” “how” and “what” of building sustainable, large scale installations. In Part 2, I explain tools, techniques and approaches based on installations that I have built over the years.

I love the impact an installation brings to an event.  The engineering & project management challenges in making them keeps me engaged during the event season!

Many florists I have met are scared to move away from foam.  They feel that their creativity will be limited.  I don’t feel that way at all!  I have learned and developed many other techniques over the course of my floral career.  In the interest of helping our industry help the planet, I am sharing some of my favorite go-to foam-free mechanics, and how I design with a sustainability approach.  We cover this – and a WHOLE lot more – at my annual Whidbey Flower Workshop.  If the “big sustainable installation” bug bites you, and you want more after reading this post, you just might want to come to a workshop!

If you want to learn more about why I practice no floral foam, read this: “The Problems with Floral Foam”.

Foam-free asymmetric wedding arch with greenery, blush and caramel tones

This foam-free beauty was also an almost-zero-waste beauty! She was created during the Sustainable Flowers Workshop in Calgary, Canada. Read on to learn about some of the mechanics we used to make this lovely large scale floral installation.

Designing for Success & Sustainability

A low-waste, eco-friendly foam-free installation requires thinking ahead, and integrating The Why, The How and The What.

The WHY

This is the first step.  Why are we making this piece?  Do we need a centerpiece? a large scale installation?  A ceremony arch or a feature behind the head table?  What is the size, the shape, the colors?  Why encompasses some pretty complex design considerations, but those are for a different post!

The HOW

How will I need to work to make this piece?  This is a very important step.  It determines the goals and parameters of the design.  It helps me think through which methods I will use.  This is where I can really dig into some holistic design thinking to maximize my eco-friendly floristry approach.  I ask myself these questions:

  • How much time do I have to set this up and take this down?  Will this be built on site or prebuilt in the studio?  How will I transport it?  Do I have enough time at strike to take it apart enough to fit in my vehicle?
  • What does the venue have to offer/what do they allow in terms of installation methods – are there beams to hang from?  Can I stake into the ground?  Can I attach things to a wall?  Am I allowed to use a drill, tape, etc.
  • Will I get my mechanics back or will they be sacrificed?  What are the waste services available – will the item be carefully salvaged by me, or will the whole thing be chucked into the trash or compost?
  • Where is the piece to be enjoyed – indoors or out?  What is the weather likely to be?  What is the climate?  Is there wind, will it be hot, will it be humid or dry?  Will I be able to get my materials in time to process them as I would prefer?
  • How much time between when I am done with set up and when the piece will be enjoyed by an audience?  How long must the piece perform?

The answers to these questions heavily inform my choice of mechanics, water sources and botanicals.

The WHAT

There are 3 basic elements that make up most installations:

  • structure
  • water sources
  • botanicals

Structures can be as straightforward as an arbor form or a metal ring, as homegrown as a bundle of twigs or a tangled wad of chicken wire with reinforcing rods or stakes, or as elaborate as a custom fabrication like a metal frame with water reservoirs welded or wired on.  From a sustainability viewpoint, I like structures that can be reclaimed & reused for two reasons:

  1. Reuse minimizes manufacturing/resource consumption as well as waste.
  2. I can profit from them!  One aspect of sustainability in business is being profitable!  Reusable structures help with that.

I like to create structures from common, readily available items.  This makes them easy to invest in (and therefore easier to sell), and versatile.  When I make something I know I will use frequently, I store it.  If it feels like a one-off, it is worthwhile to take the structure apart into the components, making them accessible for use on a variety of projects.

Here’s a quick list of my go-to foam-free installation essential structures.  Read Part 2 of this two part blog post to see pictures of some of them, and how I use them in my installs:

  • Florist netting/Chicken wire/Oasis mesh – I strongly prefer the plastic coated as it lasts longest
  • Branches, sticks and stakes
  • Moss, Excelsior
  • Holly x Syndicate pillows & eggs
  • Stabilizers: Buckets with rocks, sand, or concrete; stakes, sandbags, reinforcing straps
  • I highly recommend that any florist specializing in events invests in an arbor frame or ceremony arch frame.  For me, this is an essential part of my inventory and it is a great little moneymaker!  I rent an arbor or arch to most of my wedding clients.  I recommend something basic, adaptable that is easily taken apart for transport and storage.

Water sources can include:

  • Buckets, vases, reused plastic tubs, graveyard stakes
  • Floral tubes, EcoFresh Bouquet Wraps
  • Moss, cotton batting
  • Anything else that can provide a water reservoir.  Get creative!  Think Equisetum or Bamboo stems!

Botanicals can be just about anything you can dream up!  It is important that you match your choices to the water sources available.  Don’t put a “heavy drinker” into a test tube and expect it to remain fresh overnight.  Your life will be easier, and your work more successful, if you stick to sturdy things, many of which may not even need water.  Susan Mcleary has published a great list of “reliables” for installations.  This is a helpful resource to find proven materials to use.  That said, I have successfully included many water-sensitive things into my designs (Lilacs, even!) by making sure that they have access to lots of water – in “secret buckets” or in Eco-Fresh Wraps.

An important piece of advice:  proper processing is a must for installation botanicals.  Fully hydrated floral material will perform/endure much better than hastily managed stems.

Use the following sourcing best practices to make your installations sustainable:

  • Use in-season, locally grown flowers and greenery.
  • Ask your farmers not to wrap their products.
  • Or source the Certified American Grown label.
  • If you do need to use imports, ask for certified Sustainable blooms – FlorVerde or Rainforest Alliance are two big certifiers.

Please read on to Part 2 to see pictures of these structures, and how I use them in finished installations!


 

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