The new look in floral arrangements: wilder, seasonal, local

Like a tiny green sprig reaching upward, it happened slowly at first. And then, suddenly, it was everywhere.

A wilder, more seasonal and local look in floral arrangement is replacing the stiffer, more formal arrangements of a decade ago. Bouquets featuring grass or clematis, loose arrangements of flowering or fruit-laden branches, spare displays of flowering purple basil, sweet peas or bearded irises, or surprises like towering fennel - the trend reflects changes in aesthetics as well as in where flowers come from.

"It was initially a trendy thing, but now it's just the way things are done. It really goes hand in hand with the food movement," said Barbara Corcoran, vice president of education at the New York Botanical Garden. The garden's curriculum of courses has been modified over the past two years to adapt to the change in approach.

Just as foodies have gravitated toward organic and locally grown foods, so floral designers and growers are spreading the gospel of seasonal and even foraged blooms, through workshops, books and blogs.

"There's a revolution taking place. Farmers are connecting with florists, and designers with farmers. And a lot of designers are starting to grow their own flowers. We're still on the front end of the big upswing in seasonal, foraged and locally sourced flowers," said flower farmer and designer Erin Benzakein, whose Floret Farm is in Mount Vernon, Washington, about an hour north of Seattle.

The trend toward local and seasonal flowers has really taken off in the last couple of years, she said.

"We've slowly created a global web of people doing this, and we're finding that everybody now seems to be looking for roadside weeds, grandmother flowers - there's a real desire for something real and local," says Benzakein, who gives workshops and has written a new book, "Floret Farm's Cut Flower Garden: Grow, Harvest, and Arrange Stunning Seasonal Blooms" (Chronicle Books). The book is co-authored by Julie Chai, with photos by Michele M. Waite.

Another new book on the subject, "In Full Flower: Inspired Designs by Floral's New Creatives" (Rizzoli) by Gemma and Andrew Ingalls, features the work of two dozen of the movement's biggest names.

Especially popular now are delicate flowers, with blooms that last only a couple of weeks, Benzakien said.

"That really gives local growers an edge," she said.

Floral designer Debra Prinzing created, a blog and online directory of flower farms across the U.S. and Canada. She calls it the Slow Flowers movement.

As with the natural foods movement, this wilder floral aesthetic has its roots on the West Coast, although some of its pioneers have taught or studied at FlowerSchool New York.

"Foraged materials are cost-effective, seasonal - which is very important these days - and add new textures and colors to the designs for florists," says the school's executive director, Calvert Crary.

Ariella Chezar, a designer and flower farmer in upstate New York, is artistic director at the school, which has begun offering "foraging tours" of France and Holland.

It's a big step away from the imported, cut flowers still sold in many florists' shops.

The concept is not entirely new, of course; weeds and seed pods found their way into arrangements for British royals in the 20th century, and the New York flower shop Madderlake and its bouquets of the '80s featured roadside weeds and dandelions. But the breadth of the change - partly due to growing environmental consciousness - is changing the entire landscape, experts say.

Nicolette Owen of the Little Flower School in Brooklyn, New York, says, "People really want to feel more connected to where their flowers are coming from, and I love the closer contact between florists and growers. In my work, I've always been interested in creating arrangements that are a little bit wild. Part of that is highlighting what's best in the season and what's around you.

"I want the beautifully imperfect, and don't mind a few freckles on my rose," she says.

Rachael Burrow, style editor of Coastal Living magazine, says she first noticed "the wilder and looser trend in flowers popping up at weddings and in centerpieces a couple years ago, and now it's really everywhere.

"In our photo shoots now, we always go for more naturally arranged and locally sourced florals. It seems to flow better, and that's the look everyone wants," she says.

This 2015 photo provided by Chronicle Books shows the farm truck at Erin Benzakein's Floret Farms loaded with a harvest of dahlias from the Floret field in Mount Vernon, Wash. The photo is featured in Benzakein's book, "Floret Farm's Cut Flower Garden." (Michele M. Waite/Chronicle Books via AP) The Associated Press
This 2015 photo provided by Chronicle Books shows a photo of flowers in Mount Vernon, Wash. and is featured in Erin Benzakein's book, "Floret Farm's Cut Flower Garden." (Michele M. Waite/Chronicle Books via AP) The Associated Press
This 2015 photo provided by Chronicle Books shows Erin Benzakein in a field of peonies, bursting in full bloom, at North Field Farm in Bellingham, Wash. The photo is featured in Benzakein's book, "Floret Farm's Cut Flower Garden." (Michele M. Waite/Chronicle Books via AP) The Associated Press
This 2017 photo provided by Chronicle Books shows Erin Benzakein's book, "Floret Farm's Cut Flower Garden," and is surrounded by tulips, one of the first bloomers each spring, in San Francisco, Calif. (Irene Kim/Chronicle Books via AP) The Associated Press
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