Debra Prinzing

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Debra’s Eco-friendly Floral Design Techniques

I hope you find these tips, resources and techniques helpful!Many are also featured in The 50 Mile Bouquet: Seasonal, Local and Sustainable Flowerswith photographs by David Perry.A BONUS: Learn more about the local flower movement and watch “Organic Flower Power,” an episode that we filmed last summer with Joe Lamp’l, host of “Growing a Greener World,” a cool PBS television program. Click here to watch.


 Gotta Love Local Flowers!


It’s so rewarding to share flowers grown by farmers we love. I photographed these just-picked dahlias at Jello Mold Farm in Mount Vernon, Washington. You can purchase flowers direct from this farm at the Seattle Wholesale Growers Market cooperative. Public hours: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Fridays.

 Eco-Design Techniques
I’ve made it a personal goal to use organic methods to stabilize flower stems rather than use the conventional green foam block called “florist’s Oasis.” That product, I have learned, is a carcinogen that contains formaldehyde (why would you want to touch or breath it?); and furthermore, it does not break down in landfills.

So far, there really isn’t an organic alternative to this product. Yet increasingly, I meet and learn from floral designers who consciously shun the green foam and use alternate materials to stabilize flower stems.

Here are a few options:
  1. Pebbles, sand, gravel or marbles in the base of a vase
  2. Pliable twigs wrapped around the inside of a vase to create a basket weave-like framework. Curly Willow is a great choice.
  3. Excelsior, or wood aspen. These shredded wood shavings can be inserted in a vase to create a tangle of fibers through which stems can be inserted. This is the type of material used to ship wine bottles and it’s biodegradable. It can be found at craft stores. Or, ask your local wine shop to save their packing material for you – creative recycling!
  4. Good, old-fashioned flower frogs in ceramic, glass or metal. I’ve been picking these up for a few bucks at weekend flea-markets (see part of my collection above). One of my favorite is a half-dome cage. It is heavy so it sinks to the bottom of the vase; and it has 3/4-inch square openings, which is ideal for woody stems. These are the arranging tools of the past, seriously useful for the present-day!
  5. Foliage. I often start an arrangement using soft, fluffy foliage as the “base” that peeks out over the top of the rim. Once you fill the vase with the foliage, all the other flower stems can poke through the foliage and they will remain in place. Good early summer choices include Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla mollis), Dusty Miller (Senecio cineraria) or Lamb’s Ears (Stachys byzantina).
  6. Balled up chicken wire is another time-honored trick for stabilizing especially larger arrangements. It also works well for wide-mouthed vases. Get a roll at the hardware store. Use wire cutters to trim off the length you want (wear gloves to protect your hands from wire scratches). Form an open “ball” or mushroom-cap shape. Insert wire into the container and make sure that a portion of the wire emerges above the rim so your design looks fuller. Reusable, tacky florist clay can help anchor the wire to the inside of the vase.

Here is a link to my interview with Pam Zsori of ink & peat, a Portland floral studio. She discusses why she doesn’t use Oasis, or floral foam.

NEWS for flower lovers and DIY floral designers
Announcing the release of my next book:
Slow Flowers: Four Seasons of Locally Grown Bouquets from the Garden, Meadow and Farm


Slow Flowers is my personal journey through 52 weeks of the year, as I harvested, sourced and created one bouquet each week – in all four seasons.

My photographs of each arrangement are accompanied by detailed ingredient lists and design tips. Publication date is February 2013. Pre-order your copy now~