'Field to Vase' Bouquets Are the Latest Trend in Flowers

Kelly Legamaro, 46, needed a rosemary garnish for her prime rib roast. Rather than run out to the store, she plucked a sprig from the bouquet of orchids, herbs and pincushion-shaped protea that was standing in a vase on her kitchen counter.

"I had it in my flowers, so I took it out," says Ms. Legamaro, a Chicago homemaker and church volunteer, who makes a weekly fresh-flower stop at a local florist.

Rosemary, basil, dill, kale and artichokes are among the vegetal plants popping up in loose, hand-tied floral bouquets that dinner guests are giving as hostess gifts and brides are ordering as wedding centerpieces.

The arrangements share a seasonal farm-to-table aesthetic—or "field to vase," as it's known in the flower industry. They are idealized bouquets of local meadow blooms collected at a farmers market or farm share, including short-stemmed anemone, sweet pea, ranunculus, scabiosa, lisianthus and hyacinth. Along with edible elements, they create a fresh, strong-scented, untamed bouquet.

A new style of flower arrangement, like a new look in fashion or beauty, appears on a magazine cover or at celebrity events, and pretty soon it's a trend. "Everybody is looking for this unique, ephemeral, delicate, uncommon flower," says Debra Prinzing, a Seattle-based author of the 2013 book "Slow Flowers." Many local growers are planting these unusual flowers, since they don't stand up well when transported. Ms. Prinzing is launching a website by the same name to connect local flower farmers with customers. Today's most popular flowers "reflect what's from the garden and the field," she says.

When doing her weekly grocery shopping online, marketing manager Florence Li, 29, bought a $30 bouquet from Silver Lake Farms, a Los Angeles micro farm that offers community-supported agriculture shares in cut flowers and edible crops. The flowers—a "really amazing bouquet," Ms. Li says—were delivered to her home in a plastic bag, and she took them out and placed them in a Mason jar. She didn't recognize many of them but says they gave her dining room a "bohemian, wild" look. The names didn't matter, Ms. Li says. "I chose not to investigate or look it up."

At Silver Lake Farms, flowers shares include deliveries of bouquets of anemone and ranunculus blooms along with flax and acacia foliage. Farm founder Tara Kolla says many customers buy her flowers regularly because they are locally grown and haven't been refrigerated. "They have natural moisture like a teenager's skin," Ms. Kolla says, and the scent is extra-fresh. Last year, she added pyrethrum, a daisy-lookalike that is a natural pest killer.

Scent has recently become a high priority with cut-flower buyers, says Tim Farrell, a Drexel Hill, Pa., florist and board president at the American Institute of Floral Designers. "Growers were pursuing qualities that the consumer was demanding, but fragrance was left by the wayside," he says. Smelling a flower "became a disappointing experience." To add more scent to his bouquets, Mr. Farrell is turning to jasmine, basil, powdery stephanotis and hyacinth.

Cut-flower stems are getting shorter. "Receptacles used to be tall glass vases and now it's canning jars," Ms. Kolla says. Many shops are delivering flowers in vintage-looking pewter or ceramic containers, rather than clear glass. The style change leaves some old favorites—sunflowers, tropical flowers, long-stemmed roses and carefully manicured bouquets of lilies and hydrangeas—looking a bit dated, florists say. "I've been known to cut weeds because they are so pretty," says Ms. Kolla. "Victorian old-fashioned barn chic is the look of the day."

The shorter stature has encouraged designers to place large, delicate blossom in starring roles in dining room centerpieces, Ms. Kolla says. Shorter bouquets are easier to keep on a dining table during an intimate meal, and they provide consumers with more flower options.

In keeping with the farm-to-table aesthetic, many flower shops no longer keep flowers in a glass refrigerator case and instead invite customers to select blooms from galvanized-steel buckets in the store, says Megan Musschoot, owner of Chicago's Pistil and Vine. When a customer hesitates to go with a less-common flower, she might suggest pairing it with a classic, like a dahlia or an iris. These old favorites exert an emotional tug on some people, she says. "We are trying to reinvent the wheel without taking away the special memories of your grandmother's peonies or your mother's rose bush."

At her store, Ms. Musschoot groups buckets of less-familiar flowers in complementary colors and textures to help consumers "feel comfortable," she says. Peach garden roses, for example, stand next to sprigs of rosemary.

People doing their own arranging often hesitate to cut stems to fit a shorter vase, Ms. Musschoot says. And they often underestimate how much greenery is required to highlight colorful flowers. On the other hand, choosing a vase that is too big can make a lush bouquet feel sparse. Often she will build a bouquet around one or two stems that a customer has selected in the store.

Brooklyn, N.Y., floral designer Sarah Brysk Cohen offers an "Ombre Extravaganza" flower-arranging class, where students learn to create a "graduation of hues" when selecting blooms. Ms. Brysk Cohen pairs garden roses and spray roses in shades of pink with pink tulips and pink flowering branches. This technique creates a harmonious color palette, she says, rather than creating a high-contrast bouquet of white and purple blooms.

Pinterest, with hundreds of thousands of photos of unusual bouquets, has become a game changer for brides, Ms. Brysk Cohen says. Many now send her a link to an inspiration board before a meeting. "Often brides tell me I don't like roses, but I love garden roses," she says.

The garden rose is shorter and more fragrant than the traditional long stems imported from South America. Unlike long-stemmed roses, which are bred to open up halfway and retain petals, garden roses open fully within a few days and start to shed petals soon after. Another popular wedding bloom is a white anemone with a black eye, which has a modern look, Ms. Brysk Cohen says.

After taking a one of the designer's two-hour classes, 33-year-old Diane Brennan changed her mind about the roses-only wedding she had been planning. Now she wants white Japanese ranunculus, a teacup-size flower filled with petals, and mocha- and pink-toned café au lait dahlias.

Ms. Brennan also plans to incorporate sprigs of eucalyptus, which she learned to use in Ms. Brysk Cohen's class. A key technique is to use masking tape to create a grid on top of the vase, to help organize the bouquet. Eucalyptus, Queen Anne's lace and other green foliage plants go in the center of the grid, while blooms like the ranunculus show off their faces on the periphery.

With bouquets incorporating delicate, local flowers, it is important to keep cut flowers out of direct sunlight and to change the cold water every other day, says Ms. Prinzing, the Seattle author. To prevent degrading, trim leaves that are underwater when the stem stands in its vase, she says. Bleach vases between bouquets to rid them of bacteria.

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23 Apr 2014

By Alina Dizik