Who doesn’t like a door wreath? At Christmas, it is the announcement to one and all that we are mince-pie ready and embracing festive fun. Come Easter, we are hopeful for a happy and sunshine-filled spring. Floral displays deliver on all this optimism, so why not garnish your front door with a spring wreath too?
In the UK, there are challenges to decorating the home for spring with floral displays, whether they are wreaths, vases or centrepieces. It is a time when there isn’t a huge variety of seasonal flowers to choose from. We want to avoid using Christmassy holly for foliage; instead we can, for example, nestle spring bulbs under a bed of moss in a clear container.
Or follow the lead of Ragnhild Furuseth of Studio Lupine at February’s London Fashion Week, where her sculptural display for the Clements Ribeiro show was influenced by ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arranging. With individual swan-necked tulips, big pieces of ginger, clumps of mushrooms and shells, the simple and surreal display was a demonstration of Furuseth’s way with seasonal flowers.
“Early spring is difficult for British flowers. There aren’t many homegrown options available,” says Furuseth. “I love to add other elements to contrast with flowers that you may not think about going on a table.” For example, she uses large branches of cherry blossom alongside single-stem tulips, interspersed with natural items of interest.
Here are some further tips to inspire and expand your floral spring displays.
Furuseth uses flower frogs to create her dramatic displays. These are circular devices, some with metal needles, that hold the stems in place and can be placed directly on the table without water for a short period. “Flowers such as tulips or cherry blossom will be fine in the frogs for the duration of a dinner party,” she says. “At the end of the night, cut the base of the stem and pop them back in water to help them last.”
Flower frogs are a good alternative to floral foam, which is a plastic product made from toxic chemicals and does not readily break down. Frogs allow for movement of the stems and showcase the entire plant.
“I find the whole flower beautiful, not only the head but the stem, leaf and roots,” says Furuseth. “With tulips and narcissi, if you can get them when they have the bulbs, it adds more movement and interest. This way, you are celebrating the entire flower, whereas with a big bunch, it is purely the blooms.”
A reappraisal of the tulip
In flower from early April in the UK, perhaps earlier if grown indoors, there is no other flower like the tulip for its capacity to grow after it has been cut. When you put a rose in a vase, after three weeks, the stem stays put. For the tulip, this is different.
Dutch landscape gardener and designer Ronald van der Hilst is an expert in rare and unique tulip varieties and fulfils his tulipmania in the walled garden of a presbytery in Antwerp, where he has planted thousands of springtime bulbs since taking guardianship in 2018.
At home, Van der Hilst displays his tulips in his tulipieres, a many-spouted, pagoda-style vase. He says: “The spouts allow me to enjoy the individuality of each flower. They move and grow in the vase, which is exciting to see.”
Another aspect of tulips he admires is their rescinding beauty towards the end of their life.
“Even dried they are beautiful,” he says. “There is a silk shine and deep colour to the petals.” The result of leaving the flowers to dry in the vase, while the water slowly evaporates, is a dried still life. To preserve more petals through the drying process, try removing them from the vase and turning them upside down.
Since opening London-based florist Grace & Thorn in 2011, Nik Southern has been an advocate for offbeat arrangements and unusual plant styling. Her dried flower wreaths are a firm fixture all year round. If you want to enjoy summery blooms such as roses, hydrangea and larkspur in April, these can be a more sustainable solution than buying fresh imported flowers.
“Plants and flowers can bring a room to life, but not everyone likes the maintenance that comes with plants or the cost of having good fresh flowers,” says Southern. “Dried flowers are the answer to both things, and have a huge pay-off in terms of their visual impact compared to how low maintenance they are.”
For those without space for large vases, she suggests alternatives. “Hung on the wall, a dried flower wreath looks great and is space efficient.” Kept in the right conditions, avoiding damp, direct sunlight and any danger of being knocked into, they can last for years.
The scale of the global market for cut flowers is huge. In the UK, the market for flowers and ornamental plants was worth nearly £1.4bn in 2020, according to government statistics. Despite having a climate that can produce wonderful flowers for more than nine months of the year, some 86 per cent of flowers sold in the UK are imported — the vast majority still coming from the Netherlands.
The easiest way to be more sustainable with flower choices is to buy locally grown. There is a growing band of British flower growers and arrangers whose environmental footprint is minimal. Air miles are zero, refrigeration costs are low and chemical insecticides or pesticides are not used. For these florists, flower foam is forbidden — they opt for traditional methods of arranging flowers instead. Packaging can be composted, for example, and sisal is used to tie bunches rather than plastic string.
Sarah Statham of Simply By Arrangement, in Yorkshire, creates her spring displays by combining favourite seasonal flowers with surprising foliage from the garden, such as raspberry cane with black hellebore or even broccoli leaf. One of her favourite spring flowers is the snake’s head fritillary, which, with its delicate chequered pattern, is one of the first spring flowers to bloom and, once cut, can last well in a vase.
Asked how to conjure floral creations from the garden, Statham advises avoiding leaves that are young and soft. “In our garden we have a huge redcurrant bush that I like to use in spring because it’s robust. I use blueberry bush foliage, amelanchier and lots of blossoming branches,” she says.
“Cutting woody stems at a clean angle, with another slit cut up the centre of this, will allow more water into the stem,” she says. “If possible, keep flowers and foliage in a cool dark place straight after cutting to allow them to acclimatise. Searing flower stems can sometimes be done. It’s a trial-and-error process but softer stems respond to a 10-second dip in boiled water.”
All of these ideas will help to prolong the precious and tender life of spring flowers, whether their purpose is to decorate an Easter Sunday breakfast table or to dress a door with a wreath that celebrates the new season.