Get Growing: Embracing local beauty with slow flowers

A moody Halloween tablescape by Shane Connolly features unripe tomatoes, tomatillos, kale, as well as flowers.

A moody Halloween tablescape by Shane Connolly features unripe tomatoes, tomatillos, kale, as well as flowers.
Erica Browne Grivas

It’s delightful to see rows of colorful flowers at the supermarket — almost any day of the year, you’ll find plastic bags of tulips and carnations, just as you can find cherry tomatoes year-round. But that convenience and year-round availability comes at a cost.

In Michael Schur’s comedy series “The Good Place,” in which a divine points system determines where humans spend eternity, Ted Danson’s demon character realizes that the simple act of giving a birthday bouquet can tank your points. Why?

“… Because he ordered roses using a cell phone that was made in a sweat shop. The flowers were grown with toxic pesticides, picked by migrant workers, delivered from thousands of miles away which created a massive carbon footprint ...”

In real terms, Scientific American calculated the cost of shipping 100 million Valentine’s Day roses to the U.S. as 900 metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2), equivalent to driving 22 million miles.(

The Slow Flowers Society, begun in Seattle in 2013 by writer and gardener Debra Prinzing, asks us to consider supporting local growers and reduce the carbon footprint needed to transport flowers across the world. Today it has 750 members in the U.S. and Canada, and supporters across the world, from Asia to Australia.

The Slow Flowers site offers a member directory of florists, growers, event planners, flower farmers, classes, and even supermarkets committed to using and supplying locally grown flowers. Members pay a fee to be included.

If you have a garden, another way to increase your sustainability – and the enjoyment – of your garden is to look beyond flowers, embracing the seasonal beauty of branches, berries, lichen, and even the vegetable patch. There may be fewer flowers at this time of year, but there is still so much lusciousness.

Slow Flowers Society sponsored a September visit by Shane Connolly, a renowned UK florist who has designed the florals for this year’s coronation of the King and Queen and many other royal events. With an exuberant, natural style that highlights the beauty of fall leaves, and woodland bulbs, he adorns cathedrals and palaces with materials from botanical gardens, local growers – or the royal family’s garden beds.

In his workshop, Connolly urged participants to observe the sensuous curves of branches, the opulent texture of kale, and the stained-glass colors of fall-burnished witch hazel leaves. Hydrangeas go through fascinating changes this time of year offering sophisticated colors that blend beautifully with fall foliage and berries. Florals and branches were sourced from the University of Washington Arboretum and Farm, the Seattle Wholesale Growers’ Market. By the way, despite its name, the Seattle Wholesale Growers Market is open to the public between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. from Monday-Friday. Go to  

We watched as Connolly breezily threw together an exquisite Halloween-ready table with characters including potted saxifrages, dusky black-and-green tomatoes, and purple kale. Defying gravity, he built two massive urn arrangements with branches that looked about seven feet tall. One mingled panicle hydrangeas, pink Euonymus berries and Joe-Pye weed with skeletally quirky Corokia branches, and the other featured pewter blue hydrangeas, witch hazel, and rose hips.  

In addition to the carbon footprint of imported flowers, there’s the concern of pesticide exposure for both workers and customers. Connolly quoted a Belgian study that found 107 chemicals in 90 supermarket flowers.

To decrease the use of plastics, Connolly bans floral foam – those green blocks that hold moisture around the stem – from his arrangements as a petroleum byproduct that, while it may technically be “compostable,” takes years to break down and can pollute the groundwater with microplastics while doing so.  He will use moistened moss if needed around a scaffolding of stems for formal arrangements.  He demonstrated making compostable funeral decorations using branches, wet leaves, and soil within bamboo plates.

None of this is to say we should spend our lives counting points. In a complex world and marketplace, Connolly stressed in all our decisions around sustainability there is a spectrum of “good, better, best.” If we do our best to stay in that range, we’ll be helping the planet, our local ecosystem, its people, and our economy to be healthier.