Dried flowers can be a hard sell. I learned as much first-hand during a high school summer job as a florist’s assistant. After a customer rebuffed my suggestion to add some stems of purple statice – a papery blossom often found dried – to her bouquet, the florist told me not to worry. “People who remember that flower from the eighties probably never want to see it again,” she said. “But to new eyes, it really is quite nice.”
My boss was clearly ahead of her time. Long dismissed as dreary, dried florals are suddenly everywhere. Scroll through interior design trend accounts on social media today and you’ll notice vases of dry Sago Palm fronds and poufy Bunny Tails edging out the once ubiquitous Monstera leaf and bundles of peonies. While nobody is claiming chlorophyll is passé, the architectural shapes and unexpected textures of dried plants have never looked so, well, fresh. Rethinking the lifespan of a wilted bouquet or garden might even have the added benefit of helping your love of flowers be more green.
“It’s just been in the last two years we’ve started seeing dried florals come back within the home decor space,” says Etsy trend expert Dayna Isom Johnson. In addition to bouquets, a search of the e-commerce platform reveals framed pressed flowers being offered up as wall art and dry sprigs ensconced in glass herbariums for tablescaping. Prickly Proteas, spritely yellow Billy Buttons and orange Chinese lanterns are some of the more eye-catching stems. “People are wanting to bring more of the outdoors in, and dried florals can just add a really beautiful texture to your space,” says Isom Johnson.
Undoubtedly, the plant of the moment is pampas grass – a particularly textural species with a feathery blond inflorescence that’s about as far removed from a dusty, dry posy as you can get. Between 2018 and 2019, Etsy Canada searches for the ethereal plumes rose 653 per cent.
“Pampas is great because you can get dramatic swoops with little product,” says Carl Ostberg, a Vancouver-based creative who makes sculptural installations from dried florals for weddings and boutiques, including the city’s chic Litchfield design shop. Both in its natural tawny-to-blush hues and brightly spray-painted versions, pampas has proliferated everywhere from bridal magazines to high-fashion photo shoots and well-appointed living rooms.
In addition to the appeal of their form, Ostberg also appreciates the hardiness of dried plants. When one of his displays is finished, he’s able to repurpose materials in a way that’s impossible with fresh components. “That’s the beauty of dried,” he says, “you have it for a while.”
Nassi Soofi, the co-owner of Vancouver’s the Wild Bunch florist, says her clients adore dried bouquets year-round for a similar reason: they last. “Everyone always says, ‘Oh, I just kill everything,’ so it’s kind of a hassle-free way to have a floral element in your home and not have to do any maintenance on it,” says Soofi.
Beyond predried blooms, florist are also exploring how to design bouquets to perish gracefully, says Soofi. “We’re quite familiar with which flowers dry well, so we will do a fresh bouquet that would eventually dry nicely.”
The delicate, muted palette of dry florals is part of their allure. But if you crave something more bold, preserved botanicals, which have had their sap and water content replaced with biodegradable glycerin and dyes, conserves the plants’ pliability and colour while extending their longevity for up to a year. Katherine Whitchurch, owner of London’s Shida Preserved Flowers, combines dry and preserved flowers in her bouquets, and says her clients enjoy the pop of colour provided by preserved roses, ferns and hydrangeas, without needing to constantly replace them. “They want something that’s real, and preserved is the perfect solution because it is 100-per-cent natural, and it will last and you don’t have to look after it,” she says.
Opting for dry or preserved bouquets is not only convenient, it reduces waste. That’s a significant benefit given the tendency for spent florals to be unceremoniously dumped in the garbage, along with their cellophane wrapping and floral foam.
The sustainability of dried and preserved blooms are one reason why Amelia Posada, the florist behind L.A.’s Birch and Bone floral and event company, has always incorporated dry plants into her work. Yet Posada is circumspect about how much the dry botanical trend will counteract the floral industry’s environmental impact.
“The floral industry, unfortunately, is one of the most unsustainable industries that could be,” says Posada, citing pesticide use in growing and the carbon footprint of shipping flowers worldwide. “I think it’s a good idea to use dried flowers. But the overarching problem is much greater than any individual, company or designer can affect.”
Nevertheless, British horticulturalist Steven Edney’s garden work makes a case for the eco-savviness of keeping spent plants in your flowerbeds. Edney, who won gold at last year’s Royal Horticultural Society Chelsea Flower Show in London with a display of dried stalks and seedheads, celebrates what is traditionally pruned away.
A thatch of flowers gone to sculptural seed reveals that the aesthetic appeal of plants can extend well beyond their bloom.
Photography by Paul Chmielowiec; floral design by Sarah Wu.