In my mother-in-law’s house, a tiny powder room decorated with mid-century, bubble gum pink wallpaper was my favorite room. Without fail, perched on the window sill, was an insignificant vase filled with one or two backyard blooms. To me it was a mundane display and at the same time extraordinary. This small nod to “decoration” was my first introduction to placing fresh flowers in an unconventional setting.
Departing from the expected, the first lecture in the Wave Hill Horticultural lecture series, was a conversation with Deborah Needleman, Sarah Ryhanen and Jenny Elliott. Needleman introduced the current floral revolution as a phenomenon accelerated by Instagram. She characterized the insurgency: cultivating the wild, the strange, the mutant, foraging for plants, using veg in displays and the melding farmer and florist. Needleman postured that this new wave of floral designers are motivated by how they want to live, how they want to spend their days, and how are devoted to changing our ideas of beauty.
Jenny Elliott, owner of Tiny Hearts Farm grows cut flowers on 7 acres in upstate New York. Managed organically, Tiny Hearts Farm is a diversified business selling bouquets to grocery stores, designing arrangements for weddings and events and this year opening a shop in Hillsdale, NY. Even though Elliott, along with this new breed of growers, has abandoned pesticides, hazardous chemicals and exploitation of migrant labor, the challenges of being a floral grower are still daunting. Flower farming is a problematic business.
Elliott grows 20,000 tulips a year, digs the bulbs up each year and composts them. In spite of a love of nature and beauty, the word sustainability never entered the conversation.
Sarah Ryhanen has a cult following. This was evidenced by the audience at the lecture last night: not the usual NYC horticulture crowd. Known for Saipua, her floral design studio in Brooklyn, which includes selling soaps made by her mother, ceramics, wool and classes; Ryanen also runs World’s End Farm in upstate New York. Her farm is not just about growing flowers, it’s a place for teaching, chickens, sheep and experimenting.
“Flowers have a most unusual power over us. The haunting, ephemeral quality of nature can be transcendental; it’s brimming with joy and heartbreaking at the same time. I’m always chasing this tension, trying to know it better”. Sarah Ryhanen
In this brave new world what can you look forward to seeing in your bouquets? shiso, fava beans and cardoon.