Flowers might seem like the “greenest” part of any wedding. Not so. The business of cut flowers is resource-intensive, requiring irrigation, the heating of greenhouses, and long-distance transportation. Approximately 75 percent of flowers sold in the U.S. are flown in from South America.
Lynn Fosbender, who has more than a decade of experience managing florist shops and freelancing for major event companies around Chicago, figured there must be a way to make flowers more eco-friendly.
That’s how Pollen Floral Design was born. Now the essentially one-woman company is celebrating its first anniversary, and Fosbender is close to realizing her vision.
“This is boot-strapping it,” she says, looking around her rather spartan design studio on Ravenswood Avenue near Montrose. She began renting the digs in April after spending months working out of her cramped apartment. “Originally I wanted a storefront, but I don’t like being in debt,” Fosbender says.
On a recent Monday morning, the only flowers in evidence were a couple of arrangements left over from an open house, held to commemorate the one-year milestone. Deliveries will come later in the week, after Fosbender has made the rounds of the Green City and Lincoln Square Farmers Markets, where she purchases as many flowers as possible.
Organically grown local flowers are the ideal, but she admits they’re not always attainable.
“Local is easier; local organic is hard to come by.” Given the Midwest’s truncated growing season, she turns to Veriflora-certified growers when necessary. “It’s a third-party certification that ensures growers are environmentally and socially responsible,” she says.
Still, she estimates that only about half her clients (whom she describes as “normal people on a normal budget; they just want to get their friends together and have a party”—no bridezillas yet, knock on wood) are interested in holding a green wedding, with the rest calling for conventionally grown flowers. “It limits the flower,” Fosbender says of the green approach.
For example, in spring, peonies and allium (“big purple poofballs”) are readily available; in summer, that changes to sunflowers, dahlias, snapdragons, and coxcomb.
“Most people aren’t willing to sacrifice the look of their wedding,” she says. “They don’t want to wing it, to not know what they’re getting.” But she says that shopping local producers provides certain limitations, such as not being able to guarantee the availability of a particular shade of a particular flower.
She’s hoping in her second year to attract a better fit of customer, those who share her appreciation for nontraditional arrangements. (Fosbender, who majored in horticulture at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, also likes to incorporate herbs, branches, berries, and unusual greens, such as hostas, into her designs.) To that end, she’s working to create a network of green wedding vendors. The Chicago Green Wedding Alliance—a loose affiliation of florists, stationers, photographers, and caterers—aims to provide clients with a directory of like-minded service providers.
“The group is very new,” Fosbender says. Their tentative plan is to host a seminar for wedding planners and spread the news from there. Currently, the majority of her clients discover her on Yelp.
What Fosbender may lack in green customers she makes up for in her own business practices. “I think really hard about the things I need to buy,” she says. “I’m very conscious of my consumption and disposal.”
She reuses items whenever possible, salvaging, for example, millinery wire used to tie up branches at a recent wedding. Her landlord gave the OK to set up compost bins on the roof, where she deposits floral waste such as stems and leaves. For deliveries, she relies on the I-GO car sharing program (she can tell you where all the Honda Elements are located within reach of her studio).
“It’s the way I’d want to run any business,” she says.
But at the moment, she has a more pressing concern: figuring out how to attach a large spray of flowers onto a gazebo. (For those who think floral design is just making flowers look pretty in a vase, it often involves a fair amount of engineering).
“I’ll be using cable ties,” she says. “Hopefully it will work.”