“Please ask for locally grown; it is in your hands and you have the power to change the market.”
Silke Vom Bauer trained in landscape architecture but her passion for plants and horticulture lured her into floral design. She named her business “Local Flora,” which seems so appropriate. For growing, gathering and gleaning floral design ingredients within a small geographic radius is the passion that gives momentum to Silke’s endeavor.
Local Flora’s mission is stated clearly on the shop’s web site home page:
We are a sustainable florist and eclectic nursery that believes in “acting globally by buying locally.” Local Flora offers flowers from California farmers and nursery products from Bay Area growers. Buying locally ensures an excellent seasonal selection year-round, and supports farmers from the fields of Bolinas and Carlsbad to Half Moon Bay. By buying locally, we help reduce the negative environmental impact of importing flowers. Organic flowers are a large part of our selection. In case we need to buy from outside California, we purchase VeriFlora sustainably certified product only. We compost all green waste and do not use toxic florist design materials such as floral foam.”
Walking into Silke’s shop is a delightful, sensory experience. It recalled for me those alluring shops I’ve fallen in love with in old European neighborhoods of Paris, Brussels, Prague and Tuscany. Here, the shopkeeper is a florist in the traditional sense of the term. She grows flowers and plants and is a purveyor of both.
I visited Local Flora last month after giving a lecture in San Francisco. My friend Betsy Flack was along. When we parked outside a neighborhood grocery store in San Anselmo, a small community in Marin County, we couldn’t help but notice the vibrantly-designed mini-storefront and the hand-painted sign embellished with blooms, vines and foliage. Occupying a lean-to structure at the side of the market, Local Flora sells flowers, plants and art from local crafts persons. Potted annuals, perennials and other ornamentals are arranged outside the shop, creating an environment where people are encouraged to interact with plants.
Silke opened here in 2008, converting the space with eco-rustic flair. The interior of the shop exudes the textures and finishes of a farm: reclaimed and salvaged barn wood, corrugated metal roofing, and old doors transformed into charming display tables. Galvanized flower buckets contain all sorts of fresh-cut branches, blades, leaves, fruit and flowers. They are arranged color-by-color, an attractive still-life of living textures and shapes.
Shop manager Samantha Payne greeted us and answered my myriad questions. She trained in Europe, worked in top NYC floral design studios and also helped decorate the White House last Christmas. But Samantha is at heart a local girl, committed to sustainable floral design. And so she’s returned to the Bay Area to work with Silke.
We poked around the shop, took photos of the beautiful seasonal bouquets and enjoyed chatting with Samantha. She encouraged us to walk out to the eclectic nursery behind the flower shop.
Clearly these are people who know and love plants. It’s a breath of fresh air to meet floral designers who are also gardeners; for that reason, they are super-familiar with the seasonal cycles, growth habits and performance of the cut ingredients they use.
Silke recently appeared on two radio programs in the Bay Area and I encourage you to listen to the podcasts, which I’ve added here as links. After hearing the first interview, conducted in May on The Queens of Green (hosted by Deborah Koons Garcia and Temra Costa), I realized that I should just transcribe the entire conversation with Silke and print it here. But I didn’t, so please click on over and listen to the inspiring conversation.
Compelling and revolutionary in her attitude about how important it is to use sustainable practices when growing, designing with and marketing flowers, Silke points out: Flowers are a luxury item. That’s all the more reason why we shouldn’t pollute the earth in our consumption of them.
Last weekend, Silke appeared on another popular Bay Area radio program called An Organic Conversation with Helge Hellberg and Mark Mulcahy. She was on the show with Dru Rivers, Farmer/Owner of Full Belly Farm (Guinda, Calif.) and Michael Keyes, certification manager at VeriFlora (Emeryville, Calif.). Click the link to listen to the entire interview.
Again, I was struck by Silke’s eloquence: “I believed I had to carve out a special niche within the world of flower shops. They are a bit of a dying breed since you can buy cheap-o flowers in the corner of every grocery store and flower shops are competing with inexpensive supermarket flowers. People want to enjoy the prices of cheap imports without thinking about how it affects our communities and our world. It’s important to me to embrace a different direction in this industry. “
Wanting to know much more about the “different direction” because it feels like the same path David and I are following as we storytell for A Fresh Bouquet, I followed up by phone with Silke earlier this week. Here are the highlights of our conversation:
Q. What are some of the creative ways you source seasonal and local ingredients?
A. I’ve spread the word and people are aware that I source greenery in the county. It’s not unusual for someone to call and say “My fig tree is going crazy; do you want to come by and harvest it?” or “Do you want hollies?” People take pleasure in sharing their surplus and asking me to come and use it. The carbon footprint is reduced by not shipping greens.
Q. How about other floral ingredients?
A. I actually do a lot of harvesting myself. I have a garden where I’ve really thought about what I’m growing, so they are commercially usable – hydrangeas, flax, rose hips, rosemary. I also have a network of friends and supporters who let me come onto their properties. For instance, there are gardeners in my town that let their carrots go to seed for the pollinators. They let me have those blooming carrots, which have beautiful, big purple flowers.
Q. Your branches are really unusual. How do you find them?
A. Some of the local tree companies bring me their surplus. I like to see the magnolia, pittosporum and oak branches piled by my back gate. When these tree guys want to take a flower bouquet to their wife or girlfriend, we barter.
Q. You’re a bit of a gleaner, too, aren’t you?
A. I have become a compulsive person with a set of pruners (there’s no lipstick in my purse, but there is a pair of Felcos). There are quite a lot of public spaces where, due to maintenance cuts, plants have overgrown onto a sidewalk. I cut with integrity. For instance, the eucalyptus trees shed a lot of bark so I collect what’s on the ground and we use it to wrap vases or slide into the base to create the appearance of a tree trunk. We utilize things no one else would think about using!
Q. Your designs are uncommon and unexpected. What is your philosophy?
A. I don’t understand the floral designs that come out of shops with that generic look. My landscape architecture background has taught me to look at plants and shrubs as a palette. I want to make that local connection and celebrate the vernacular of this region. The pieces we design relate to this setting.
Q. What nudged you toward opening a local and sustainable floral studio?
A. As flower consumers, we should be concerned about how much gasoline those roses on our dining table consumed before getting to us. They were grown in another country and flown to Miami where they sat in cold storage before they were trucked across the country to the west coast. By the time the roses reach your home those luxury items have made a huge impact on the ecological well-being of the globe. Plus, think about how any anti-fungicides and mold suppressants had to be pumped on those roses so they could sit in boxes while being transported. How much do you want to handle that?
Q. I understand that it’s a challenge for conscientious floral designers to use post-harvest practices that are truly “green.” How do you handle this issue?
A. Florists have to disinfect the flower buckets in order to reduce bacterial growth. A lot of florists still use bleach to do that. We use hydrogen peroxide, which is an ingredient in “eco-bleach” products.
Q. What other changes have you implemented to set Local Flora apart from the conventional florist?
A. I do not use florist foam (also known as Oasis). I absolutely hate that product with a vengeance. I’ve seen the boxes of Oasis at traditional florists and every box has a stamp on it marked “Carcinogenic.” It’s hideously awful for your health. Just look at an arrangement made with Oasis. The waste water it sits in has a weird green dust and when the flowers die, you still have that toxic brick hanging around. We do not use Oasis in our design work. We use other methods to secure flowers, such as taping a grid to the container opening or creating a base of rocks in the base to give a foothold for stems. I also use Angel Vine, which grows in our area. It’s a fine, webby material that you can place into the vase.
Q. How do you educate and inspire customers to care about sustainably-grown and local floral design?
A. When anyone walks into the store, we greet them and say “We’re all about local and California-grown.” Very rarely do people look at me and say “What’s the point?”
Q. What is your outlook on the eco-flower industry?
A. I call myself a “Slow Florist.” Twenty or 30 years ago, in the organic food industry, if you were a chef who wanted to prepare with all locally-produced ingredients it was like going on a treasure hunt. That’s not the case today. Ultimately, the floral industry will parallel the food industry.