BREAKING VASES IS an occupational hazard for florists, but for Wagner Kreusch it’s also a source of inspiration. The Brazilian-born, London-based botanical artist collects ceramics from makers around the world and when one of them accidentally slips through his fingers, he saves the fragments, reconfiguring the shards on the floor of his studio to look like the vessel has just toppled over, and arranges flowers (he prefers wild flora such as amaranth and mimosa) amid the chaos. Most recently, Kreusch, a certified ikebana instructor, transplanted a cluster of foraged roadside marigolds, root systems intact, and placed them amid a half-smashed terra-cotta garden pot he found at a market in Porto, Portugal. “They looked like they broke the vase to free themselves,” he says of the unruly cluster of yellow blooms. “I try to tap into this idea that everything is ephemeral, and everything returns to the earth.”
Floral artists have been forgoing the traditional vase-based arrangement for some time — these days, you’re as likely to see constructions sprouting from the walls or hanging from the ceiling — but recently, the most adventurous designers have looked to the ground. The gravitational pull is both literal and metaphorical; by building on the floor, they’re at once returning flowers to the earth (if only symbolically) and repositioning a flower arrangement’s hierarchy in a given room — these are designs that demand space, that shift the balance of focus from the mantel or dining room table, that make life a little inconvenient for the occupants.
The Parisian florist Louis-Géraud Castor, 47, whose striking sculptural bouquets are favored by clients like the brand Gabriela Hearst, recently arranged the flowers for a cocktail party in the 10th Arrondissement for some particularly open-minded patrons. In the entryway of the hôtel particulier, on niches that formerly held Barbedienne sculptures, he positioned a heart-shaped black philodendron leaf; from it cascaded hundreds of skinny brown roots, spilling across the floor like hair. Guests were forced to maneuver around the arrangement to enter the soiree. (“They are German,” says Castor of the hosts. “They appreciate things that are strange.”)
Clément Bouteille, a 28-year-old florist and flower farmer based between the French countryside and Paris who has worked with Castor, created a similarly grounded arrangement for a wedding in Lyon, mixing dark green phoenix palms with spiky orange kniphofia ‘Lemon Popsicle’ flowers and branches from a ginkgo. The tree’s leaves blanketed the floor, creating a trail of fan-shaped confetti that echoed the ginkgo’s famously deciduous nature. “I love when an arrangement isn’t fixed,” says Bouteille, who sources much of his materials from his family’s farm in Saint-Maurice-sur-Dargoire in southeastern France. “Where it is living and moving in some way, giving a little more than what’s in the vase.”
SUCH ARRANGEMENTS MAKE any room exotic, but the bigger the space, the more subversive the effect. For the designer Ulla Johnson’s spring 2023 show at the Brooklyn Museum’s Beaux-Arts Court, the New York-based floral designer Emily Thompson, 49, recreated what she called “the creeping expansion” of lichen — a pale green bloom of fungus and algae that grows over everything from boulders to shingled cottages — by punctuating the 1,750-square-foot runway with amoebic puddles composed of carnations, chrysanthemums, cockscombs, sunflowers and zinnia buds. For Loro Piana’s spring 2023 collection in Tokyo, Ruby Barber, the founder and creative director of the Berlin-based Studio Mary Lennox, and her team constructed a 20-foot-high hill of fresh lavender for the boutique’s window display, inspired by the Lago Maggiore landscape in Italy, where the cashmere brand was founded. To allow the scent of the flowers (all 220 pounds of them) to permeate the rest of the store, they designed an open archway connecting the inside of the shop to the window. “We like to mimic the ways plants might take over architecture,” says Barber, 34.
But along with the sheer delight of upending the typical arrangement, some floral artists suggest the return to the ground also offers a way to recognize our increasingly uneasy communion with the earth. “Nature bites back,” says Lily Kwong, 35, a botanical artist and sustainable-landscape designer who lives in New York City. For Milan Design Week in April, Kwong created a living habitat on the rooftop of the Buccellati headquarters to introduce the Italian silverware and jewelry brand’s new collection of vases designed with the Venetian glassmaker Venini. Lush mounds of moss arranged like islands on the terrace floor were planted with carnivorous greenery, such as pitcher plants and several varieties of Venus’ flytrap, including ‘Dracula Purple Giant’, ‘Korean Melody Shark’ and ‘Petite Dragon’, all of which catch and consume insects with their sophisticated gullets. Embedded within these voracious plots and resembling lost treasure were gleaming Buccellati vessels, Venus’ flytraps opening and shutting their delicate mouths all around them. “Carnivorous plants have had to find alternative sources of vital nutrients, since the swamps and bogs they’re native to lack the nitrogen and phosphorus essential for plant growth,” says Kwong, who adds that there are over 600 known species in the world today. “They’re a powerful reminder that nature’s evolutionary capabilities are profound and formidable.” And that Mother Earth is beautiful — but can also swallow things whole.
Set design by Leilin Lopez-Toledo. Photo assistant: Sarah Gardner. Set designer’s assistant: Steven Ruggiero. Floral assistants: Alison Layton, Rabia Ali. Animal talent: All Creatures Great & Small