Funeral flowers: could the Queen's funeral wreath change the way we choose flowers?
The beautiful wreath on Queen Elizabeth II's coffin was created with carefully chosen seasonal flowers, without the use of floral foam. Could it change the way we choose funeral flowers in the future?
The beautiful wreath on top of Queen Elizabeth II's coffin struck a chord with many this week. Viewers around the world were touched and intrigued by the significance of the flowers used – such as rosemary, which symbolises remembrance and English oak, which symbolises the strength of love.
The wreath was created using seasonal flowers and foliage cut from the gardens of Buckingham Palace, Clarence House and Highgrove. It was created by a well-known (but extremely modest) florist, known for his championing of locally grown, seasonal British flowers. Also at the request of King Charles III, the wreath was made without the use of plastic floral foam, using instead a nest of English moss, branches of oak and twine.
"The wreath was modest in every way, but also majestic," says Gill Hodgson, cut flower grower and founder of Flowers from the Farm, a not-for-profit co-operative of British cut flower growers, who we asked to comment on the significance on the arrangement seen by millions of viewers. "It didn't overshadow the regalia, but it shone. It was lovely that the King was looking for local flowers that have been sustainably put together – he has been saying all his life that nature is precious."
Gill hopes that the wreath could prompt a real sea change in how we view cut flowers, especially funeral flowers: there could potentially be a shift towards locally grown flowers, and sustainable alternatives to floral foam. "It is already happening at a local level, now that there are almost 1,000 cut flower growers around the country. We need the funeral industry to change, because floral foam is so bad for the environment."
"At the moment, a lot of people find themselves at the funeral director's, being shown an A4 laminated sheet with a range of designs for them to choose from," she explains. "These are usually the standard six or seven varieties that are not seasonal and often flown in – carnations, lilies, gerberas and so on."
Meanwhile, a local flower grower could supply something seasonal and specific to the person who has died, explains Gill. "I've filled walking boots, used branches from local woodland for a person who loved walking there and even created a beautiful display of vegetables for a person who hated flowers. You can turn any request around and make it personal."
Gill mostly uses a base of willow and birch to make funeral wreaths, which are entirely compostable or biodegradable. "They take longer to make, and this is reflected in the price," explains Gill. "I know not everyone can afford that. But you ask a local flower grower for the simplest bunch possible. The flowers don't have to be arranged, just tied with a bit of ribbon. A simple bunch of snowdrops sitting in a hat or on a scarf is an absolutely beautiful tribute."
She adds: "When I get a commission to do a wreath, I pick the flowers the day before, and I'm thinking about the lady or gentleman who has died. It's so personal, and an honour to be asked. There's a long way to go, but I think the Queen's wreath has done a lot for local and sustainable flowers. I hope that when it's their turn to choose final flowers for a loved one, people remember that they can look beyond the funeral director's standard catalogue."
To find a local cut flower grower near you, visit flowersfromthefarm.co.uk
Veronica Peerless is a trained horticulturalist and garden designer.