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‘Sustainability is about asking a lot of questions, all of the time!’ –  Q&A with Botany florist and owner, Ellen Douglas

It’s crazy to think that in an industry known for working with natures own beauty, the promotion of sustainability is not widespread. With a commitment to sustainable floristry comes the desire to find our florist friends striving for the same positive outcomes, our fellow champions in the flower fields, the wielders of stems, the cheerleaders valiantly cheering us on with foliage pom poms. So when I discovered Ellen Douglas of Botany Florist Melbourne, I knew I needed to ask her about her journey, and help spread the work that she is proudly doing.  

Botany Florist is a private studio florist, with online shop front in beautiful Naarm. Ellens formal flower story started in 2008. After three years of college-based training and in the “mud” learning, and then several floral jobs across Melbourne, she decided to open her own sustainably focused floral business, Botany Florist.  

On a winter Melbourne afternoon, I sat down and asked Ellen to share her story with me, and here is what we discussed. 

A woman with long red hair stands at the right side of the frame, facing the left. She wears a long terracotta coloured jacket and white pants, she is smiling and looking downward at a dried floral arrangement she holds. The flowers are dried grasses, with earthy toned dried straw flowers, in yellows, and oranges. There is also dried hydrangea and thistle.
Ellen Douglas of Botany Florist Melbourne
an array of flowers, buckets of varieties as you would likely find if you entered a florist shop
Locally grown seasonal flowers

What was the driving inspiration for working with flowers and starting your business?  

I didn’t exactly have a drive to work with flowers at all! I had studied illustration prior to floristry which had been my dream, but upon learning that I would be working on commission for the rest of my career if I continued illustration, I decided I couldn’t do that. 

Floristry seemed like a good creative alternative that used a lot of the same design elements and principles as illustration – line, colour, texture, negative space, composition, visual hierarchy.  

My inspiration for starting my own business was simply that all the environmental waste I saw in our industry bothered me, and I couldn’t find anyone to work for that was doing it differently. So Botany is an experiment of mine to see how far sustainability within floristry can be pushed. 

This is perhaps an obvious question, do you have a favourite flower?   

We had a book as kids called One Woolly Wombat. It was a book that taught children to count and was full of beautiful illustrations of native Australian fauna and flora, and one of the pages had this crazy red flower on it – Sturt’s Desert Pea. I still love it and think it’s such a beautiful and interesting flower. 
I am a very sentimental person, and find so much of what I do creatively has something very meaningful behind it, even if it’s not obvious to anyone but me. 
Do you have a flower that holds a significant value for you?  

Yes, I have two. One is the flannel flower, which reminds me of my Grandpa. We used to holiday with him and our Nanna in the Northern Beaches of NSW (where they lived) and explore the cliff tracks. The flannel flowers grow everywhere along the cliffs near their house, and me and my sister always loved when they were in flower. 

The second is forget-me-nots. It’s probably the first flower name I ever learned, and it reminds me of my mum. We were renting a house in Cheltenham when I was about 3 or 4 and I remember these growing all around the front of the house and Mum picking them. 

What does sustainability in floristry mean to you?  

For me, it means looking at every aspect of your business and asking, ‘is this the best way to do it for the environment, for my staff, for my community, for my stakeholders?’ Not only in relation to your flowers and where you source them, but also in relation to your packaging, your waste management, your banking, reinvesting or donating a portion of profits, reducing your emissions etc. 

I constantly ask myself that question because the answer will change as new technologies are developed. The best way to do things now may not be the best way I can do things in 3 years. The answer is also different depending on where you are in the world. 

For instance, we live in Australia which is a large and isolated country. For us, importing flowers creates huge emissions, but so too does sending flowers within Australia. For example, flowers sent from Amsterdam to London are considered imported, but in terms of distance travelled it is around 500km. For us to send flowers from Melbourne to Perth, it is considered “local”, yet the distance those flowers have travelled is around 3,400km.  

Sustainability is about asking a lot of questions, all of the time!

With the ease of access to so many forms of inspiration on social media I find I’m flooded with so many talented peers, inspiring me in so many different ways. Do you have a florist crush? Who’s work or principles do you aspire to?  

I really admire the work of Rita Feldmann of Feld Flowers and Joost Bakker. They are both pioneers of sustainable floristry in Melbourne and are a huge inspiration for me. Although their careers have diverted away from only floristry, I am still following their work with lots of interest. 

I also love the work of Anna Potter from Swallows and Damsons in the UK. She works very seasonally and naturally, and I love the look of her designs. 

Tell me a bit about what sustainability in your business looks like?  

My sustainability journey started from working with floral foam and imported flowers in other florists. I was worried about the dust I was breathing from using foam, and worried about why my knuckles would swell and ache if I got pricked with an imported rose thorn. This sent me on a big journey to finding answers to these questions. When the answers were full of chemicals and microplastics, I made a decision to never use these in my own business. 

From there I also decided to not buy flowers in single use plastic sleeves, use only Victorian grown flowers (I do use Australian grown at a push but it is very rare), to offset my emissions with Greenfleet, to choose a bank that did not invest in fossil fuels, to dry my own flowers rather than using chemically preserved ones, and to align with businesses that shared my values. 

My giftware is from small scale Victorian businesses who operate ethically and make an effort to reduce packaging. The only exception are the Japanese secateurs. I made the decision to import these as they are a “buy once and use forever” item, and we do not have a comparable product that is made in Australia. I have already calculated and offset their journey from Japan. 

The printer that prints my business cards and hamper slip covers runs on solar power, uses non-toxic ink, and prints on 99% post-consumer recycled paper. The hamper boxes are made from 99.9% recycled paper and I chose not to print any branding directly on them so that my customers can reuse them for another gift. They can also be recycled. 

My twine is made from hemp, my pens are made from paper, the paper I wrap the dried flowers in is uncoloured and recyclable. The glass vases I present our fresh flowers in are reusable or returnable. 

The green waste I produce is composted, and when that fills up, it is sorted into green waste bins. The boxes that the vases and other sundries are delivered in go into recycling, or are re-used to post giftware regionally or interstate (we post kenzans, secateurs, chocolates, tea, candles etc). 

When I need something done in my business, such as marketing or SEO, I put the word “sustainable” into my Google search and choose a business that aligns with my values. 

It is important to note that this is what works for my business, in my part of the world. As I mentioned previously there will be lots of different solutions available to you and your specific situation, so it’s important to do your own research and discover what works for you depending on where you are. 

Well done on being one of the first florists to complete the Sustainable Floristry Network course. As a network member do you feel this has boosted your enthusiasm and drive to make further changes within your business?  

I’m so grateful for this course. It has taught me so much about how our industry works and given me so much to think about. I love learning and to find out more information about an industry you’ve been in for so long is wonderful. It is so well researched and has opened my eyes to the UN Sustainable Development goals, which I had not had time to read about. 

It has definitely given me a trusted source to refer to on information about sustainability. I’m sure you know how hard it is to find credited, science-based information and I am so grateful that we now have this resource to refer to.

How can customers and clients help contribute toward sustainability goals and being more “green”?  

 If you value the environment and sustainability, then always do the Google search trick – just put the word “sustainable” in front of whatever it is you are searching for and support that. There are loads of businesses in different sectors making positive changes, so the more we support them, the bigger overall impact we will have as a community. 

I love doing this myself as even though I am a business owner, I am also a customer for someone else too. So I always try and find the most sustainable option whenever I need anything. It’s a great habit to get into! 


What tips would you give to aspiring florists, just starting their journey? 

Don’t compare your work to others! I hear from young florists all the time saying that they are often not happy with their work, and to that I say it’s a completely normal feeling when starting out – I used to feel it too. 

To be honest, even experienced florists have days when they are not happy with their work. The trick is to go back to your training and look at your placement. When I look at an arrangement that I’m not super happy with and think about it in terms of line, proportion, focal & filler placement, colour scheme etc, often the answer as to why it’s not looking “right” becomes obvious. 

Good training will help you so much in the long run! 

A close up of a vase of flowers. Orange zinnia, chrysanthemums and lemon dahlia
Seasonal blooms

A very big Thanks to Ellen for taking the time to provide such considered responses to all my questions. All of the images of Ellen’s stunning work used above are courtesy of Botany Florist. 

If you would like to learn more about Botany Florist in Melbourne, follow this link 

If this chat has inspired you to learn more about sustainable practices within the flower industry, I encourage you to jump over to the Sustainable Floristry Network  and scroll through the many valuable resources available. 

Keep your eyes peeled here on the blog as we’ll be launching our new page on sustainability soon with lots of resources to help plan a sustainable wedding or event to come.  

“Kris was recommended to me by a close friend for wedding flowers and she did not disappoint. The wedding process was a bit daunting for me and Kris took the time to have a chat about styles, flower sustainability and budget. Kris was amazing to deal with throughout the whole engagement, is sustainable and super understanding and smiley to boot. Love what Kris did for us on the day and would recommend Kris to anyone looking for wedding flowers.”