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10 Ways to Bring Nature Home with Sophia Moreno-Bunge


10 Ways to Bring Nature Home with Sophia Moreno-Bunge

March 4, 2021

Our friend Sophia Moreno-Bunge, an LA-based floral designer, is undeniably a big deal. She’s the founder of design studio Isa Isa, was an artist in residence at the Villa Lena Art Foundation in Tuscany (an experience she wrote about for us), and featured in the New York Times as one of three Innovative Floral Designers to Know. Despite her full schedule, for Sophia it’s still all about the flora, and we knew her own home would be full of natural touches we’d want to copy.

Straight from her apartment in Santa Monica, here are 10 tips—from the practical to the philosophical—on how to bring nature home.

Photography by Beth Coller for Gardenista.

In her kitchen, Sophia draped a clipped nasturtium from a tiny vase above her cast iron pans. She keeps basil on the counter for cooking, plus a small pot of rosemary (which, she notes, does not thrive indoors, but she had it on hand for an arrangement and used it up in the kitchen).
Above: In her kitchen, Sophia draped a clipped nasturtium from a tiny vase above her cast iron pans. She keeps basil on the counter for cooking, plus a small pot of rosemary (which, she notes, does not thrive indoors, but she had it on hand for an arrangement and used it up in the kitchen).

1. Keep plants as “soft allies.”

Above: Sophia works with a geranium near a vintage wooden table that she uses as an artist’s play space, with plants awaiting impromptu arrangements or clippings destined for a pot of soil.

To start, there’s a reason for bringing nature indoors, says Sophia, who was inspired by a poem written by her friend, Lauren Ellis Matthews:  “Some florid being has felt better because of your small effort, and maybe even shown gratitude, and you realize that it’s only about the littlest gestures, and it’s only about giving what you can.”

The poet describes  houseplants as “soft allies” through life’s daily transitions, whose need for human care reminds us to care for ourselves. (Read the whole poem, called Soft Goods, here.)

2. Get a couple of flower frogs.

Above: A nasturtium, pansy, and petunia composition is just the kind of informal arrangement Sophia is known for. To create it, she set a floral frog inside the bowl and draped nasturtium vines with twigs over the lip of the tall vase. The plates and cereal bowl are by artist and painter Nora Slade, and the tall pink vase is by B Zippy.

A flower frog is a small device, sometimes designed like a cage or a set of spikes, used to prop up flowers and leaves in an arrangement—and it’s a good investment for making informal flower arrangements at home. With a floral frog, says Sophia, “you can make minimal arrangements that stand up straight.” For a source, see our post on Vintage-Style Flower Frogs.

3. Find somewhere to forage.

Above: For a casual tabletop arrangement, Sophia clipped the orange berries while on a walk in her neighborhood, and found the unripe lemons in a friend’s yard.

Not only does she save a lot of money on botanicals by foraging, Sophia also loves the look of the flowers, leaves, and grasses she collects on her walks around LA. Sophia knows where she can and can’t forage, and notes that “some people live in places where you can take a walk and cut things, while other people don’t,” so go online and do your research. Some of Sophia’s favorite locations are in friends’ yards. “A lot of people don’t cut from their own plants, and are happy to let you do it,” she says.

4. Happy houseplants will share their wealth.

Above: Sophia keeps a pitcher plant she found at the LA flower market on her kitchen counter. “I think they’re so cool,” she says of the carnivorous fly-eaters. You can cut off one of the “pitchers” for use in an arrangement, she says.

It may seem obvious that a flora lover would have potted plants all over her home—Sophia has them in the kitchen and living room, on a tiny back patio, and even clumped outside by her front door. What’s not obvious is that she uses them regularly in her arrangements. Geraniums are her favorite houseplants for regular cutting, since they’re scented and can be kept both indoors and out, but she regularly turns to potted nasturtiums, petunias, pansies, begonias, bromeliads, and more. To keep them happy and blooming, Sophia feeds her houseplants regularly with an all-natural seaweed fertilizer.

5. Plant your arrangements and watch them grow.

Above: Sophia perched a handful of easy-growing succulents on the kitchen windowsill. It’s nice to have them by the sink so you remember to water them, she notes.

Not only will houseplants provide cuttings for arrangements, the cuttings also can be re-potted to start a new plant entirely. Nasturtiums, begonias, and succulents will all throw roots from cuttings and can be replanted after starring in a cut arrangement. (Many herbs will also do this; see our post Gardening 101: How to Root Herbs in Water for more.)

6. The simplest things can make a big difference.

Above: On Sophia’s bedside table, dried grasses in a yellow B. Zippy vase are “just weeds from the sidewalk,” with a shape and delicateness Sophia liked. In the seashell is a stick of palo santo wood, and the ceramic brick is by Sophia’s friend, Aviva Rowley.

The simplest and smallest natural touches can make a big difference at home, says Sophia. “I’ll often take a walk and pick one little stem and set it on my bedside table,” she says. “Little snippets of things can make a big difference. They’re inspiring to me because they’re so whimsical.”

7. Let nature tell a story.

Above: In Sophia’s bedroom, she propped a dried papyrus frond against a backdrop of white-painted brick. Inside the fireplace, she tucked dried materials left over from work. At the far left is a bromeliad she bought to use its flowers in an arrangement.

Sophia and her dad collected the dried papyrus frond from the garden of an archaeological researcher whose house was being demolished after he died. They saved as many of his specimen plants as they could, and the frond reminds her of the story, she says—both its happy and sad elements.

8. Skip trendy plants.

Above: A fiddle leaf fig tree thrives in Sophia’s living room. The grasses on the coffee table are from the flower market, bought fresh and dried over time. To display them, Sophia inserted the grasses into a floral frog inside a low vase.

Sophia has had her fiddle leaf fig tree for nearly three years, and it’s happy in her home. Though it happens to have been a recently trendy houseplant, if the tree didn’t thrive with Sophia, she’d choose a different plant. “Stick with plants that are easy for you to grow,” she says. “I have the fig tree because it does well here and it’s happy.”

9. Dry your finds to make them last.

Above: A set-and-forget arrangement of miscanthus grass, which Sophia purchased fresh from the flower market. Miscanthus dries beautifully, she notes—fluffy, without shedding.

Sophia has lots of dried plants around her home—mostly grasses, but also dried flowers, leaves, and seeds. They require no maintenance and last forever (ish). To dry them, take them out of water so they won’t mildew. (Sometimes, as with the miscanthus shown here, Sophia skips the water and tosses the grass into an empty vase.)

10. Flowers are not required.

Above: In a small vignette at the top of her stairs, Sophia used a green vase with grass she found in an abandoned lot next to a train station. (“That’s what city foraging is,” she says.) The dried plant on the left is buckwheat. The drawing is an antiques store find and a gift from Sophia’s dad; “It looks a lot like my mom,” she said.

Sophia creates vignettes of dried natural materials, either collected or given to her over time: beach wood, seaweed, seashells, rocks, and twigs are among her muses. “I like decorating with dried things—weird, random, found natural objects,” she says.

Above: The still life is composed of beach wood, seaweed, pink shells from the flower market, and purple and white shells from a beach in Uruguay.

N.B.: This post is an update; it was first published in November 2017.

For more from Sophia, see:

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