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.
1. Keep plants as “soft allies.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
N.B.: This post is an update; it was first published in November 2017.
For more from Sophia, see: