“Flower farms are not subject to the same agricultural regulations as edible produce,” says John Lim, founder of local botanical studio This Humid House. This worries Lim, since the difference means that when it comes to pesticides, floral crops are bearing the brunt of far more aggressive variants—and not without harm. “We may not be ingesting them, but they are contaminating our soil and air.”
The botanical studio Lim runs shows their work in a variety of settings, including weddings, art installations and runway shows. Beyond the avant-garde design style, architectural naturescapes and unconventional botanical arrangements they are known for, what sets them apart from most players in the industry is their drive to counteract the deep environmental impact floristry can have. Pesticides are just one issue—there is also plastic waste, transport-related carbon costs, and greenhouse farming to worry about.
A desire to avoid contributing to further environmental damage in their own practise was, in part, what led This Humid House to embark on a passion project in May this year, when they began planting their own garden. With sustainability at the forefront of their minds, they have steered clear of chemical pesticides and floral foam, a toxic and non-biodegradable product commonly used in floristry.
Their first harvest of flowers came in July, with the garden now providing at least 20 percent of the products they use in their work. “Our garden gives us increased agency over our supply, allowing us to really commit to our sustainable philosophy. There’s nothing quite like the satisfaction of having the material we use in our creations nurtured with tender loving care, right from seed.”
“The running gag in the studio is that nothing is off limits. We draw the line somewhere at roast duck, which we’ve shoved into an arrangement for a kitschy editorial shoot”
The creations in question are often outside the realm of what many consider floristry, an effect which is as intentional as it is memorable. In fact, the team behind This Humid House don’t call themselves florists, identifying instead as botanical designers.
Architect-turned-founder Lim explains that since the team at This Humid House draw from an entire universe of living (or once living) material to craft their offerings, ‘botanical design’ seems to be a more accurate descriptor of their work. “The common thread between every member of the team is that we each enjoy a profound relationship with nature and our surroundings, and are emotionally connected to what we create.”
When asked to sum up the signature look This Humid House products carry, Lim aptly says, “It’s feverish and exuberant—we aim for the sublime.” If that’s hard to visualise, think of floral installations featuring mini watermelons, lotus root, or perhaps—poultry.
“The running gag in the studio is that nothing is off limits. We draw the line somewhere at roast duck, which we’ve shoved into an arrangement for a kitschy Chinese banquet editorial shoot,” Lim jokes. Clearly, they like to have fun with their work, but this penchant for using unusual materials goes beyond the shock value it provides.
While including unconventional ingredients like lotus root adheres to their sustainable mission by driving them to find creative ways to utilise every part of a plant, part of this quirkiness comes from a desire to re-contextualise floristry in Singapore—and ultimately, to create work that resonates with locals. “As a child of the tropics, I haven’t grown up around roses and hydrangeas, so I don’t necessarily relate to a lot of the floral design work I see out here,” says Lim.
As a result, This Humid House opts to include elements in their botanical arrangements that Singaporeans are familiar with seeing—albeit on the dinner table. “For many people here, lotus root is most commonly seen sliced, in Asian soup,” he explains. “In a past botanical sculpture, we presented them whole and slathered in mud, evoking their natural habitat. It’s unexpected, yet familiar.”
When they do work with flowers, the team turns to their garden—which has allowed them to utilise products they might otherwise not be able to. Flowers too fragile to withstand much handling can be used as long as they are deployed straight from harvest. Marigolds—a flower which has a golden burst of colour most commonly seen in Hindu temples—typically arrive from India separated from their stems in the interest of transport efficiency. The ones This Humid House grows, however, have longer longevity and remain in intact condition, and can therefore be used in bouquets.
Beyond increasing the variety of floral species they have to choose from, cultivating their garden has also helped This Humid House nip in the bud several issues that contribute to the floristry industry’s carbon footprint. “When you import your flowers instead of sourcing them locally, they travel long journeys by air in constant refrigeration, wrapped in tons of packaging—much of which is non-biodegradable. Only then are they able to arrive in the hands of the consumer,” says Lim.
“Typically, speed is the only thing on everyone’s minds after an event ends—but taking the time during teardown to extract and recondition flowers allows them to then be repurposed”
By using local products and growing their own, This Humid House has been able to counteract some of this waste. “Harvesting our own material eliminates packaging from the supply process, so the only packaging we use is in the final product. But the most direct way we’ve reduced our waste output is, simply by wasting less,” Lim is happy to share. “We are very conscious of ordering just what we need, and have become adept at incorporating potted plants into our work. These can be used over and over again if maintained well, which we try our best to do.”
Their efforts do not stop at the creation stage—in fact, This Humid House goes further by trying to extend the lifespan of the flowers used in their arrangements. They partner with nonprofits such as Refresh Flowers, an organisation which repurposes flowers for various charities and causes (like redistributing them to hospice patients) after they have been used in events. “Typically, speed is the only thing on everyone’s minds after an event ends—but taking the time during teardown to extract and recondition flowers allows them to then be used again,” says Lim.
Ultimately, pursuing sustainability in floristry—or botany, if you will—is an endeavour that has taken This Humid House careful planning, some additional costs, and lots of extra effort (you will find the team carefully taking down flowers by hand after events). Even their garden—for all the joy it brings—is a significant drain on their resources. Still, these are inconveniences they are happy to accommodate, so long as they can continue to create delightful floral and botanical experiences at a lower environmental cost.
This Humid House, The Floral Concierge at The Straits Clan, 31 Bukit Pasoh Road, Singapore 089845
Contact: +65 9181 7375 / [email protected]
Opening hours: Tue-Fri, 11am to 5pm; closed on Sundays. Saturdays and Mondays