Sarah Blasi, also known as Selva Floral Design (@selvafloral), has been transforming blooms, branches, and what she calls "the dance-y bits," into her own green and gorgeous art for more than 10 years now. Although she'd never describe herself this way, Blasi's one of the OGs of the #realflowers and natural-style floristry and photography that dominate Instagram these days. Selva's signature style is difficult to pin down, yet immediately recognizable: unusual textures and pairings, unexpected movement, a beautiful flower tucked in a forgotten spot, and just enough show-stopping blooms to make the whole thing undeniably beautiful. Blasi's arrangements always manage to surprise in some way, and that's no small feat in a field as thoroughly documented as floristry is these days. Even more impressive—everything she knows, Blasi pretty much taught herself.
We were lucky enough to collaborate with Selva Floral on two Cutting Garden Collections for Plover this spring—special pairings of seeds and tubers that allow you to grow your own floral arrangements. All proceeds from her "Moonlight" and "Cherry Caramel" Cutting Garden Collections are going to Friends of Trees, a nonprofit in the Pacific Northwest dedicated to improving the urban canopy, and who have planted more than 800,000 trees and native shrubs so far. We caught up with Blasi pre-quarantine, when she was moving her floral studio in Portland, Ore., to talk floral design and a little bit of flower farming.
YOU'VE BEEN DOING FLORAL DESIGN FOR A LONG TIME, BEFORE IT WAS A HOT JOB TO HAVE. HOW DID YOU GET INTO IT?
I was working a sales job that I hated, and I wanted to do something that inspired me, something creative and beautiful. I remember thinking, "Well, maybe flowers...I know flowers." My mom is an avid gardener, and I grew up learning their names, and we always had them in the house, cut fresh from the garden. I started putting together "artful" arrangements and taking photos of them for a blog I started. I quickly gained followers and started booking work. I am totally self-taught—though I did spend a couple of years working for a small flower shop in Eugene, Ore., where the owner taught me some very important lessons on flower mechanics. From there, I moved back to Portland and made the leap to being fully self-employed.
I think what has made me successful as a floral designer—especially now that the market is completely flooded with designers—is that I have a unique design style that in a way sets me apart from others. I'm not saying no one else does what I do, or that I don't take inspiration from other designers (because I totally do!), but that I try to do me. To work with what is exciting and inspiring me now. I also am always open to trying new designs and "getting a little weird"—i.e., thinking outside the floral box. It's what keeps me inspired.
HOW DO YOU APPROACH PUTTING AN ARRANGEMENT TOGETHER?
There are three elements that I'm always thinking about. I start with my base, my grounding flowers. Those are your big, heavy flowers, and your greenery. In the case of the 'Moonlight' Cutting Garden Collection, it would be the dahlias and the zinnias. Then you work with adding in the focal flowers or "face" flowers—in this case, the dahlias and the zinnias work as both a base flower (the ones used low in the arrangement are base) and a focal flower. I've also used the scabiosa as a focal flower. The third step is to add what I call the dance-y bits, the floaty pieces that flow in the arrangements: the Corn Cockle, the Feathertop grass, the Love in a Puff. Airy, wispy bits. (You just need to be careful, because if you have too many of those, the arrangement doesn’t look grounded.)
I’m thinking about those 3 main elements in anything I design, whether it's a centerpiece, a large hanging installation or a boutonniere. I’m also thinking about the intention of the flower, what role that flower plays. Does it have meaning, purpose? If not, why is it in there? That intention helps keep me present in the design.
YOUR WORK ALWAYS LOOKS SO DISTINCTLY YOUR OWN, BUT AT THE SAME TIME, YOU'RE SO VERSATILE. HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR FLORAL STYLE?
I always use the word "intentional" when describing my design style. I am thoughtful and intentional when choosing color palettes and flowers, as well as in how I design. I don't force a flower to do a certain thing or go in a specific place, yet every stem placed has a purpose—maybe as a foundational piece to the arrangement, or as a whimsical dance-y bit to finish off the arrangement. I don't ever throw flowers in a vase; it's more of a meditative process for me.