An Autumn Ritual

spraying the hydrosol with flowers in hand

The reflective experience of creating a decay bouquet

A decay bouquet, you say?  Aren’t decaying flowers the ones we regularly remove from our arrangements? Isn’t keeping a bouquet fresh and fragrant the goal?

If you have never made a decay bouquet, it is a grounding ritual for honoring the change of seasons.  It is ideal for the autumnal equinox, opening our eyes to the loveliness in shapes and forms that we normally avoid. Like the golden leaves shedding from the trees, a decay bouquet reminds us to slow down and open our hearts to the beauty of letting go. 

This evanhealy event was led by Albuquerque Ayurvedic Practitioner, Erin Johnson, a master gardener, who has a conscious living business called Surround. 

Erin spread a blanket on the ground that was filled with an array of flowers and plants, some half dead, more brown than green. Many had already set to seed. Yet regardless of their stage in decay, they were all stunning and brilliant. Every member of our little group found themselves lost in the beauty of the drooping flowers, dried out petals and organic skeletal frames. We were astonished that we had never really taken the time to notice the charm of flowers that are past full bloom. The dignity of their lingering allure was comforting. There was something affirming about acknowledging the changes that the flowers are going through. As we “considered the lilies,” we understood; as with our own lives, these transitions should be celebrated and honored. From bud to blossom, and from the delicate wilting to the drying, each stage of the flower’s life was infused with its own peculiar sense of being. Just like us.

Ingredients to build a Decay Bouquet 


We learned that when properly balanced, each bouquet should contain the five elements: ether, air, fire, water, and earth. Not unlike us human beings. We may not be able to articulate the inherent beauty in the life cycle of a flower, but we sense its language. When we have a bundle of flowers in our hands and smell their aroma, we find ourselves drawn into an old and familiar conversation.  

The qualities of a decay bouquet originate from the plants themselves. Erin taught us that some plants are inherently more earthy, while others are etheric. Every decay bouquet should have some semblance of a mixture between the various elements. Likewise, a bouquet could also be dominant in one particular element. It’s all up to you. 

Erin defines the five elements this way

“E T H E R : The etheric element is electric. It’s the sparkle, the effervescences, the lace or gossamer-like qualities which so many botanicals embody. For me they are essential, a finishing touch. A bouquet without them seems unfinished. We used wild ramp blossoms, dried dill, and one of my favorites, pink muhly grass stalks. Simply whimsical!

A I R : I attribute this element as space, literally. A bouquet must blossom and breathe, and  it cannot if everything is crammed together. Allowing the blooms or the blades of grass space to move allows for grace. It’s very important for spaciousness to be present. 

F I R E : Fire is present through spike-like plants or flowers. These are tall and come to a point. In our bouquets, the fire is represented through Thai basil blossoms, artemisia in bloom, and dried rough mule’s ear. You can even use branches as they indeed come to a well-defined point. A very nice touch. 

W A T E R : I see this present in two distinct ways: plants like honeysuckle, clematis or vines can cascade and flow down or to the side, almost like liquid or vapor. Some plants are inherently juicier than others as well. In these cases, I think of tropical blossoms or massive alocasia leaves. In our decay bouquets, because summer is fading into fall, water was less present. For you, it may be different. 

E A R T H : These are the large centerpiece flowers. Think dahlias, sunflowers, asters, peonies or giant poppies. Naturally these will seasonally change and will be dependent on where your garden grows. A bouquet is still lovely without them but will have an airier, lacy feel. A large blossom will immediately give substance and weight. You’ll feel it immediately. Our earth flowers were Mexican sunflowers, marigolds, and zinnias.”


As we noted these five elements so fundamental to flowers, and to us, we saw them also mirrored in the simplicity of our skincare rituals. Hydrosouls and essential oils carry on the nurturing legacy of flowers.  The clay grounds and heals us, just as it does all living things.


A little bit of ether and air balanced with water and earth and a touch (or a lot) of fire reveals and enhances the unique beauty inherent within every human in every stage of life.  Just like every flower--and every season.

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