Wedding flowers - Planning and budget

Wedding websites and magazines offer a lot of advice to couples about planning wedding flowers. Most of it is not advice written by a person with extensive knowledge about flowers, i.e. a florist. So here are my thoughts on the topic as both a florist and a project manager:

A hand-tied bouquet with luxury flowers: garden roses, mini calla lilies, ranunculus, sedum, amaranth, and greenery

A hand-tied bouquet with luxury flowers: garden roses, mini calla lilies, ranunculus, sedum, amaranth, and greenery

1. Go with the seasons

While there are plenty of flowers available year around (roses, for example), many are not. Lilacs and dahlias are only available in the the spring and autumn respectively. If you must have dahlias in your wedding, then you need to plan your wedding for September or October! Many flowers look better and are less expensive when in season. The widest variety of tulips are available in the spring and cost less than tulips in November. Thanks to air freight, peonies are almost available year around. However the prices are most affordable in the spring which means you can have more peonies for your money than other times of the year. Flower prices also fluctuate based on the crop. In a poor growing year, everything is more expensive.

2. Dates to avoid

A hanging wild garden! Greenery and floral chandelier.

A hanging wild garden! Greenery and floral chandelier.

The two most expensive times to get flowers are Mothers' Day weekend and the weekend before Valentine's Day. This is simple supply and demand. If you must marry on or around Valentine's Day, you can save money by not having all red roses. By avoiding these days, you will have more options at standard seasonal prices.

3. Be flexible about color

Pinterest and Instagram are great for getting ideas, but photos are often doctored through the use of filters and photo editing software. Color also changes with the quality of light. So what you are seeing online may be a good guide but be aware that the pictures may not be the real color of the flowers. Additionally colors vary by grower and season. For example a white majolika spray rose can vary from white with green tints to creamy to champagne depending on the soil where it is grown. Every flower is unique. This is what makes you beautiful and flowers beautiful! The best thing a couple can do is give the florist a color palette and a style or theme, like rustic bohemian, upscale romantic, etc.  and then share fabric samples of the clothing to be worn by the wedding party.

4.  Be flexible about variety

If you want all roses or if you hate hydrangeas, tell the florist. Otherwise let him or her choose the flowers to coordinate with your color palette. This gives your florist the freedom to purchase something really special and fabulous that may be in the flower market the week before your wedding. Additionally if your dream flower shows up and looks terrible, it is a living thing after all, your florist needs the opportunity to swap with something better.

Corsage on a pearl bracelet featuring a single ranunculus, and succulents

Corsage on a pearl bracelet featuring a single ranunculus, and succulents

5. Corsages don't have to look like prom

Corsages get a bad rap, but there are plenty of cool and elegant options available. I love corsages featuring a huge flower on a wrist ribbons or succulents on metal cuffs. They look modern and interesting. Shoulder corsages are also making a comeback. They are 1940s fabulous!

6.  Budget

Wedding flowers are available for all budgets, but it is important to be realistic. $500 will get you a bridal bouquet, a bridesmaid's bouquet and a couple of boutonnières in standard flowers, not garden roses, peonies or tropicals.  If you are on a limited budget, keep the wedding party small and limit the number of reception flowers. Not every table needs flowers. Some could have candles on a mirror or in a lantern.  Be aware that greenery is expensive and a lot is needed if it is to substitute for flowers. You won't necessarily save money by having just greenery. I'd recommend couples plan a budget of $3,000 to $5,000 for flowers to cover the wedding party, parents, ceremony flowers, cake flowers, and centerpieces for the reception. Another guide would be for the flower budget to be 20% to 25% of the overall budget or more depending on how elaborate. Things like floral chandeliers start at $1000 and go up because they require significant labor. Tall centerpieces that hover above guests start at $500 and go up. They are also labor intensive and require a lot of flowers.

In other words, for $1000 you will not get flowers for 8 bridesmaids and groomsmen, a chuppah/arbor, and 20 table centerpieces. Bear all of this in mind when looking at Pinterest.

A naked cake adorned with  simple and elegant garden roses

A naked cake adorned with  simple and elegant garden roses

As an aside, I should also mention that, unlike venues, flowers cost the same regardless of the event. Some websites advise not telling that you are planning for a wedding. This doesn't work for flowers. All florists follow a similar pricing model and it is based on the retail cost of the flowers plus labor. and delivery. I've not met a single florist who charges more just because it is a wedding. Weddings are more expensive because of the labor that goes into them, not because of any special wedding mark up.

7. Trust

Pick a florist whose work you admire. Then give the florist examples of what you like: a color palette, an overall feeling or atmosphere you are aiming for and then let the florist recommend what he or she suggests to bring your vision to a reality. You should have a good rapport with the florist and a good sense of his or her style and competency.  Trust your florist to make good decisions, select the right flowers and design your dreams. No two floral designs are ever a like. A good florist will not replicate another florists work but will look at a design you like and get inspiration from it. Do not ask a florist to replicate something exactly from another florist. That's like plagarism!

Your wedding may be the only time in your life when you can be surrounded by beautiful flowers to create the ambiance of your dreams. Find a florist you trust and be flexible. You will have a wonderful day!

Dreams of flower farming

Dahlias in the wonderful Botanic Gardens in Christchurch, New Zealand, which I visited in 2016.

Dahlias in the wonderful Botanic Gardens in Christchurch, New Zealand, which I visited in 2016.

I want to grow my own flowers. Definitely not all of them that I would need as a floral designer, but certainly some of the fragile ones that have a short vase life and don't travel well. Dahlias come to mind. I love the great big ones the size a plate, but all of them are great in bouquets and other floral decoration. Most advice I see online or have heard in flower school recommends buying dahlias locally from a farmer. There are some wonderful flower farms up in the Hudson Valley, but I need some closer to home for the foreseeable future.

One of our neighbors in Armonk grew dahlias last year for his daughter's wedding. They were gorgeous, and he let me have a few for an event at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church. Some of his dahlias were over my head, and I'm six feet tall! They were breathtaking; he did a marvelous job. This gives me hope: we have had success in our neighborhood with dahlias. I am going to give it a try next spring, even if it's just a few.

A variegated dahlia grown by my neighbor for his daughter's wedding

A variegated dahlia grown by my neighbor for his daughter's wedding

The floral equivalent of farm to table (farm to bouquet?) has traction in certain parts of the country, but it isn't widespread, in part because of cost (local flowers are more expensive) and in part because of variety (a NY bride who wants orchids and roses is not going to get them locally except at very precise times of the year). Thanks to modern transportation and agriculture, roses, orchids and a good many other flowers are available year around. Of course that comes at a price: carbon footprint, chemicals, water-intensive, etc. 

So I dream of farming a little plot in our backyard with some wonderful flowers that I can use in designs along with other US grown flowers and supplemented as needed by imported flowers. I dream of having a client with budget big enough for all local and US grown flowers. And there, my friends, is the rub: flowers grown in hot houses in Ecuador are more cost effective. Don't get me wrong, I'm not snooty about rose grown in Ecuador. In fact, the rose industry has transformed certain parts of the country that were previously dirt farms marred by poverty and lack of access to education. Roses and other flowers have changed that for a lot of people.

A hellebore in my garden in NY

A hellebore in my garden in NY

I'd like to offer clients the option of having my garden-raised flowers in their bouquets and vases.  Fresh from the garden, I-picked-this-today dahlias, anemones, poppies, hellebores, ferns and other wonders.

What do I know about flower farming? Nothing. But two years ago I didn't know anything about floral design. So, baby steps and we'll see what happens. Besides, I like digging in the dirt!

Never underestimate a good teacher

Learning a craft requires good teachers. The best teachers are the ones who demand rigor and practice yet also ignite passion. I'm lucky to have encountered many of these who have shaped my intellect, skills, and career over the years.

The most exacting teacher I ever had was Mrs. Fryer, my fifth grade teacher. She was also my mother's fifth grade teacher. So she'd been around awhile and, oh boy, did she have standards! Her standards were as much about how to behave in class as how to use punctuation: show up on time, listen, follow instructions. I suspect that these skills have got me further along in life than anything else.

In high school, Mrs. Jones made English fun and ignited my passion for literature. Off I went to college thinking that getting an English major would be about reading books. Then I met Dr. Tanner, who made Mrs. Fryer look like a slacker. He was wonderful and drilled grammar and disciplined argumentation into us so that language would flourish in our hands. Then there was Dr. Shannon who must have memorized the entire corpus of literature because she would pepper her conversation with "in the words of W.H. Auden..." and "as George Eliot said..."

My teachers in study for advanced degrees in literature and theology taught me to be comfortable with grey areas and clued me into the fact that most people are winging it, even or maybe especially in academia.

The New York Botanical Garden

The New York Botanical Garden

I carry these lessons with me to work everyday in my IT job. And I carry them with me as I embarked on my training as a floral designer. Show up on time, listen, follow instructions.

I am on the home stretch of my certification in floral design at the New York Botanical Garden. It's the best of the best in terms of training. All of my teachers have different aesthetics, different competencies, and different skills to share. It's been a great experience. One of my teachers worked on Beyonce and Jay Z's wedding flowers. Another teacher designs and builds floats for the Rose Parade every year. One teacher whose bridal bouquet was on the cover of Martha Stewart Weddings was flown over to Riyadh on the Saudi king's jet to make a bridal bouquet for one of the Saudi princesses. One does the arrangements for the lobbies of several luxury hotels. Two of them are the It Boys of the NY floral design scene.

They have taught me so much. Learn the rules, then break them. Flowers are organic and sometimes do their own thing. Nature cannot be fully controlled no matter how much florist wire is involved. Empty space matters. Simplicity is hard. Mechanics make all the difference. Chicken wire is my friend.

And, in the words of Voltaire, the perfect is the enemy of the good.

Voltaire, by William Blake



So begins flower mania

You know those people who say, "Find your passion and do what you love"? I generally want to kick them! Some people undoubtedly know from an early age what they love and what to do with their lives. Others have the luxury of dabbling in their interests until they find what sticks. Some are born entrepreneurs with capital available.

Then there are the rest of us.

We spend most of our lives working averagely satisfying jobs putting a roof over our heads and food on the table, paying bills, building a family and hoping not to get laid off. We ask ourselves what we want to do when we grow up into our thirties. By forty we're laughing at ourselves for still not having figured it out.

This certainly describes me until I found flowers! I discovered my mania for flowers kind of by accident. When the hubs took a job in Westchester County, NY, I was bereft at leaving my beloved North Carolina and all of my people there.  Moving to a strange land without BBQ and biscuits and my friends left me lonely and miserable for 9 months. Finally I decided I needed to do something. All I was doing was throwing myself into my corporate work, exercising, reading books. Here we were living 40 minutes by car or train to the greatest city on earth. I had to get out, find something to do in this glorious city. 

A parishioner had given my husband a gift membership to the New York Botanical Garden in thanks for a religious service he did for her family (he's an Episcopal priest). NYBG has wonderful adult education programs. When the program bulletin arrived, floral design caught my eye. Flowers are pretty, and I'm vaguely crafty so why not give it a try? It's also a pretty good skill for a priest's wife to have.

Off I went to my first class in October 2015. I was only planning to take one class, but it was fantastic!! I also seem to have a natural eye for it which is helpful (though surprising). It has been totally transforming. In April I set up my own floral design company and I already have some weddings lined up. For now, this is a part-time venture as I do have a day job, but who knows what the future holds! 

I may have found my passion, but my advice to people who haven't is to be curious. Try stuff. Learn. Look around. Talk to people. And it's never too late. Julia Child's cooking career didn't take off until she was in her 50's.