How To: DIY Your Wedding Flowers, Part Two

photo(1)photo(7)photo(9)So as you can see, we had a lot of fun arranging flowers for the wedding. A couple weeks ago, I offered up some general advice on DIY wedding flowers. Today we’ll talk about the subject in a little more detail. I’m going to break this post down into a few parts: how to source your flowers, what to order, and how to do your actual arrangements.

How To: Source Your Wedding Flowers

Let’s start off at the very beginning: where should you be getting your flowers from? This is necessarily tied into another question: what kind of flowers do you want? Most suppliers will carry a finite selection, and while some local florists might be willing to special order things for you, it will probably be more cost efficient to choose from their existing stock.

I started this whole process off by getting a feel for what kinds of flowers I liked. I spent a lot of time on google and Pinterest, but this was only somewhat helpful. I wanted a wildflower look, but every time I looked at a picture of someone’s so-called “wildflower” bouquet, it seemed to consist of normal flowers arranged in a more rustic and undone kind of way. I wanted actual wildflowers. Turns out, lots of places don’t carry actual wildflowers.

So this played a big part in my decisions regarding flower suppliers. Sourcing your flowers can be a little tricky, but it’s getting a lot easier as more and more brides are going the DIY route. Professional florists buy their flowers from wholesale suppliers, who sell their stock at seriously discounted prices. Most wholesalers will not sell to non-professionals, but I’ve heard that many vendors at the NYC Flower Market will sell to regular people if you go at a certain time of day. Driving into New York to pick up flowers was just a little too stressful for me, so I had to look into some other options. I found a local florist who sold bulk flowers at wholesale prices, and an online vendor who would ship flowers to me.

For most people, online vendors will be the most convenient and cost effective. There are quite a few of them these days, and they all seem to have pretty competitive prices and high quality stock. At the beginning, I was really leaning towards using the online vendor for all of my flowers. They were the cheapest option, they came well reviewed, and I could even purchase certain flowers that would otherwise have been out of season in my area. However, I had a few hesitations. One: they didn’t carry all of the flowers I wanted, and that seemed to be the case for pretty much every online supplier I considered. Two: Even though 99.9999% of their reviews were positive, I was fixated on the handful of situations where flowers didn’t arrive on time, or they arrived dead, or some other catastrophe arose. Three: I had a slight ethical dilemma about buying flowers that were out of season and grown in Ecuador (I think), as opposed to locally.

This led me to Butternut Gardens, a local flower farm. Evelyn, the owner, had some of the most beautiful flowers in the world, and she carried many of the varieties I wanted that were impossible to find online. However, the online retailer’s prices were much lower, and if I went through the flower farm I would have to give up on certain flowers that were not in bloom in July. In the end, I split the order. I sourced most of my flowers from Butternut Gardens, but I bought my dinner plate dahlias, delphinium, and larkspur from the online seller. The dinner plate dahlias would have been prohibitively expensive to buy locally, and the other two were currently out of season (but only by a little bit!).

Here’s the last thing I will say about my suppliers: My experience with Butternut Gardens was infinitely superior. Fifty Flowers made a couple of mistakes with my order, including delivering one of my boxes late, so that my poor dahlias were sitting in a hot warehouse for six hours. Ultimately it worked out fine, and the flowers were stunning, but it was stressful. Evelyn, the owner of Butternut Gardens, was impossibly sweet, knowledgeable, and when she forgot to give me five of the sunflowers I ordered she actually drove to my house the next day to drop them off. For FIVE flowers. (PS: She runs a monthly flower subscription service, which is totally awesome. If you’re in the Fairfield County area you should check it out!)

How To: Calculate Your Flower Order

photo(2)

The key to the final flower order is a trial run. I visited Butternut Gardens a month before the wedding and walked home with about fifty blossoms. I went home and unpacked some of the jars and bottles we had ordered, and set to work. I was using these two images (1, 2) as loose inspiration, but I knew I wanted even more flowers. I worked on my dining room table, which was almost the same length as the tables we had ordered. I tried to include as many of the other items that would be on the table as possible, such as candles, so that I could get a clear sense of how many jars we would need.

Once I had the whole table set, I counted how many flowers I had used. Keep separate totals for large blossoms and smaller, filler blooms, this will help you achieve the right balance between the two in your order. Once I had the total, I multiplied the number of flowers by the number of tables. One thing that’s important to bear in mind: I still ended up with way more flowers than I needed. When I did the mock arrangement, I did not have all of the glasses, and silverware, and plates, and placemats, that would eventually go on the real tables. These things made the tablescape much busier, and that translated into fewer flowers needed. I knew this was going to be the case, but I ordered extra flowers anyway. Better to have too many than too few.

However, I still needed to figure out exactly what I was ordering. I wanted a lot of natural texture and variety, so I ordered smaller quantities of lots of different kinds of flowers. This was another reason why ordering from a local supplier was super beneficial: I visited Evelyn’s farm twice to look at what she had in bloom, and she even offered up some amazing suggestions when I was at a loss. This is what my final flower order looked like:

60 Dinnerplate Dahlias

25 Regular Dahlias

80 Larkspur (Mixed Colors)

80 Delphinium

60 Black Eyed Susans

30 Brown Eyed Susans (Similar to above, but smaller filler flowers)

60 Prairie Sun Coreopsis

50 Coneflowers (also known as Echinacea)

25 Sunflowers

90 Zinnias

3 Bunches Mountain Mint

3 Bunches Goldenrod

Now, some notes on my order. I had also ordered 40 cosmos, but it was so hot in the week before my wedding that they didn’t bloom properly. I think we replaced them with something else, but I can’t even remember what it was. This is important to bear in mind when you’re working with a local supplier: they’re at the mercy of mother nature, so you want to be as flexible as possible with your order. I wanted a really organic, natural look, so it was no problem at all for me to go another direction.

When placing your flower order, think carefully about balance. You want to have tall thin stalks, like larkspur and delphinium, as well as round blooms, like black eyed susans and zinnias. I ordered more small to medium sized flowers than larger ones, like sunflowers and dinner plate dahlias, because larger flowers make a greater impact when they’re seen on their own. Don’t forget to include some greenery in your order, like the mint and goldenrod. Professional florists always include some greens in their arrangements, but this often goes overlooked by DIY arrangers.

How To: Do Your Actual Arrangements

Photo by Katch Silva

First of all: this happens the day before the wedding. Keep your schedule clear of other activities for that day, because flower arrangements should not happen any other time. Truth be told, we probably would have gotten away with doing them on Thursday, instead of Friday, but the stress about whether or not the flowers would make it would not have been worth it. All in all, with four people working on the flowers, this took less than four hours. I was done with plenty of time to help The Boy hang lights before our rehearsal dinner.

Necessary Supplies

Floral Shears (do yourself a favor and buy one for every person helping you; no one should be sharing)

Floral Tape (you only need this for bouquets)

Flower Food (I had two kinds: little crystal packets and spray)

Buckets

Pitcher

1) First, prepare your space. You want to work in a cool room with limited natural light, so a basement is really the best option if you have the choice. We laid out garbage bags to act as work stations, theoretically to assist with cleanup. This was basically a failure, and stems got everywhere. But if you’re neater than me, maybe you want to give it a try anyway. Have all of your jars out and easily accessible; once you start putting flowers in jars you want to just be able to keep reaching for empty ones. I had lots of different kinds of jars, so before I even started arranging things I decided how many of each jar I wanted on each table. I wrote this down for the person who would later be moving jars to tables.

2) Once your space is set, you want your flowers all prepped and ready to go, sitting in water. To prep your flowers, use the floral shears to snip off the bottom inch or so of the stem. Make your cut at about a 45 degree angle; this creates maximum surface area through which the flower will absorb water. Next, strip off all but the very topmost leaves. You don’t want any leaves below the water level, because leaves are filthy with bacteria. Place all prepped flowers in buckets filled with water and a couple drops of bleach. The number one reason that cut flowers die quickly is bacteria, so a tiny amount of bleach helps to prevent that. Regarding water temperature: you want to listen to any instructions from your flower supplier, but as a general rule stick with super cold water for already blooming flowers, and lukewarm water for buds. Tip: if you’re also making bouquets, set aside those flowers first, so that you don’t get stuck with the loser flowers at the end.

3) Once you have all your flowers in buckets, it’s time to start transferring them to your jars, bottles, and other vessels. This kind of needs to be done by feel and personal taste, but try some of these combinations: a large flower all on its own in a small squat vessel, a large group of all small flowers, one tall flower and one large flower, three different flowers in the same color scheme, a handful of greens in a tall vessel. Those are just some ideas to get you started, but as my friend Maggie says, it’s basically impossible to screw up flowers in jars. If you want to be really anal about bacteria snip the stems once more before you move them to the new jar.

4) Start out with all of your jars completely dry, but keep a pitcher filled with water and a couple of drops of bleach nearby. Every time you complete about seven to ten jars, pour in a couple inches of water. We had literally hundreds of jars lying around that basement, and if they’d all been full of water before we added flowers I would have kicked over at least five of them, guaranteed. Once you’ve added water, move the jars to a safe location away from stray limbs, windows, or air vents.

5) As you’re placing flowers in vessels, don’t worry about keeping all of the jars grouped together by table. I just grabbed all the jars that were nearest and set to work; the person who moves your arrangements to the dinner tables gets to be in charge of making sure the right kinds of jars end up on each table. This is why you made your list.

6) A note on bouquets: there are plenty of good bouquet tutorials so I’ll keep this brief. The traditional way to create a bouquet is to start with three central flowers and then keep adding layers in a circle around that core, alternating between fillers and central blooms. I started with this theory and then just sort of pulled on things until it looked a little less perfect. Ultimately, I found that my bouquet looked prettiest when I just picked things up randomly, but then again that’s my taste. I also have an eye for color and shape, so if you don’t then feel free to pass this job off to a friend. Wrap your bouquet in floral tape, then tie ribbon or twine around it to hide the ugly green tape. Give the stems another angled snip and place in water.

7) Once all of your arrangements are done, I highly recommend spraying them with this. It came recommended by some fancy New York florist, and I’m positive it helped preserve my flowers for a few extra days. I sprayed all of the arrangements, and then added flower food to the bucket with my bouquets, and a few other vessels per my supplier’s instructions. Say goodnight to your flowers, and whisper a quick prayer to the flower god that they last the night. As long as they are in a cool, dark place, they will.

8) It’s your wedding day! Now, I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: it is not your job to move the flowers to the tables. This needs to be delegated to someone else. Hand them a list of how many of each kind of jar goes on each table, and trust that they will do you right. Make sure the flowers are the last thing to go out, because you don’t want them sitting in the sun all day. Now go get married!

It really was much easier than I thought it would be, especially to create the kind of look I was going for. And I got almost as many compliments about the flowers as I did about the food, which is really saying something.

A few final recommendations: for inspiration I read this post and this book. Lots of pretty pictures and useful information about flower care, plus it’s written like a cookbook. Much like with cooking, if you pay attention to the general technique rather than the specific ingredients, you can apply the lessons to your own arrangements, even if they’re not exactly identical.

Good luck!

Last photo by Katch Silva. All other photos by the incomparable Maggie Jo Shapiro.

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