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F is for Flowers (Making Your Own) by Emily
I* love flowers: snowdrops and early crocuses transforming the depths of winter to the first days of spring, daffs on my desk, bluebells in the woods, a bud vase with something from the garden on the dressing table, bunches of heady stocks when someone comes for supper, pansies in the window box lasting for months and months, cyclamen and hyacinths at Christmas.
The first four pictures in the main body of this post were taken by the glorious Lucy Stendall
The picture I had in my head for our reception was the scene at the end of the BBC Bleak House when Esther and Dr Woodcourt finally marry and everyone dances on the lawn, all English country abundance and joy; we wanted the wedding to feel like that, like a flower filled family party. I decided quite early on that I really wanted to do at least some of the flowers myself, because I was starting to have quite a clear idea of what I wanted and I wasn’t sure I could translate that into words for a florist, because I wanted to do something practical to make the reception lovely, and because then we could have more flowers without breaking the bank!
Enlist (preferably expert!) help
Before the wedding, my flower arranging experience stretched to plonking a bunch in a vase. But J, my Godmother, has a good eye and can translate that into reality, which I often can’t, so I asked her to come a few days early and help me. This took a lot of the pressure off: as long as we had flowers, arrangements would be produced. We then spent the morning of the day before the wedding arranging and it was the loveliest time. My mother came out to help too, and we worked and chatted and laughed and our fingers and feet went numb with cold. We split the work so J did the big arrangements for the rooms and Mum and I did the table flowers, which were quite small and so much easier. And at the end of it all, we had ranks of beautiful flowers which I spent the rest of the day showing off to anyone and everyone within reach.
What do we put them in?
I chose the vases first, and then thought about which flowers would suit them. I wanted the tables in the evening to feel like an old fashioned dinner party: all silver and glass and candle light. So I had a look on eBay and bought a few silver plate rose bowls of varying sizes, some modern and not very beautiful, some old and a bit bashed about, but when they were full of flowers they looked exactly as I hoped. Some of them came with the wire cage type top but I seemed to need a huge number of flowers to get it to look as I wanted so I took this off and instead used pieces of oasis from a local florist which I had soaked overnight.
We also borrowed 18 conical flask shaped glass vases and the plan was to put one of these either side of each rose bowl on our long tables. My parents had some biggish glass vases knocking around that were perfect for the larger arrangements for the house.
I decided on seasonal spring flowers in blue, yellow and cream. I spent a bit of time digging around to check what should be in season in April (apart from anything else, out of season flowers can be hideously expensive: I was hoping to have lily of the valley in my bouquet but we were just too early for it this year and it would have been fairly ruinous) and more importantly, what things I liked the look of were actually called.
I wanted to use something blue and bulky like hydrangea in the rose bowls to fill space, but again it wasn’t the right time of year. I settled on a bluey purple and cream mix for the rose bowls with blue hyacinths, lilac freesias, cream ranunculus, and cream roses, and gyp and lots of greenery to soften them. Oddly enough, the place we went to for my not-hen-do had tulips and gypsophila in conical flask vases on the table, so we pinched that idea and put 3 yellow tulips and a spring of gyp in each glass vase: pretty and economical.
To keep it simple we used a lot of the same flowers for the larger arrangements plus some delphiniums and carnations for a different texture.
Buying the flowers
I had intended to buy the flowers a couple of days before the wedding at the nearest flower market, but I was worried that they wouldn’t have what I wanted and I knew that I didn’t have the expertise for a last minute change of plan, so I decided to order them in advance. A wedding forum recommended a wholesale website and some of the choices were made for me: they didn’t have any hydrangeas and the roses were quite pricey so I ordered mostly ranunculus instead. I ended up supplementing what I bought with some lastminute roses and carnations from M&S because when I actually saw the flowers I hadn’t got the balance of colours and textures quite right. I was a bit nervous of using supermarket flowers in case they had been sitting around for too long, but they lasted well.
Numbers wise, I just worked out approximately what flowers I planned to put in each vase and added a few on just in case. Odd numbers tend to look better than even, so I went for 3 hyacinths and 5 ranunculus in the rose bowls and 3 tulips in the glass vases, for example. Gypsophila is brilliant: it fills, it softens, it prettifies. Also, don’t forget greenery: I bought a little and then raided my parents‘ garden for the rest. Arrangements need it, again to soften the flowers, and obviously as filler. Our pew ends were mostly greenery with just a few brilliant yellow roses, and were really effective.
What do I do with them when they arrive?
It turned out that the flowers actually came from Holland (via commercial courier!) on a specified day. I went for the Wednesday before our Saturday wedding but Thursday would probably have been better, especially since they arrived pretty much first thing. The flowers came in polystyrene boxes with ice packs; I took them out, stripped off the leaves and stuck them in buckets in the garage with any flower food that came with them. It was freezing in April so I suspect you would need to buy them closer to the actual day in the summer. I worried a lot that they would be looking past it by Saturday but they lasted brilliantly and the arrangements were still going strong two weeks later!
Know your limits
I should come clean here: we only did the reception flowers ourselves. The Church flowers were done beautifully by a lady from the village who always does them. We were married on the Saturday after Easter so she very kindly did the Easter flowers in the colours we wanted to use, and then supplemented the existing arrangements with extra flowers and lots of new bright pew ends for our wedding. It was not expensive (we paid cost price for the additional flowers and a very nominal sum for the arranging) and the arrangements were beautiful and numerous. She even did an extra bowl for my Grandparents‘ grave. I also wanted a traditional shower bouquet which I knew was far beyond my skill, so we used the local florist in the village for the buttonholes and bouquets.
* This post seems full of “I”‘s; Keith was pretty uninterested in the floral side of things so I’m afraid it was all me!
Emily’s DIY floral pictures (taken by her father):
Mad chaos in the barn after the flowers arrived
J in action
Arranging in action
Finished table flowers
One of the arrangements for the house