Do you really want to grow your own wedding flowers?

– Posted in: Hardscaping and Projects, How-to
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My son Rundy (a former contributor to this website) and his sweetheart Debbie announced their engagement mid-February. They got married on July 16th. I want to share our experiences doing the wedding flowers. (And by “our” I mean several people from both families.) I hope this will help you decide if you want to take on the flowers for the wedding of someone dear to you.

Wedding flowers are a crop

Wedding flowers are a crop. They are grown for a certain occasion and for a specific purpose. When deciding what to grow, you can’t merely think, “Is it pretty?” You have to consider how it works as a cut flower; will it look good in an arrangement, in a corsage, in a boutonnière, or a bouquet? And–if you are growing your own–will it be blooming when you need it? And for every crop, there is the possibility of crop failure. Drought, flood, heat, frost, wind, animal pests, disease, completely freaky things no one could imagine–you name it, it could happen to your precious wedding flowers.

Do you want to grow all the flowers needed, or just some of them?

The possibility of crop failure is why I told Debbie I would be glad to grow flowers for their wedding, but I did not want to be responsible for the most important wedding flowers–the ones the bridal party would be wearing or carrying. I was glad to hear Debbie’s co-worker Josh had a flower business on the side, and Debbie was going to buy those special flowers from him.

Debbie wanted a color scheme of yellow, moss green, and white, and she wanted the flowers to be wildflowers or at least have that informal, rustic feel. She mentioned Queen Anne’s lace and black-eyed Susans as examples of what she had in mind. We consulted our memories and our collective photo archives and thought those flowers bloomed in mid-July. I thought to myself that depending on the weather, those particular flowers could be a week early or a week late–but something would certainly be blooming!

When to start them?

Summer-blooming annuals take so long to get going here that they could almost be called autumn flowers. So, I’ll cut to the chase: I did start a bunch of annuals, but only the bachelor’s buttons were blooming in time for the wedding. In just two more weeks, most of the others were blooming, so for your information, this is what I started, and when.

3/25/16
Snapdragon Rocket Mix from Fedco

4/6/16
Alyssum Carpet of Snow from American Seed
Cosmos sulphureus from Outside Pride
Didiscus Lacy Blue from Fedco
Rudbeckia Gloriosa daisy from Fedco
Rudbeckia Goldilocks from Fedco
Rudbeckia Prairie Sun from Fedco
Cosmos Double Click Rose Bonbon from Fedco
Bachelor’s Buttons Blue Boy from Fedco

5/2/16
Benary’s Giants Lime Zinnia from Fedco
Green Envy Heirloom Zinnia from Renee’s Garden
Cabaret Double Cutting Zinnia from Renee’s Garden
Cool Crayon Colors Cutting Zinnias from Renee’s Garden

In a climate with an earlier last frost date, they could have been ready by July 16th, but not here, not without a greenhouse.

Flowers: From the Garden and the Field

At some point before spring, Debbie gave up on a rigid color scheme for the wedding flowers, and that was a good thing, because when you are on a tight budget (and she was), you can’t be too picky about your flowers; you take what you can get. Debbie bought three buckets of flowers from Josh: one bucket of special flowers for the bridal party, one bucket of sunflowers, and one bucket of filler.

Where did the rest of the flowers come from? From my garden–not from the annuals grown specifically for the wedding, but from the shrubs and perennials that make up the backbone of every garden bed–and not just flowers, but also seed heads and ornamental grasses.

In the cutting garden, where we had planted the annuals growing from seed, there were plants that had been started the previous year from a wildflower mix from American Beauties. There were also bee balms that had been started from seed at least two years previously.

Flowers were also picked from the wild places around our rural home and also where Debbie’s mom lives. (What were once called weeds are now hip “foraged flora.”) And a few were donated by Josh. He had been growing flowers on some nearby land, but the plot had gotten away from him. He let the wedding floral team glean from among the weeds there.

Who is going to arrange the centerpieces and assemble the bridal party flowers?

The floral team consisted of Debbie’s sister Becky and my daughter Talitha, assisted by Becky’s daughter Cassie and my other two daughters, Cadie and Deirdre. None of them were professionally trained or ever employed as florists. Becky had worked mostly with artificial flowers to make floral arrangements, wreaths, and the like for her home and church, or for gifts.

Talitha (also a former contributor) has cut and arranged flowers from my garden for years, flipped through flower arranging books that I’ve brought home, and helped a friend make the artificial-flower arrangements for the friend’s wedding. They both brought a lot of natural talent and willingness to work hard and long to this project.

If you are going to “do your own flowers” you will need similar friends and relatives on your team. Notice Debbie–the bride–was not directly involved in making the arrangements. She was busy putting out lots of other fires, including setting up at the wedding venue. No one can do it all for a big event like this, and success often means delegating jobs to those best suited for them.

DIY florists confer on wedding flower design

Becky and Talitha conferring on the design of the boutonnières. That’s the groom’s suit on the table beside them, so they can see if the boutonnière complements the suit colors. The open door leads to a screened porch. It’s dark out there! See the lantern on the table? They worked for two long days, and harvested flowers in the dark when necessary.

Countdown to the wedding

Just to confirm my assertion that the annuals didn’t bloom in time, here’s the cutting garden a mere five days before the wedding.

cutting garden 5 days before the wedding

5 days before the wedding (July 11), here’s what we’ve got from seed: 1. Snapdragons with buds on them 2. Cosmos with short stems, just starting 3. Last year’s coreopsis flopping over this year’s rudbeckia seedlings 4. Orange/yellow cosmos that’s too short to be useful. You can see daisies that were sown the year before, and bee balm that was sown two years before. In other words, almost every plant useful to the wedding was planted before we knew there was going to be a wedding. How’s that for preparation?

Two days before: Picking like crazy!

The moment of truth has come. It’s time to start making the centerpieces for the tables and arrangements for the aisles and other locations. Most floral arrangers know what they’ll be working with, because they will have ordered everything ahead of time. They have planned out what’s going to be in each centerpiece, bouquet, and boutonnière before they ordered the flowers.

Because most of the “crop” flowers didn’t bloom in time, Talitha and Becky are flying by the seat of their pants. They need to maintain consistency because there has to be enough of any element to be used in all assemblages of the same type (for example, all the boutonnières). So they couldn’t pick one of this and one of that. They needed to pick a half dozen of this and two dozen of that. And then arrange with what they had. The assistants were frequently sent out to gather more as an arrangement developed.

Two days before: Assembling and arranging the flowers

Josh had told Debbie that she was going to need a lot of 5 gallon buckets to keep the flowers in water, which she diligently collected. Also, the flowers would need to be kept cool–cooler than our typical non-air-conditioned house would be. Turns out our basement was the perfect place to set up shop.

basement floral workshop for wedding

Our basement had the cool temperatures that the flowers needed, plus enough room to set up tables and stockpile cut flowers, as well as house the finished arrangements. The ensuing mess didn’t bother anyone, either.

snapdragons and other wedding flowers

These were gleaned from Josh’s cutting garden that was past its peak.

daisy fleabane in wedding flowers

These were foraged from nearby fields.

Talitha arranging wedding flowers

Talitha adjusting an arrangement in progress.

diy wedding centerpiece arrangements

Completed table centerpieces awaiting their moment of glory. They made thirty of these.

diy wedding aisle arrangement

This arrangement will decorate the processional aisle. They made ten of these.

The day before: Flowers for the wedding party

The boutonnières, corsages, and bouquets were constructed the day before the wedding, so they would be as fresh as possible.

assembling a boutonnière diy wedding flowers

Becky assembling a boutonnière. Red weigela, puffy round nigella seed pods, smaller round flax seedpods, maroon seeds from ‘Dark Towers’ penstemon, and store bought dusty miller are currently in the assemblage. (Click on photo to enlarge)

DIY wedding flowers boutonnières

Boutonnières for the groomsmen, father of the groom, and the groom himself. (Click to enlarge to see details.) Later white feathers were added to the groom’s boutonnière.

diy wedding flowers mothers corsages

These are the mothers’ corsages, just slightly bigger than the boutonnières with the addition of a bright pink bee balm blossom and additional blue/purple elements. Also, no yellow St. John’s wort in these.

DIY wedding flowers bride bouquets

Bouquets for the bride and her bridesmaids.

Here’s the bride’s bouquet, labeled with the flowers and their sources.

DIY bridal bouquet wedding flowers

The bride’s bouquet was composed of flowers from the garden, the field, and the florist. (Click image to see detail)

Becky and Talitha overlooked nothing in their quest to make the arrangements look as good as possible. How many times have I walked past sweet white clover and never considered it as a filler for an arrangement? I would have considered weigela too ungainly for a centerpiece, but it worked well in a boutonnière or corsage.

The Wedding Day

Having flowers from my garden and from the surrounding fields helped create the informal, rustic ambience that Debbie wanted. Below you’ll find pictures of the flowers as they were used in the wedding. As with all these photos, click on an image to enlarge it if you want to see more detail.

diy wedding flowers

Guest book and programs greeted the guests as they arrived.

diy wedding flowers

A box for receiving cards had its own floral adornment.

diy wedding flowers

This was right before you arrived at the seating for the wedding.

diy wedding flowers

Ten aisle arrangements adorned the pews.

diy wedding flowers bride groom

Debbie and Rundy

diy wedding flowers hair

Flowers in the bride’s hair

diy wedding flowers bouquets

Here’s all the bouquets

diy wedding flowers

The groomsmen and the groom

diy wedding flowers

These blossoms were clipped the morning of the wedding for the flower girls to scatter…

diy wedding flowers

…which they did, most enthusiastically!

diy wedding flowers

Each table for dining guests had a centerpiece

diy wedding flowers

A close-up of a table centerpiece

diy wedding flowers

Upstairs was out-of-bounds, but still pretty with an arrangement at each side.

diy wedding flowers

A close up of a stairway arrangement

diy wedding flowers

The dessert table flowers had to stay out of the way, so were suspended above the cupcakes.

diy wedding flowers

Close up of the hanging flowers over the cupcakes

diy wedding flowers

As guests left the buffet area, they saw these photographs.

diy wedding flowers

This arrangement is on the right of the photograph display, just out of view in the preceding picture.

diy wedding flowers

Even the cake had flowers!

What went wrong

Aw, you know something always goes wrong at a wedding, right? As long as nothing happens to the bride and groom, problems don’t ruin a wedding. They just make for good stories in the years to come. For this outdoor wedding, we had a nice breeze, and that’s when we found out the table centerpieces were a wee bit too top-heavy. Before the wedding even got under way, they were toppling over…repeatedly.

diy wedding flowers centerpieces

Finally someone wised up and removed them from all the tables and leaned them against a nearby wall.

They wilted a bit more quickly than they would have in the shade of the tent, but many guests were still willing to take them home as a souvenir of a beautiful day.

The morning of the wedding, I strolled around my garden, marveling that despite so many flowers having been harvested from my garden, it still looked attractively full of flowers, until I saw this:

missing hosta cut down

Hey! Where’d my hosta go to?

diy wedding flowers hosta at wedding

It went here–to be a backdrop to the wedding.

Late on the night before the wedding, Becky and Talitha realized they still needed a floral arrangement for either side of the arch. They asked one of the teen assistants to go cut some hosta leaves, assuming she would cut some from each of the three hostas. Instead, wishing to get the job done quickly, she cut them all from the same plant.

It remains to be seen whether this hosta will grow back. It was a dry summer and it never put out another leaf. If for some reason it doesn’t bounce back, I already have an idea for what I’ll plant in its place. (Isn’t that just like a gardener?) You could buy two three-gallon pots of hostas from a garden center and get the same effect.

So, do you really want to grow your own wedding flowers?

If I haven’t scared you off completely, here are some questions to ask yourself.

  • Will you grow all of them, some, or none? You can purchase all the flowers and just arrange them, of course.
  • If you’re not going to grow them all, how supportive is your florist?
  • What kind of containers are you going to use? What are the other decorations going to look like? In keeping with the rustic theme, most arrangements were made in canning jars, but Debbie also had access to “junk” from her mom’s barn and rustic elements at the venue.
  • What are your time constraints? At what point in the growing season is the wedding date?
  • Who will do the arranging? What previous experience do they have? How well do they work under pressure?
  • Where will the arranging take place? You need someplace cool that can take moisture and leaves and stems all over the place.
  • How big of a wedding is it? How many flowers will you need? A small, intimate wedding won’t need as many flowers.
  • How big is your garden? How mature is it? How diverse is it? What other floral resources are at your disposal? A farmer’s field? A friend’s garden?
  • How formal is this wedding going to be? The greater the formality, the less room for…irregularities.

There’s a lot to consider. Frankly, if you can afford to pay someone else, why wouldn’t you? Locally sourced flowers are becoming more readily available. SlowFlowers.com maintains a listing of flower farmers and florists who use locally grown flowers. You might find someone nearby, and that would be one less thing to worry about.

But if you can’t afford to pay someone to do it all, or just can’t imagine letting someone else have all the fun, embark on this project with your eyes wide open. It was enormously satisfying for Becky and Talitha, but they were exhausted by the end of it, too. And they can hardly believe they pulled it off!

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

If winter is slumber and spring is birth, and summer is life, then autumn rounds out to be reflection. It’s a time of year when the leaves are down and the harvest is in and the perennials are gone. Mother Earth just closed up the drapes on another year and it’s time to reflect on what’s come before.

~Mitchell Burgess in Northern Exposure

Comments on this entry are closed.

Gadgets4Gardens December 30, 2016, 5:25 am

This is such a romantic idea! Must be a lot of work and timing is a key, but at the end it makes it so personal. Thank you for sharing and congrats to the newly weds!

Carol December 22, 2016, 10:44 am

I think I want to hire the team (if and when there’s a wedding in the family). They did a beautiful – and thorough – job!

Michaele Anderson December 22, 2016, 10:00 am

The end results were all a visual delight… sincerest kudos!
Describing the challenges of this endeavor is a public service and will probably be read by many strangers in the years to come.

Joanne Toft December 22, 2016, 9:15 am

Thanks this was great to read. I watched my neighbor go through this twice. Flowers blooming the week after the wedding. A lot of work but looks like you had a beautiful wedding. Love the flower mix!

Patterson Webster December 22, 2016, 9:08 am

Oh, my, Kathy, if I had a wedding in the future, this would scare me off for sure. What a lot of work! But the results were wonderful. I loved the flowers in the bride’s hair and the hostas and the arrangement on the Cards table. Plus, of course, the enthusiasm of the flower girls! Bravo to all involved.