Flower arranging for weddings – a DIY guide
At what stage of doing something does one become, if not an expert, then at the very least, an authority? I ask because I feel like a bit of a fraud, writing a piece about flower arranging for weddings when, by any definition, I'm not even close to being an expert – but, having done it three times now (or, two and a half, as I did only half of one job, more on which later), I feel like I have enough knowledge to be able to share. There are any number of extortionate expenses associated with planning a wedding, from the venue to the celebrant, the band to the DJ, the photographer to the food – so, for the laid back wedding party looking to cut costs, doing your own flower arranging can ease the financial burden. But bear in mind – unless you know an expert, or are an expert, your flowers are not going to look like those of the experts.
If I were getting married? No way would I arrange my own flowers. I find it hugely stressful – it's a lot of pressure, right? – and I feel like, in any case, I would be a seriously antsy bride. I was just talking to a friend about this yesterday, in the wake of an incredibly relaxed wedding in The Millhouse in Slane (such a gorgeous venue), and saying that I reckon I'd need two Valiums before breakfast, and some uppers after dinner, just to keep myself standing.
But flower arranging for someone else's wedding – now that's something I can do, and have done. Not without a modicum of stress and, of course, with some financial outlay (I've done it as my wedding gift to each couple; I don't like giving money, so giving the gift of my time and, ahem, skills takes first preference). So where do we start?
Talk to the bride and groom
I had to include the groom there, to be PC, but in each of my experiences, it's been the bride who's been concerned with the flowers. You'll need to know what they want: how many tables are there? What kind of receptacles will you be using? And – most importantly – what kinds of flowers do they want? The simplest thing is if they are incredibly easygoing – as, to be fair, each of my brides have been. If they are in any way particular, it's worth sitting down and explaining your limitations (unless, like I said, you're an expert, in which case the sky's the limit!).
In my case(s), I knew that I wouldn't be able to replicate any Pinterest-worthy arrangements, despite having completed a one-day flower arranging course with Appassionata (which was so much fun, as well as turning out to be quite useful). There are certain things you can do – you can make sure you include their favourite flowers, for example, or go with a particular colour scheme. Which brings me nicely on to...
Top tip: bring a helper!
Like I said, there are certain preferences you absolutely can cater for – but for this, you'll need to plan ahead. I've always done the last-minute recce to Joseph M Duffy & Sons at the Smithfield flower market (not, crucially, in Smithfield, and parking is tricky so the ideal situation is to bring someone with you who can sit in the car while you park illegally in the loading bay), but if you have any specific blooms in mind, you may need to order them, at least a week in advance.
Because my brides have been so very easygoing, I've gone in either on the morning of the wedding – during the week, they open at 6am and, on Saturdays, 7am – or the morning before, and picked whatever flowers have been in season and available. So far, it's worked out well! There are a few different floral suppliers in the market, but I've always dealt with the Duffys, at first because they were the first ones we saw and, after that, because they've been so lovely and easy to deal with.
This is where it's important to know how many tables you're working with, and how many receptacles – as well as the openings of said receptacles! That way, you'll know how many stems you need. Say, for example, you're using wine bottles – and you have two per table, with 20 tables. That's 40 wine bottles. How many stems can you fit in the opening of a wine bottle? Maybe five? That means you need 200 stems. Simple!
Flowers at my friend Ciara's wedding, which took place this weekend at The Millhouse
This is probably the most important aspect of this task, and something that the lovely folks at Duffys have always been great at helping me with. I usually have a maximum budget in mind – around €150, stretching to €200 if I'm going halves with someone on the task – and they'll help you work out what you can, and can't, afford. Certain things are super expensive – roses, for example, and ranunculus (which I adore but, y'know, them's the breaks) – so you may have to discount them entirely or, as I did above, buy some short-stemmed roses, cut the bejaysus out of them (more on which later) and use them as a kind of sweetener on the odd arrangement!
If you don't budget, you could end up way overspending – I truly believe I could blow €1,000 really easily in that flower market – and it's easier for the suppliers to help you if you can be very specific.
Work out your timings
Like all things in life, I would highly recommend giving yourself more time, rather than less – and if you have the luxury of doing your flower arranging the day before, absolutely go for that option. Adding a little sugar to the water will help your stems stay upright, and a lot of the time you'll find the flowers you buy won't all be in bloom, so there's no harm giving them an extra 24 hours. Just don't store them in a super-warm room, beside the radiator.
Give yourself as much time as possible, and enlist a helper; I've never gone it alone, with help from my very patient boyfriend, my friend Clare and (for the flowers below) my friend Ellen who, ultimately, did all the work!
This was the gorgeous wedding of my friends Eimear and Ruairi, in Ballyvolane House (with photography by David McClelland, a brilliant – and so, so nice – wedding photographer). As it happens, I couldn't do the actual arranging part; I was involved in the prep, but my gorgeous friend Ellen ended up doing these beautiful arrangements on her own – sorry, El!
Cut, cut, cut
This is the best thing I learned at the course I did with Appassionata – when you get a long-stemmed flower, there are loads of cuts you can make, to remove extra stems and essentially double your stem quota! Imagine you've got a single stem, and there are extra stalks branching from it, halfway up and then further up again. In the case of flowers, you can often remove these extra stems (low down, at the join) and use them for smaller, lower table arrangements, using the longer, original stem for, say, your wine glasses.
Lastly, don't worry!
It is really difficult to make flowers look spectacular – that's why I'd always defer to the experts for things like bouquets and enormous arrangements for the church or area where the marriage will be officiated. There are way too many photographs taken of the bride and groom at the top of that aisle for me to trust myself with those blooms!
But at the same time, it's pretty difficult to make beautiful flowers look crap. Don't be super fussy about the arrangements; you're not an expert, and this is usually going to be about arranging fairly natural-looking bunches, in a relaxed way (even if you're not feeling very relaxed at the time).
Nobody is going to be looking at your arrangements with a remotely critical eye; it's a celebration, and a seriously happy day, so just remember that – and take some deep breaths – while you're bleeding into the baby's breath!