Flowers For A Family Wedding

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The Perfection Of Imperfection

The daughter of dear friends was married this weekend and I’ve been privileged to lend a hand at various stages along the way. Wedding celebrations are so very personal (or can be) and when I’m involved, I’m always fascinated to see what’s important for the whole cast of participants. This was one of the truly lovely ones, a low key, informal and friendly back yard garden wedding in which anyone who wanted to contribute was encouraged to do so and every contribution was warmly welcomed.

As is not always the case, immediate family was generously amplified to include extended family in every direction as well as a wide community of friends. Pretty much everyone wanted to help in some way, so as the (very) informal wedding planner, I tried to figure out ways to invite active participation from anyone who wanted to contribute. The wedding couple had already decided to make the affair a potluck of sorts, with plenty of good things planned and prepared and others arriving in whatever form they happened to take.

Unifying Principles

In the garden, I like to weave an understated connection between color shifts by choosing plants with stems or foliage or buds in tints of burgundy and bronze. Though subtle, this creates a theme that unites what might seem like disparate vignettes. For wedding flowers, we chose to largely echo the bride’s color theme of shades of greens with cream and soft gold. Since the budget was modest, we started both a simple but effective yard renovation and some focussed flower growing in early spring.

Half the fairly small yard is stepped in terraces divided by steps nearly to the top, so we made narrow beds in the turf above each divided set of walls and planted them thickly with Peach Melba nasturtiums which quickly made sheets of color to drape each low wall. Tired old beds were cleared out, and a huge clump of Miscanthus sinensis was divided into five pieces and set across the top, undivided bed to make a strong backdrop. In between went more nasturtiums, and by July, the grasses stood in tall spires divided by generous tumbles of peachy blossoms.

If Few, Then Generous

Rather than spend a fortune on flowers, we made a little go a long way by using a simple palette and simple but bold plantings. For main floral effects on the turfy flat areas, we staged four magnificent hanging baskets that combined a range of peach tinted annuals. With hanger wires clipped off, these deep baskets were set on cinderblocks so their cascading skirts showed to full advantage. Fed every few weeks all summer, the baskets looked gorgeously abundant, their skirts over a yard wide, so they made a dramatic statement. Generous pots of marigolds were set at the ends of each terrace tier, which helped define the seating areas. A sturdy trellis arbor, decorated with flower and foliage garlands, framed the wedding stage, and ribbon sticks with tulle streamers lined the path to the arbor.

The open, sunny front yard is divided from the neighbors by a long fence. To lead guests into the back yard, we made a lengthy (150 foot) bunting which was looped up on cuphooks set in each fence post. For cloth, we dyed sheeting in shades of green. We then cut the cloth into 1-inch strips 30 inches long, tied some together to make the “rope”, then fastened the rest on with a simple clove hitch. Big buckets of flowers were placed along the fence and pathway, draped in swathes of soft yellow sheeting. This is a great way to unify a varied group of containers, and the result makes the flowers look like birthday presents.

Home Grown Wedding Flowers

By the morning of the wedding day, many large buckets held flowers gleaned from nearby gardens, some brought by friends or offered by neighbors. In general I am pretty fussy (as in controlling) about floral arrangements, but in this case, flower wrangling provided a way for many people to participate in the wedding decorating. We set up a table in the shade with small vases and jam jars and the eldest and the youngest family members spent a very happy hour or so filling them with short stemmed blossoms that wouldn’t work in larger scale arrangements. The results were random indeed but the overall effect was enchanting and very, very loving.

Several of the larger buckets also looked rather random, not to say jumbled. Just as I was about to start a massive rearrangement, I realized that several key people thought they looked terrific. Just as they were. Hmmm. Looking with fresh eyes, I could see how the odds and ends might look like the proverbial ‘riot of color’ to someone less critical-judgmental than myself. They might even look like an outpouring of love and kindness from friends and neighbors who gave what they had to brighten the day for their dear friends.

For Whom The Blossom Blooms

At such times, the appropriate question might be, “Who is this for?”. If the answer is NOT ME, then it’s a good idea to step back and consider fresh options. The most successful ‘arrangements’ (in my opinion) held either all one kind of flowers, like a large purple trug packed with blue hydrangeas, or significant quantities of just a few things, such as a bucket that held frilly plumes of Limelight hydrangeas, a sweep of Baptisia foliage, and a sheaf of variegated Miscanthus.

However, buckets that were crammed with pale pink phlox and golden buddleia, rosy lilies, dill, various gladiolas, a rose or two, some very mixed dahlias, and a few each of a dozen kinds of perennials made several hearts happy. The viewers were not looking at a work of art or skill but at an offering of love and friendship. Oh. Right. Right indeed! Step AWAY from the flowers and let them be what they are. Not a time for ego or intervention but for allowing a different good to prevail. I do admit to a pang when one person looked them over just a bit sniffily and said “These aren’t done, right?” to which I found no reply at all (unless “um” is a reply?).

Floral Potluck Unifiers

All that aside, I do like to create some sense of an overall floral theme for events. Thus, for the wedding potluck, I made piles of what I call “flower bundles”, using a centerpiece of a sprig of cluster flowering roses in a range of pinks. Each bundle was backed by taller sprays of flowering oregano, rosemary, fennel or lavender, with foliage herbs such as golden or green oregano, thyme, mint, or sage snugged in front. For a potluck, these floral tussymussies are placed on every platter or serving dish, where effect is lovely and unifying. The only stipulation is of course that each ingredient must be edible and organically grown (thus free of chemicals).

In summer, I bind each bundle together by a long strand of pheasant tail grass (Anamanthele lessoniana), using the wiry seedhead stems. The bundle stems are wrapped snugly, starting with the stem end of the grass, with the loose seedhead fluffed to make an airy mist around the flowers and foliage. At other times of the year, long stems of baby’s breath works nicely too. The bundles can be made a day or two ahead and stored in the fridge, in closed boxes if it’s a fridge with air circulating fans running. Even a plastic bag, loosely closed, will keep them fresh for several days.

Bottom Line

It’s always good to remember which things are truly important. To this lovely, fortunate family, the important things are the connecting ones, the community building ones, the family-building and friendly ones. It was an honor to be part of such a process and such an event.

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One Response to Flowers For A Family Wedding

  1. Heidi Thorseh says:

    This sounds like a beautiful event. Do you have pictures to share ? Congratulations to the bride and groom – blessed by the love of family and friends.

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