Bridal flowers are a huge investment. Couples in the UK can expect to spend an average of £1,500 to £2,000 on flowers for their wedding. A luxury display is able to hit the £20-30k mark. For a couple starting out on life together, this is a significant sum that could be usefully spent elsewhere, hence a gardening friend, or relative, with a practical attitude to floristry is an asset.
A few years ago a friend asked me to assist with her wedding flowers. She knew what she wanted, I know about plants and it sounded like fun. Therefore we made a list of flowers that were the right colour and in season; off she went to plunder the gardens of friends and family when I took the shears to my own borders.
The Friday before the big day I visited a local flower farmer for a few extras before heading off for a spot of light flower arranging in Gloucestershire, where the knot was to be tied. I found a shed bursting at the seams with garden gleanings. Asters and roses; random leaves and flowers, some pert, some less so.
All were crammed into buckets of water, hopefully awaiting transformation. And next to them, an equally hopeful-looking bride.
Rapidly, reality bit. There was serious work to be done here. The bridesmaids evaporated. Therefore, like the fairy tale where the miller’s daughter has to spin straw into gold, I sat among the greenery as other preparations went on all around. I made the bride’s bouquet and one for each bridesmaid; a corsage and a couple of dozen buttonholes; arrangements for the top table and the bar, posies for the dining tables and two tall statement pieces to go each side of the church door. Then I made the bride a second bouquet, as the first one was not to her liking.
The epic mission was completed in the nick of time on Saturday morning. The bride was thrilled. Hence thrilled, that when I got married the following year she took a week off to help. But it was only recently that I opened a copy of the new book Grow Your Own Wedding Flowers by Georgie Newbery and, according to Georgie’s sample figures, I costed the display I made for the top table alone at around £200.
A nose for detail
A garden is not designed with wedding floristry in mind, so it must be re-examined with a photographer’s eye and a willingness to challenge assumptions. Winter flowers have a delicacy of form and are often fragrant – it does not take much Lonicera fragrantissima, Sarcococca or Viburnum x bodnantense to scent a room – while foraged seed heads and wild berries can supply drama and structure. Colours are rich and intense; dark aubergine ivy berries, plummy hellebores and the hot hues of willow and cornus stems.
Schemes can be constructed almost entirely out of foliage, using flowers sparingly for impact. But simplicity and imagination are key. Think garlands of greenery, swags of ivy and old man’s beard , table centres of mossy stones and hyacinths; twigs rendered evergreen with lichen or plump with the promise of bursting buds.
Plant the right bulbs before Christmas and you can be cutting fresh stems all of your own. And British flower growers offer a surprising amount of choice early in the year. Paperwhite narcissi from Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly; tulips from Lincolnshire; fresh anemones appear from mid-January onwards and ranunculus from February.
Delicate and fragrant paperwhites are excellent as pale colours stand out in low light. Use the flowers to stud greenery with dramatic stars or stand tall with a twiggy reinforcement. They are also good in buttonholes with wilt-free evergreen foliage.
“For a winter or spring wedding, cut willow well in advance and keep it in water to force pussy willows for the big day,” advises Georgie, who once, enterprisingly, grew a whole crop of amaryllis in her sunny bathroom.
“And don’t forget crocuses and other small bulbs. Plant them in pretty containers or dig them up and put them in pots in the warm – they will soon flower. And then you can put them back out in the garden when you have finished with them.
“Look for the unexpected. We always forget about Lonicera fragrantissima, however tree-shaped stems are wonderful in tall, thin, heavy-bottomed vases, one per table. A gorgeous arabesque of twigs and tiny, scented blooms reaching up into the sky. It is simply not something you are going to find in a high street florist.”
My optimistic floral adventure was played out in late summer, whereas with a little imagination and planning it is possible to create a home-grown wedding at any time of year.
Winter and early spring romance can be all about candlelight and velvet-clad bridesmaids; lush wreaths of foliage and white flowers glowing in the darkness.
However what is there to arrange? How does one create something seasonal without making it look Christmassy? In January and February, evergreens such as holly, ivy and fir are old news, but a bouquet of roses, sweet peas and peonies is months away. Luckily, the average garden is surprisingly rich. Perhaps not in bodacious blooms, but in delightful detail.
“It is amazing how early things flower. But it’s no good standing at the back door peering at a landscape of brown twigs,” says Georgie, whose book specialises in the practical, no-nonsense realisation of dreams. “Get out there and look properly. There are dinky, tiny aconites that ping up after Christmas. A clump of snowdrops, a little bit of moss, twig and leaf in a tea cup is enchanting.”
Team work is key
Organisation is everything, so make sure you have enough people and enough material to get the job done. “You have to manage your team,” says Georgie. “You may not be paying five people, but you will still need five people so keep them fed and watered. Make sure there is pizza ready to go in the oven and wine in the fridge for when you have finished!”
Growing and arranging your own wedding flowers, as my friend and I discovered, is not an enterprise for the faint-hearted or time-poor. You need a firm grip, some doughty support and preferably access to a large and well-stocked garden. But, on the plus side, it is hugely rewarding, intensely personal and it will result in exactly the flowers you want.
“It is not necessarily the easy option, but it is something that your friend or daughter will remember for the rest of her life,” says Georgie.
Grow Your Own Wedding Flowers by Georgie Newbery (Green Books, £24.99). To order your copy for £20 visit books.telegraph.co.uk