23 September 2021

Floral Expectations: 350 Flowers

Flower farmer, I am not. Flower hobbyist, I am (as shown above). I recycle dog-food cans, pull whatever is blooming in my garden, and arrange sweet bouquets for our local farmers market. That is, until this past summer when the trajectory of my relationship with flowers changed. Ready for a little flora fairytale?

When my niece got engaged a year ago,  she asked if I could host her wedding at  our farm, Bird Haven. No problem. Then another request: Could I also grow all the flowers? Each and every one of them for a wedding and reception for 50 adults? Her chosen "Granny-Chic" style meant that the ceremony and reception would be low-waste, relying on homemade, borrowed items, and on Aunt Janet growing flowers, lotsa flowers. Here’s how I responded: “Yes! Of course! What Fun!” Here's what I thought to myself, Am I crazy? Sure, it would be fun. But fun isn't exactly what you want your florist to have at your wedding.

My flower resume basically consists of randomly growing whatever I want whenever I feel the urge and with no expectations on bloom size or quantity. How’s that for qualifications?

Okay, I did have a few other floral accomplishments. 3 years of selling the small bouquets of whatever I grew, then arranging them into dog-food cans and selling them at the local farmers market in New Jersey (shown above). 15+ years of studying flowers to inspire jewelry designs for my collection, like the lotus, pansy, bluebell, sunflowers, Millefleurs...

At this point, I ask you, Would you have hired me to provide flowers for your medium-sized wedding?

From my limited experience of bundling bouquets in dog-food cans, I had to grow roughly 350 flowers in a color palette to decorate seven luncheon tables, and the bride/groom table. Also, the bouquet for the front hall, the chuppah, a bridal bouquet and a bridal headpiece, and, of course, we all know flower-girls need flowers.

Luckily, in marched the gallant heroine: the flower goddess Erin Benzakein of Floret Flowers. An email announcing a 6-week-long online growing workshop taught by this power house in the flower world. The class kicked off in January, six months before the wedding. Perfect timing.

Flower Lessons Learned

Did it all turn out okay? I’d be lying if I said everything was a bundle of roses. There were unforeseen challenges / villains...

Notably, the field mice that dined on the seedlings in the greenhouse. On the menu were Floret Flowers and Johnny’s Selected seeds. With each nibble, they ingested my color scheme. (In fairytales, aren't mice supposed to wear pince-nez and tee-shirts and be wee little helpers? Gus in Cinderella??) When I tried to order more of the colors of flowers I needed, seeds were sold out at the best seed places.

Lesson: Tiny footprints are hard to spot so even if I had checked daily, it wouldn't have done any good. Best to move the starters inside the house. And, as a precaution, order extra seed packets.

Also, the weather in late winter/early 2020 was a hater. It refused to be sunny.

Lesson: I am definitely investing in a grow-light setup.

When building the caterpillar tunnel to protect seedlings outdoors, I decided to be Ms. Fancy Pants and, instead of following the Floret Flowers' 4-foot wide bed, I did 3-foot. Whoops. The caterpillar was too wide. I had to improvise and make lean-to like covers. They worked just well enough.

Lesson: Write down any changes or stick to the measurements outlined in the workbook and videos.

Despite the challenges, I produced 350 of my own flowers: planned, planted, pinched, lovingly prodded, and picked. And since I don't have a donkey, I filled up the tuk-tuk ( our 12 year old Kubota 4 wheeler) as I collected the harvest.

How to Create the Best Variety of Bouquets

Grow filler flowers not just beauty queens. I grew varieties I had never tried before, so the bouquets were full.

Snip, clip, prune. Was it painful to clip the buds prematurely (one of her tips)? Yes it was. Trust me, though, when Erin says snip, you pull out the pruners. The result? My flowers were utterly bionic. My peony blooms were as big as small plates; Erin has so many great tips for the most effective ways to produce flower centerfolds.

Was it similarly hard to clip peonies when they were but tiny marshmallow buds, then wrap them in newspaper and store them in the refrigerator? Torture. Particularly for my husband who had nothing to eat except some jam, avocados, and peony flower buds. I had to insist that he leave the buds alone.

And, so he insisted kindly, that perhaps I consider moving them to another cold storage area, his wine cellar.

When I pulled them out 24 hours before the wedding and placed them in bleached water-filled vases, poof and wow, the flowers sprung to life.

As the big clock ticked toward the Day, I admit, I called on another gallant savior.  The bride's adornments  were in the too much column, so I tapped  Sam Rothman of Fairview Flowers who created the stunning bouquet and crown. I found her on the Floret Flowers's Farmer-Florist Collective. She has become a pal and helped me when I had some questions this spring about growing. As for the chuppah, we kept the decoration simple: white birch and limbs from an invasive tree that we felled. Oy vey.

Nonetheless, thank you, Floret Flowers. Everyone lived happily ever after. Even our neighbor. My flower abundance attracted her and she requested some stems for her July wedding. No problem. Zillions were blooming their heads off.

I admit, I toyed with the idea of becoming a flower farmer. After all, the wedding was a success (see the photos below!). And, every morning, when I see my flowers (still) thriving, I am unbelievably happy-Marie Kondo style sparking joy.

But after trying on that apron, I’ll stick with what I know best: jewelry.

Now, judge for yourself. Did I do it? Whatdoyouthink???

I cannot take credit for the crown and bouquet. Sam Rothman from Fairview Flowers was the artist. I found her on the Floret Flowers's Farmer-Florist Collective. She has become a pal and helped me when I had some questions this spring about growing.