The peony. The frilly, fragrant, elegant glamor queen, that has become THE fave flower of brides. And no wonder, it’s perfectly at home in almost any setting, be it the most elegant soiree, or the sweetest, casual vintage affair.
Locally grown peonies are at their peak for weddings in Kitchener Waterloo during mid June. Depending on the weather, they will sometimes appear late in May, or in cooler springs, will appear a little later, and can last through the first week of July. Beginning earlier in the spring, there are gorgeous are imported blooms from Italy or Holland. Planning a winter wedding? Yes, it’s possible to have peonies, from sent to us from Australia and New Zealand.
Cost is a concern for many brides who are getting married in the peony “off-season”, but given their size and visual impact, they are worth a little splurge. Equaling the size and cost of several smaller blooms. the effect of a few gorgeous peonies cannot be matched. A single open bloom floating in a lovely bowl makes for simple, yet attention-getting center piece.
Here are some of my favorite peony bouquets. Enjoy!
A charming bouquet of locally grown, organic peonies, lady’s mantle and ivy are combined for a casual, elegant bouquet. Photo by Sarah Huton
Pink peonies, freesia, and sweet William are perfect together for a June bride. Photo by Renaissance Studios
Peonies from New Zealand, cymbidium orchids, garden roses and stephanotis make for a dreamy December bouquet. Photo by David McCammon
Stunning coral peonies, cobra lilies, majolica spray roses, dusty miller, staghorn fern and lisianthus in a woodsy May centerpiece. Photo by Debra Eby
Getting More Floral Bang for Your Buck
I was inspired by this arrangement, thrown together from some of my left-overs, in time for a Boxing Day gathering. The stars of the show are the amaryllis, which were purchased for a wedding that took place on December 17th, a full week before this was created! Not only are the amaryllis more than a week old, blooms that had opened earlier were plucked off and used for the Bridesmaids’ bouquets. In other words, only half of the stems are present, and they were purchased 13 days before this photo was taken! The other flowers are parrot tulips, quite a bit larger and a bit more expensive than regular tulips, but their presence speaks volumes.
So, would you pay $12-$15 for a stem of amaryllis? Before you gasp and say “I would never pay that for a single stem”, consider the size of the flowers, 10-12 inches across when fully open, and the longevity. They are what I call investment flowers.
Cheap flowers are readily available, and easy to buy. Carnations and roses are packaged by the dozen, and are often the same price as our lovely amaryllis. But do they have the same value or visual impact? Those bunches of carnations and roses are often loss-leaders, and are almost always of a lower grade, meaning that the blooms are smaller, and the varieties are the most basic. No stars here, just a cheap and cheerful mass, destined to be arranged hap hazzardly with the filler greens that came with them.
Keep it Simple
Talking with everyday consumers and brides, a frequent comment is “but they’re expensive, aren’t they?”, usually in reference to a flower that is either exotic, such as an orchid, or something with a very large bloom, such as hydrangea. Well, they may cost more per stem than another flower, but it takes several smaller flowers to make up the volume and impact of a single hydrangea. For weddings, the look and longevity of a just a few, carefully used orchids more than justify their cost, compared to the number of smaller, cheaper flowers that it will take to achieve the same size and beauty of bouquet. Having a dinner party? You can try to make something out of a mixed bouquet, with a stem of this, and 2 stems of that, some sort of tall, pokey flower, and some airy, piddly fern, or you can you use one or 2 hydrangeas for a simple, elegant effect. Cut. Plop. Fabulous. The same with a gorgeous stem of amaryllis, or a beautiful stem of orchids.
Dress to Impress
For my corporate clients, I will always suggest a single over-sized, attention-getting tropical flower, like a heliconia, paired with a chunky stem of bamboo, and a large, shiny leaf, over several small flowers for maximum impact. One 12- 15 inch stunner in red or orange beats out a few of this and that. Hands down. Lasts longer too.
I Hate Yellow Roses
At least I used to. Maybe you’re not a fan either, of any roses. Most people I know who say they don’t like roses, or that they don’t last very long, have only purchased or received the everyday, run of the mill types. The ones usually carried by grocery stores, discount retailers, and old-school flower shops. They are varieties that are plentiful, and are usually very basic colours. When, and if, they open, they are smaller, and not very interesting. They are the “B” varieties, and I’m not a fan of most of them. These are not what I use in weddings, or sell to my customers, because they often have low petal counts and smaller heads,and so, once again, they have no impact, no “wow” factor. I’d rather hear “oh my gosh, LOOK at that rose”, than, “oh, roses…”. There are yellow roses to die for! Large, ruffly blooms with hints of green or cherry red. And the same for peach and pink varieties. The rose, revisited. Just a couple glamour beauties are far more stunning than a whole dozen of whatevers. And skip the baby’s breath. Unless you have a whole bunch of it. In a single vase. But that’s another topic.
Oh, and the amaryllis? It’s now day 16, and 3 out 4 blooms are still with me. That’s what I call an investment flower.
Choosing Fair Trade Flowers; A no-brainer.
Would you buy from a local store, say a grocer or clothier, if you knew that they mistreated their employees? Would you buy from a local company if you knew that were major polluters in your area? Okay, now maybe they’re not so local, and you can’t see the faces of the workers, or the effects of their company on the environment. What then? Do we need to ask questions about our flowers? After all, flowers bring us joy, beauty and enhance our well being, so why question them?
In 1988, Marta Rodriquez produced a documentary on the carnation industry, “Love, Women and Flowers”, exposing the working conditions and pesticide use on Colombian Farms. I first saw it in 1992, and it was heart wrenching to think that those that supply our beautiful blooms could be treated so badly, and that there was no regard for their well being. While the chemicals that were used on the farms were banned for use in Canada and the U.S., they were most likely produced here in the first place, then used without restraint by many unscrupulous farms. Even more alarming was the apathy I encountered from co-workers and peers in the flowers industry. Very few seemed to show much concern, or felt that there was nothing that could be done. Even corporations who had the power to affect buying practices, both on the florist and the consumer level, seemed to turn a deaf ear to the situation.
Thankfully, about 8 years ago, I came across the Veriflora Label, a certified sustainable grown labeling program for flowers and plants. http://www.veriflora.com/ It ensures, through third party testing, fair labour practices, conservation of resources, ecosystem protection, as well as a high standard of quality. FLP (Flower Label Program), Floraverde and Max Havelaar are also labels having similar standards and test procedures. Unfortunately, awareness of the labels, at both the retail and consumer levels, still seems to be quite low. On holiday occasions, flowers get negative attention in the media, as interest groups point out the failings of the industry to deal with the on-going issues, but it seems few in the industry speak up and let consumers know that they have choices when they purchase flowers.
I market my studio as being “green”, or sustainable, which is what I prefer to call it. To me, sustainable has a more far-reaching meaning, and takes in more than just the typical reusing and recycling practices. When talking about Flourish, I always state that the sources of my flowers are very important, mentioning Veriflora certified imports, the support of locally grown products, and the use of organic blooms when seasonally available. People are generally quite interested, and surprised, both at finding out where flowers actually come from, and that there are often social and environmental concerns attached to something meant to bring joy and beauty. In Canada, Veriflora labelled flowers are fairly easy to come by, but are not promoted at the wholesale level, and therefore, usually slip by retailers and likewise, consumers with no notice. Locally grown blooms often suffer the same fate.
As more and more consumers begin to question the origins of their purchases, as well as the conditions in which they are produced, the floral industry needs to take initiative in addressing these concerns, preferably in a pro-active manner. 90% of all roses, 98% of carnations, and 95% of chrysanthemums sold in the US are imported from South America, with similar numbers in Canada. In Colombia alone, 60,000 workers, mostly women, are employed by Colombian flower farms, making up 25% of rural female employment there. To ensure the well-being of these workers, as well as the land that the farms occupy, we need to pay more attention to the sources of our flowers, and be willing to pay a higher premium.
Larger corporations, such as FTD and Walmart, have started to offer and promote Fair Trade certified flowers, but it should be a part of the focus for small retailers as well. My outlook is that many small businesses together equal the impact of one larger company, and have the power to affect change, beginning in their own community. The first steppingstone to becoming “eco-friendly” or “ green” is to ensure the sustainability of the products that we sell, and the rest of our practices should naturally follow, with the lives of our neighbours and the environment as our prime concern.
Suggested video on Fair Trade Flowers;
"Greening up" wedding and event flowers
Flowers add so much to a celebration, from an intimate get-together, to a large formal wedding, to corporate launch party. They can also be a source of waste, and a producer of a large carbon footprint. With flowers coming from farms worldwide, as well as from our own back yard, making choices that reduce an event’s impact. yet keep it “eco-chic” can, at first, be daunting.
Beyond the flowers themselves, the choices about containers, arrangement styles and accent pieces can mean large amounts of chemicals, and waste headed to the landfill. A simple thought to keep in mind along the way is, where will piece this end up, a week, a month, or a year from now.
Here are some ideas to get started.
Choose locally grown or Fair Trade flowers
Favorite wedding flowers, such as roses, orchids and hydrangeas are almost always imported from other continents, and are grown under varying standards for labor and environmental practices. An informed florist will know which flowers require little or no pesticides, be familiar with countries having fair labor standards, and will use and promote flowers with Fair Trade, Eco-sensitive certification, such as Veriflora. Inquire which locally grown blooms are available, and whether there is access to those that are organically grown. Local greenhouses offer a good assortment of year-round flowers, as well as seasonal field crops that require less energy to grow.
Keep it real
Flowers are naturally beautiful, but they are often dyed or spray painted to match a bridesmaid dress or corporate logo. Insisting that no dyes or aerosol products, such as leaf shine, spray paint, or adhesives are used will not only reduce chemicals, but will ensure the flowers may be composted.
Fresh flowers or plants are much better than artificial stems that are produced in overseas factories, often under poor working conditions. Even though they may be used again, they will ultimately end up in a land fill, and will not bio-degrade.
Choose bouquets styles that don’t need a plastic holder, and opt for ceremony and reception arrangements styles that do not require floral foam, the unfriendly spongy material used as water source in many floral arrangements. Lower arrangements or collections of small containers and candle holder are ideal. Many accents, such as colored lights, are one-time use, or require batteries that are discarded after one use.
Rent whenever possible
Many florists will rent vases for ceremony and reception arrangements, and the containers are often high quality, made of glass or ceramic and will be used several times over. Choose center piece styles that can be hand-tied, and guests can simply lift them out of the container to take home. Candle holders are usually available to rent as well.
Remember, taking even small steps towards a greener lifestyle can make a big difference, all the difference in the world.
Photos; organic peonies and veronica, Captured Soul Photography
Locally grown fall bounty, Two Tone Studios