Arabella and Beej were married in July. What a beautiful wedding that was.
Early doors, we drove west to east across London and then up towards Cambridge, the van literally overflowing with flowers and branches and props. Soon we are going to need a bigger van, but still, it’s astonishing how everything always just fits - there’s always a glove compartment or footwell or cranny somewhere for that last box or bucket. It's a Mary Poppins van.
The English countryside on a warm day in midsummer is peerless and you couldn’t have a more idyllic setting for a wedding than the bride’s family home near Radwinter, a very fine country house with a red-brick Georgian façade overlooking a small silver lake and moat running around the edge of the lawn. An elegant marquee for the reception dinner had been placed in an adjoining paddock beside the kitchen garden and an ancient old tree from which were strung large paper globes, like giant coloured dandelions shivering in the wind, and straw bales around a pre-laid chimoniere. I had not appreciated before how home-hosted weddings allow for such an intimate, organised and polished event. This was garden-y, low-key and yet luxurious at the same time, and every element had been orchestrated perfectly, which made our jobs as the final decorators an absolute pleasure. A Labrador puppy and a Jack Russell with a wedding ribbon around its neck made excellent companions as we were setting up… not distracting one bit…
We dressed the tables with scores of bowls, goblets, vases and tankards, all old and either brass or pewter, laden with garden roses, blackberries, sweet peas and Japanese anemones, trailing jasmine and wild clematis along the top table to create an interconnecting flow of flowers spilling from their vessels. The arrangements conveyed a real sense of the season, of apples ripening on the branch, blackberries when they are still small and tight and green, hazlenuts in their pale casings, the deep leaf-riddled height of summer.
For the church ceremony, a large urn contained silver-leafed foraged branches, great tall grasses with rusty umbels and others, grey and feathery, and we wove through salmon-coloured eremerus, a few large-headed chrysanthemums, and creamy roses at the base with a faint pink flush at their centres, finishing with a swathe of clematis cascading over one side.
Arabella wore a breath-taking gown, classic and yet modern, with a small lace bolero and full, crisp satin skirt. It suited her svelte figure perfectly - lucky Beej! I handed her the bouquet as she left the house for the car to the church. This is my favourite, but also most nerve-wracking moment of doing a wedding, the moment of truth where everything in the background - the photographer and the bridesmaids and the cars - recede to a blur and there is just the bride, and you stepping forward towards her with the flowers and ribbon streaming behind you. It’s a split second, the transferral, and she gasps and admires and tips her head, and then she is whisked away into the car and down the drive. I love that moment; even for me it is filled with expectation and emotion.
Arabella was a radiant, smiling, confident bride. An hour before she left, hair done, she was still wandering through the gardens in her dressing gown with a plate of salad in one hand, greeting everyone and saying hello and, even as the car pulled away for the church I could hear her whooping ‘we’re getting married!!’; she was so sweet and happy and excited. Her bouquet suited her perfectly though I hadn’t met her in person before the day; we'd spoken on the phone at some length and I just knew she had to be my client; we spoke the same language, and she gave me carte blanche.
We used four different varieties of garden rose for her bouquet, with orlaya grandiflora, small, pale, primrose-yellow cosmos, wild grasses, poppy seed-heads and elaborate ‘Juliet’ sweet peas cut on the vine that trailed beautifully down the front, finished with a pale pink silk streamer and a wider, sheer mustard ribbon.
Jesse whipped up beautiful little buttonholes of strawberry and heuchera leaves layered with thyme, strawberry flowers and blackberries.
A side-note, here...
The variety and provenance of our ingredients is key to us; it’s why we do what we do. But it also makes our process so much more complex, because we have to source from so many different suppliers for each event. There are our own contributions from our cutting garden in Hampshire (English roses, sweetpeas, nigella, scabious, poppies, larkspur, cosmos, herbs), bundles of branches that we most often forage there too, along with wild flowers and vines from the hedgerows, the most exceptional scented roses are delivered to us from one farm, wraps of whimsical gestural elements we drive out to collect from another, then there’s a trip to our London wholesaler and the plant nursery. We have still bought in certain Dutch flowers this year; carnations, peonies and ranunculus that we just haven’t been able to source locally. One of our goals is to use almost entirely British-grown produce (this summer the ratio has roughly been 80% British: 20% imported), but that depends on our own output, whether we are able to put in a polytunnel, whether we can grow the height that we need for urns and taller installations.
Next year we’ll be tripling our own-grown crop with new varieties in shades and shapes that we haven’t tried before - anemones, foxgloves, lilies, bearded iris - and hopefully this will continue to develop (and thus reduce our running around), but for now sourcing is a piecemeal operation. Gathering stock is one of my favourite roles within the business, though; it feels very purposeful having precisely the stems of what we want without compromising on quality or provenance; nothing is wasted; we get to see lots of different people every week who know a lot about flowers and we get to learn from them.
With each wedding that we work on, we get more detailed about all these elements and how they pull together - the weight and length of the ribbon, how different foliage sits together, whether it is too heavy, too light, whether the scents complement or hinder one another - is chocolate mint and honeysuckle the right combination, does that lime/mustard combo clash or sing? Like recipe testing, or wine tasting, or choreographing a dance, every factor is trialled and edited. The colours - all those varieties and slipping subtleties and choices, and the intricate details - freckles on a leaf, a leaf that perhaps is slightly ombre with a hint towards autumn, a triple-headed rose, an exquisitely faded sweet pea with a hint of blush to the top petal, the way a branch forks and adds movement to an arrangement that is natural and uncontrived. The bouquet always gets the very best, of course. When everything is collected and delivered and unloaded and sorted, I go around with ‘the special bucket’ and choose the very finest flowers, the most beautiful colours, the pieces of foliage with all the prettiest quirks, the gestural pieces with the most movement and life.
I sometimes feel that I’ve tumbled down a rabbit hole into this all-consuming botanical world. I know it isn’t life or death; I get finickety sometimes and have to remind myself that I’m hardly performing radical heart surgery. But we are contributing to a momentous event in a person’s life and if they remember the way their roses smelled in years to come, walking through a garden, or they look back at photographs together, and their bouquet, long dead, still moves them, we’ve done our job. Florists are purveyors of beauty and nostalgia, so there is a certain emotional responsibility there; I take that to heart.
Perhaps the most satisfying aspect of all, which makes all these challenges of sourcing worthwhile, is the insatiable curiosity that people show in the flowers themselves, from the caterers to the guests (to naughty puppies). It isn’t for nothing. Including that hard-earned mottled hydrangea, or those roses that you had to sell your grandmother for - they are noticed, and cooed over and stroked and talked about, the textures, the colours, the different varieties of this and that and how someone grew these but the deer got to them, or how that colour reminds them of this, that scent reminds them of that.
People love flowers so much, like magnetism they gravitate towards them across a room. In my twenties I would buy a £5 posy on the way out of the supermarket and put it in a vase on the kitchen table and it might look kind of pretty for a few days but I never knew then how flowers could be emotive, nostalgic, complex. I think unless people have gardens that they can cut from, or have an interest in flowers enough to go out and find something different, which most people don’t have time for on a regular basis, most of us, and city-dwellers in particular, are starved for these entrancing natural tokens of each season, and when flowers such as these are gathered and woven together, in quantity, in a room of people drinking wine and dancing and flirting, there’s an incredible alchemy to that scene and that atmosphere that is so transportive and so fulfilling, and everyone takes part in it.
So, Arabella and Beej were married. Congratulations, you two.
Much later that night, back at the Airbnb, I had that sensation that anyone who has ever worked on a wedding, or ever had a wedding for that matter, will know - that extreme, all-over aching tiredness that consumes you when it finally all comes to an end, and yet if you could, and your body was willing (which it isn’t) golly, you’d get up, right now, and do it all over again! As I fell asleep I was still thinking about the evening dinner and the way those tall anemones would look now, by candle-light, and who might be talking about them.