SPECIALTY CUT FLOWER CORNER: For the beginning grower

Weddings: Think before you say "I do"
The honymoon's over. Melanie's got cold feet when it comes to doing flowers for weddings, but with good reason. If you have your heart set on netting nuptial gigs, there are some things you should know.

By Melanie DeVault

A little bit about Melanie

Melanie and husband George own a 19.2-acre certified organic farm in Emmaus, PA, where they, with son Don and daughter Ruth, have operated a modified CSA and members-only home market stand, sold at Farmers’ Markets, to health food stores and restaurants. Melanie specializes in specialty cut flowers. A former newspaper reporter, she also is a freelance garden writer. She is a member of the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers.

QUESTIONS?

I’ll be happy to anwer them!

E-mail me at devault@fast.net and include your name and general location.

July 14, 2005: The calls started coming last winter. “I’m getting married at the end of May and I saw your flowers at a wedding last summer and I want the same type of flowers!” There were quite a few other calls from friends of friends, and friends of our grown kids. And just about weekly at our farmers’ market, my flower partner Linda Essert-Kuchar and I have been asked if we do weddings.

We said no to all but two: The first was for my son, Don, and his bride who were married in a simple, seaside ceremony in June. The other wedding will be at the our very own Pheasant Hill Farm on August 20, as my daughter Ruthie and her intended, Eric DeLong, marry.

Linda and I cheerfully refer all other brides-to-be or their moms to area florists we work with during holidays or a floral designer who buys our flowers regularly. We tell them that they may request that the florists or the floral designer check with us to see what flowers we have available, and we’ll be happy to help in that way.

Why the NO’s? It’s strictly a personal thing: We’ve found brides-to-be way too . . . what’s the right word? . . . Let's say "challenging".

The first bride-to-be who called wanted August-blooming flowers for her May wedding. Educating the bride on the world of in-season flowers is a must. So, I explained lisianthus and zinnias just don't bloom in May, but she persisted. She wanted our flowers. The ones she saw at the August wedding. Unfortunately, no amount of explanation about day length and flowers registered with that first caller.

Another bride-to-be wanted our nice homegrown flowers, but envisioned exotic, cascading arrangements from tall, tube vases . . . at the end of May . . . inexpensively. I’ve had florists tell me they often need to bring brides back to reality. Now I know what they mean. There is a big learning curve for brides and their mothers who are also often told by the bargain books to seek local sources for cheap flowers.

Hard-learned lessons

If you'd like to do weddings, here's your first lesson. Scan the bridal magazines or the special bridal editions of popular style and home decorating magazines to see what is being recommended. Lesson two: Don’t do cheap flowers! Don’t give them away. I'm speaking from experience here. My very first wedding was for someone who approached me at a farmers’ market several years ago. The young woman and her mother said they loved my flowers and had to have them for the outdoor wedding they were planning. She said they already had the containers and would bring them to market. All I had to do was fill them with my gorgeous flowers to put on the tables -- one of my regular bouquets that at the time were $6 would be perfect, she told me.

I said sure. After all, I was pretty excited to be asked to do a wedding. She dropped off 20 some containers, and I lost my shirt. The containers required both arranging and lots more flowers than my standard farmers’ market bouquet. The bride's friend who picked up my labor of love raved about the beautiful flowers. My beautiful cheap flowers. I never heard from the bride, or her mother, again. Strike one.

Last year Linda and I agreed to table arrangements for another outdoor wedding. The enthusiasm was contagious. We learned later that they also wanted all of the bridal party cared for, and we were in the heart of the farmers’ market season with two markets on our hands. We referred them to our floral designer friend, who did the special bridal party bouquets. But, it still took a lot more time to arrange the centerpieces than to does a standard market bouquet (although the jars they chose were easier than the containers for my first wedding). “We can’t do this again,” Linda said. “It takes so much time we’re not making any money.” Strike two.

And strike three? A bride-to-be came to the farmers’ market inquiring about flowers. Linda told her we had a variety of flowers to choose from and invited her to the farm to pick out what she wanted. She showed up in high heels with her fiance in tow and insisted on seeing the flowers in the field. So we walked her through the flowers . . . and the mud, and the weeds. She turned up her nose, mumbled to her fiance she wanted to see a florist, and said she’d call us. She never did. We were mortified. And we decided, then and there, we didn’t need to deal with brides any more.

Having a daughter who’s getting married and who wants a country wedding with none of the traditional puffery also made me look at the practical side of wedding flowers. While I really didn’t like nearly giving my flowers away like I did on the first wedding, I also don’t like the idea of charging the extremely high prices we have to to break even. Weddings are already overpriced, from flowers to you-name-it. But, it does take a lot of time, and flowers, to do the special wedding bouquets and corsages most brides expect.

Linda and I spent the better part of a day working on the bridal bouquet, corsages, boutineers and table arrangements for my son’s wedding. Since we both have taken classes and have done everything from corsages to bows working for florists, it was great fun. But, if you have a small operation and have farmers’ markets and florists to keep happy -- and if you don’t have enough experience to do the specialty items well and quickly -- it can be a big mistake.

Making it work

Is there a happy medium? Two friends of ours, who sell cut flowers and lilies at farmers’ markets an hour from us, did a wedding last month and said they loved it. “But we worked with another friend who is a floral designer. I gave her 20 percent of the gross and it worked out well. I know how to put flowers in a bag. She knows how to do the bride and groom thing with my flowers, and everyone was happy,” she said. “I would do weddings again, but I wouldn’t do it without her.”

But she also said of another wedding she was asked to do later this year “I didn’t have a good feeling about it. I just wasn’t comfortable with the people. It’s a real fancy wedding and I didn’t feel I could please them.”

So if you decide to take on weddings, this friend has the most important word of advice: Trust your instincts. Know when to say no. She turned them down, and is confident it saved her from much unpleasantness.