May/June 2014 California Bountiful magazine
Story by Kate Campbell
Photos by Matt Salvo and courtesy of René van Rems
Bridal flowers meld the latest fashion with tradition
More online: Tips for brides
Something old, something new—something eye-popping and unexpected. That's what brides look for these days when selecting flowers they'll carry to the altar, according to floral design expert René van Rems.
"A bridal bouquet has to connect with the bride—visually and emotionally—from various perspectives," said the internationally acclaimed van Rems, who is based in San Diego County. "The symbolism of the flowers and foliage, the style of the gown, not to mention the color and theme of the wedding, all must be taken into account."
With so many floral options, he said choosing the right flowers for the occasion can be confusing. Brides often want their bouquets to reflect what they see in magazines, but he cautions that those may not be the best choices, depending on availability and durability. There are many floral alternatives experts can suggest, he said.
Van Rems often takes his advice on the road, recently speaking in Sacramento to several hundred florists about trends and ways to introduce their customers, particularly brides, to the range of possibilities.
Floral design expert René van Rems adjusts flowers for Ixtzel Reynoso. She and other Future Farmers of America members helped showcase wedding floral designs at a Sacramento workshop for professionals.
When it comes to current style trends, "think color," he said, including the new Pantone shade called "Radiant Orchid," as well as oranges, chartreuse and bronzes. Bling and more bling—pearls, sequins, rhinestones, gold and metallic designs—will be in bridal flower arrangements and centerpieces, he and other experts predict, as well as on gowns.
Some old favorite flowers are making a comeback, including showy cattleya orchids, fragrant stephanotis and delicate clematis. Also, baskets with a "shabby chic" look and vegetative touches that include berries, fruit, hydrangea, ferns and moss are proving popular.
Options for the adventurous
Market researchers say wedding-related businesses, including florists, are rebounding after several years of economic recession and now are generating more annual revenue than Valentine's Day, Mother's Day and Easter combined. Retail florists report that although customers remain value conscious, they are willing to spend a bit more on bridal flowers than in recent years. Along with that, they say tastes have become more adventurous.
Flower growers in California—the nation's top flower-producing state—are ready, having planned accordingly to meet year-round and changing demands.
Van Rems stresses color and craft to a packed audience.
"We continually look at consumer-market trends," said farmer Lane DeVries. "We order bulbs two years before we ever pick a flower from a bulb. We consult with international color and flower experts, looking for signs of international market trends that may be one to two years ahead of the U.S. market."
DeVries, who is a partner in Humboldt County-based Sun Valley Farms, said it's no longer true that popular flowers such as freesias, tulips and lilies are available only in spring and early summer.
"We want American brides to know that many once-seasonal flowers are now available year-round from California growers," he said, offering Sumatra and rose lilies as examples.
The lilac bouquet is an increasingly popular European-style, hand-tied arrangement. Because some floral varieties need as much as a two-year lead time before blooms are harvested, flower farmers often work with international design consultants to identify color trends and style innovations before they hit the bridal magazines.
Unlike weddings, DeVries said the flower business "is not very romantic, but beautiful flowers require 24/7 tender, loving care, and that's what California flower farmers provide. Our market advantage comes from being more local than the off-shore competition, more environmentally friendly."
Indoor, outdoor, anywhere
Year-round availability and a wide assortment of flower options are important, given weather often plays a role in weddings and other occasions. For example, outdoor weddings in many areas of the state can be unexpectedly hot in May and June, and sweet peas, lilacs, hydrangeas and poppies have trouble staying fresh and hydrated when temperatures hit triple digits.
"How well flowers hold up during a wedding is always a concern," said florist and wedding planner Amy DeGraw, owner of Brown Bunny Flowers in Fresno County. "I try to achieve the look the bride wants, but also try to make sure the flowers chosen will last through the event."
Brown Bunny Flowers acquires its blooms through a local wholesaler, with much of DeGraw's supply coming from Central Coast farms. DeGraw also orders from the more than 300 flower farms located throughout the state.
California flower farmers such as Lane DeVries of Sun Valley Farms in Arcata produce wedding-worthy blooms year-round.
"I have to explain it's hard to make sure flowers bloom on time for a wedding date, and no single grower can produce all the varieties used for most weddings," she said.
DeGraw specializes in California "Old World" elements, using native plants and farm-style flowers for many of her wedding clients. Trends in wedding flowers are difficult to predict, she said, noting that European-style tied bouquets are also popular.
Another trend in bridal flowers is the use of protea, a South African native being grown by Resendiz Brothers Protea Growers. The family-owned business is one of the nation's largest protea farms, producing more than 200 varieties of the hardy ornamental on steep hillsides in San Diego County.
"Proteas are known for their long vase life and dramatic impact," said Diana Roy of Resendiz Brothers. "They're turning up more often in wedding flowers, including more use of king proteas, which can have blooms as large as 12 inches across. They can stand up to the heat and offer a wide range of colors and textures."
Hand-tied bouquets have a long tradition in European fashion and style, but California floral designers are adding touches to update and elevate the look. A rose bouquet incorporates immature blackberries, feathers, crystals and a tulle collar.
Proteas are being used as a single-stem bouquet, van Rems said, and smaller pincushion proteas also are appearing more frequently in bouquets and arrangements.
Resendiz Brothers works closely with van Rems, who has introduced California-grown and -styled flowers to national TV audiences and readers of home and garden magazines. He has also written several coffee table-style books on floral design, including René's Bouquets for Brides (see book review).
"There are just tons of new floral products available," van Rems said. "Brides are moving away from traditional designs in wedding flowers and selecting really cool things—line flowers (long-stemmed flowers and foliage) for cascading bouquets that move as a bride walks, hand-tied farm flowers and new hybrids with petals edged in surprising colors.
"Bridal flowers today carry on ancient wedding traditions, but articulate modern values, providing a visual vocabulary to express the wedding couple's hopes for the future," he said.
Tips for brides… talking about flowers
A single king protea bloom serves as a unique bridal bouquet. Protea, a native plant of South Africa, is grown outdoors in California.
When it comes to flowers, wedding experts say it pays to plan ahead. Here are some tips to help make selecting wedding flowers easier:
- As soon as color scheme, dress style and venue are set, it's time to choose a florist. Set a budget and be sure to get several quotes.
- Remember that the bridal bouquet often sets the style and color for floral arrangements used throughout the celebration.
- Learn the names of favorite or potentially appropriate flowers to make discussion with florists easier, and decide if locally grown or organic flowers are a priority.
- Retail florists, designers and special event professionals deal with wholesalers, so there are many options and alternatives. Expect to get plenty of advice and make difficult choices.
- Be flexible because there are many colors, textures and designs.
- Let the designer create, rather than providing a picture to follow.
- Discuss restrictions on flowers, such as allergies or unpleasant scents.
- Consider using the same flower arrangements in several ways—aisle flowers can become centerpieces, altar flowers might decorate a head table and hand-tied bridesmaids' bouquets can become tabletop bouquets for serving tables.
- Coordinate floral design plans with a wedding planner or venue manager to make sure flowers work with table linens.