Choosing Your Bouquet

Martha Stewart Weddings, Volume 33 2005

The blooms you carry down the aisle should suit you in every way. Here's how to select all the elements of your bouquet, from the flowers to the finishing touches.

If flowers are the language of love, as the Victorians believed, then a bride's bouquet is the ultimate romantic statement. How the modern bride expresses her sentiments -- and herself -- has expanded far beyond the iconic all-white arrangement. Create an impact with a clutch of blooms that is not just a lovely accessory but a work of art that's as unique as your personality and your sense of style.

Getting Started
The ideal time to begin thinking about bridal flowers is after you've chosen your gown and ceremony setting; this will let you select a bouquet that harmonizes with the wedding's mood and motifs. Although the colors and types of flowers are the elements brides tend to think of first, you'll want to weigh all aspects of the bouquet, from its shape and size to such finishing accents as ribbons. The decisions you make often set the tone for other flowers as well, including the blooms for the wedding party.

Looking through magazines or on websites can help you discover what appeals to you. Do you prefer classic wedding flowers, such as roses and stephanotis, or a bold contrast that might come from purple dahlias and orange tulips? Do you like tailored or free-form arrangements? Small blossoms or a few large, striking flowers? "Collect samples of colors and things you love," says floral designer Matthew Robbins of New York City's Artfool. "Paint chips, or a photo of a room with great style; anything that captures the world you want to be in for your wedding can inform the bouquet."

"Fragrance adds an extra dimension to a bouquet and awakens another sense. If you include a bloom with a lovely aroma, whenever you come across it in the future, you'll be reminded of your wedding day." -- Mark Held, Mark's Garden, Los Angeles

Finding Inspiration
Details from the wedding itself are a rich source of ideas. Color often plays the deciding role. If you've always adored blue and brown and plan to weave the hues into your reception decorations, you might want your bouquet to reflect the same shades. For some brides, the wedding location can inspire the bouquet's aesthetic. Stems trimmed with miniature shells would be fitting for a seaside celebration. For a garden wedding, you might carry sweet peas and larkspur in an exuberant tumble reminiscent of nature's carefree style.

Perhaps a decorative detail from your gown will give rise to a bouquet. Stalks of ladylike pink astilbe, with its clusters of tiny beadlike blooms, could echo a beaded bodice, while the full and frilly look of cabbage roses might replicate the abundant ruffles of a skirt.

Sometimes the best bouquets have sentimental meaning. For the Victorians, many flowers and foliage symbolized different virtues or emotions. Daisies, for instance, were associated with innocence, rosemary with remembrance. A flower with personal significance could also spark an idea. "I worked with a bride who was raised by a grandmother who grew roses," says floral designer Robert Long, of Robert Long Flora Design in Atlanta. "She chose a rose bouquet, to pay tribute to her grandmother."

Formal or Casual?
The tone of your ceremony could help guide your bouquet style. Traditional weddings often call for sophisticated compositions: structured forms, classic blooms (such as lily-of-the-valley), and subdued color palettes, says floral designer Mark Held, of Mark's Garden in Los Angeles. Casual events are more conducive to generous armloads of flowers in an array of colors -- or rustic bouquets with nontraditional elements, such as berries or fresh herbs.

Bouquet Shapes
Bridal flowers can be arranged in many styles, from a petite, compact nosegay to the popular domed bouquet to a cascade, in which flowers drape just over the wrist or spill gracefully down the gown's skirt. Many kinds of flowers are commonly wired to create unusual shapes, such as a fanlike spray.

Elaborate bridal bouquets tend to work well with ornate wedding gowns that have full skirts and long trains, while simple ones pair best with sleek dresses. There are no strict rules to follow, however; the key is to avoid extremes that appear unbalanced. The bouquet should also complement the bride's own proportions. Heavy profusions of flowers may overwhelm petite women, whereas small posies can look too diminutive when they are carried by statuesque brides.

Stems and Details
A thoughtful treatment of the stems will enhance a bouquet. For a casual outdoor ceremony, a florist might keep the stems long and tie them with a simple bow, evoking a just-picked freshness. For a polished look, stems can be trimmed and entirely wrapped in wide ribbon. The ribbon or fabric might match the colors of the blooms or provide a nice counterpoint. But "just as the bouquet should accessorize the dress rather than overpower it, ribbons should accessorize the flowers rather than compete with them," says Long.

You might want to embellish the flowers themselves. This could include ringing the bouquet with delicate silk leaves or a tulle cuff, or dotting it throughout with dainty bows or beaded accents, with wires for stems.

"A large bouquet isn't necessarily more expensive. The price has much more to do with the kind of flowers used. An abundant rose bouquet will likely cost less than a smaller one made entirely of calla lilies." -- Matthew Robbins, Artfool, New York City

Seasonality
Although most blossoms are available year-round from florists, flowers are most affordable and best-looking in season. Blooms that must be imported also cost more.

If you are planning an outdoor summer wedding, you may need to select flowers that can withstand the hot weather. "Avoid ones that wilt in a heartbeat," says Robbins."You might love gardenias, but they're very fragile and bruise easily. Orchids, on the other hand, are extremely sturdy."

Choosing a Florist
Once you have collected ideas for your bouquet, you'll need to find a florist. Start your search well before the wedding; aim to sign a contract with a vendor six months in advance. Ask recent brides or contacts at your ceremony and reception sites for their recommendations.

Plan to meet with several candidates, and ask to look at examples of each florist's work to get a sense of whether his or her style and taste agree with yours. A good florist should be able to tell you whether your choices are realistic and to suggest suitable alternatives if certain blooms you have in mind will be unavailable or prohibitively expensive.

When you've chosen your florist, the next step is to go over details. Bring a photograph of your dress and a fabric swatch, as well as any pictures you've clipped from magazines. These will help you communicate your vision in precise terms. "You'll need visuals to make sure you're both on the same page," says Robbins. "If you say you want purple, the florist might picture an entirely different shade than the one you mean." After you've made your selections, check the contract carefully before you sign it. It should be as detailed as possible, spelling out the names and colors of the flowers to be included in the bridal bouquet.

If you are thinking of creating your own bouquet, be aware that this takes patience, practice, and know-how. If you have your heart set on doing it yourself, research the process thoroughly and take lots of time to practice.

With good inspiration and proper planning, the flowers you carry on your wedding day are sure to be as breathtaking as the ones blossoming in your imagination.

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