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Hiring a Florist

Martha Stewart Weddings, Volume 12 2000

More than decoration, the flowers you choose for your wedding symbolize all of your hopes for marriage -- love, friendship, abundance, and passion. But deciding which flowers to use can feel like an impossible task; it pays to enlist the help of a professional to help you sort through the possibilities and bring your vision to life.

Even if you plan to arrange your own flowers, it's still a good idea to consult a knowledgeable wedding florist who can offer advice and provide flowers that are not readily available to you. In addition, florists with wedding experience will know about the little things you might overlook -- from petals for the flower girl to scatter to powder-room arrangements to an extra, smaller posy for the bouquet toss.

If you prefer to hire a professional to help you conceptualize and execute the entire look of the wedding, consider finding an event designer, who is to a wedding what a decorator is to a house. With an event designer, you can rest assured that no detail will be forgotten.

When to Begin
A year ahead is not too soon to start exploring your options. Talk with recently married friends about their experiences, and ask your caterer or banquet manager for recommendations. You can also visit local flower shops to get an idea of different florists' work.

Budgeting for Flowers
It is common to allocate approximately 10 percent of the total wedding budget to flowers, but you may choose to spend more or less, depending on your priorities. When you meet with florists, be honest about your budget from the very beginning. "If we have all the information from the start," says David Stark, co-owner of Avi Adler event designers in Brooklyn, New York, "we can tailor our clients' fantasies to match their budgets."

The florist should be able to give you a good idea of what can be accomplished within your budget and offer you helpful advice and alternatives if your requests are unrealistic. If you're not satisfied with one estimate, shop around; prices can vary widely among vendors.

Cutting Costs
If you don't have much to spend on flowers, don't despair. There are ways to stretch your budget:

- Buy flowers that are in season: For an August wedding, asters and phlox from the farm down the road will be significantly less expensive than peonies, which are out of season at that time.
- Use less-expensive varieties. For example, thousands of daisies can make a wonderful display for the cost of two or three elaborate orchid arrangements.
- Find ways to make flowers do double duty. Bring the arrangements from the church to the reception, or place the bridesmaids' bouquets around the cake table. You can even use pots of flowers from the bridesmaids' luncheon again at the rehearsal dinner.
- Avoid a wedding date that coincides with holidays such as Christmas, Valentine's Day, and Mother's Day, when flowers are at a premium.
- Choose simply constructed arrangements, which are more affordable than complicated wired bouquets.
- Don't limit yourself to cut flowers; instead, consider garlands, foliage, potted plants, or silk, gilded, or paper blooms.

Meeting with a Florist
Your initial appointment with a potential florist should be dedicated to reviewing his work and discussing your vision for the wedding. Look at photos of weddings he's done before: If all the arrangements are spare and you prefer an abundant look, or if you're thinking of casual wildflower bouquets and the florist's work is very formal, keep shopping. In explaining your vision, it's helpful to have some pictures to avoid misunderstanding.

Very often, florists follow up these meetings with their proposals for the wedding; at this point, you should be able to decide who best suits your needs and budget. Once you agree to hire a florist and reserve the date, the next step is the actual planning.

Deciding on the Details
If you are lucky enough to start planning a full year ahead, this is a great time to see the flowers that will be in season for your wedding, to have a sample bouquet made, and to discuss color schemes. The details can wait until a few months before the event.

Schedule planning meetings with your florist at the ceremony and reception locations. If visits to the sites aren't possible, have photos on hand instead, so that you can discuss what will best complement what is already there. You may want flowers at the altar only, or around the doorway and marking the rows of seats as well. For the reception, make sure the centerpieces aren't too tall, or your guests won't be able to see one another while dining. For buffet tables, choose less fragrant flowers so that the scent doesn't compete with the food. Also, if you want flowers on your wedding cake, ask your florist to work with your baker so that everything coordinates.

Bouquets and corsages should complement the attire of the wedding party and featured guests, so provide your florist with swatches of fabric from the wedding gown and bridesmaid dresses, as well as an idea of what your mothers and grandmothers will be wearing.

During these meetings, also establish what other decorations the florist will provide. Some only handle flowers and accessories such as ribbons and vases. Others, especially event designers, may provide candles, light fixtures, and even aisle runners and table linens.

Finalizing the Agreement

Wedding Day Procedure
Look ahead to the day of the wedding, and discuss who will be on hand to oversee the flowers' delivery and setup. Will the florist be there personally or send a trusted assistant? You might want to designate a friend or relative to supervise the deliveries, as well as the transport of flowers from the ceremony to the reception, if necessary. If you're getting married over a holiday, check your florist's delivery policy: Is the shop closed on that day? Can you arrange for delivery the day before and store the arrangements in a refrigerator at the ceremony and reception sites? Remember to ask that all bouquets, corsages, and boutonnieres be labeled so there is no confusion. Also, if your photos will be taken before the ceremony, have the florist deliver the flowers early.

Signing the Contract
Once the plans are made, you should have a chance to accept or revise the florist's final proposal. You should also always get a signed contract listing prices and specifying:

- Details such as delivery and setup information; who will oversee the process; the dates, times, and locations for delivery; and the expected condition of the flowers (flowers should be fresh, blooms open).
- Any unacceptable substitutes: If you don't want any orange flowers, or if you dislike daisies, the contract should indicate that.
- Any accessories or decorative elements the florist is responsible for should be clearly defined, as should the delivery, setup, and cleanup of these.
- Any deposit requirements and the payment schedule. Most vendors will ask for some amount, often 50 percent, at the signing of the contract, with the remainder due a week or two before the wedding.

You can also request that the contract include an itemized breakdown, specifying the price of every bouquet and arrangement and the number and type of flower in each. This is a safe option, but you might choose to leave the arrangements a bit loose to enable your florist to take advantage of spectacular flowers in the market the weekend of your wedding and make substitutions to include them. It will also free you from making every decision at a time when you have plenty of other things to think about.

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