The 7 Deadly Sins of DIY Flower Arranging

DIY Wedding Flowers How To

Images courtesy of moi!

I have been tinkering with DIY floral arranging for a couple of years now, with semi-regular visits to LA’s Flower Mart and projects from birthday gift arrangements to flowers for my parties to flowers for a friend’s wedding.  I am no professional, but do have some serious trial and error under my belt and some hard-won insight to share about the realities of undertaking large scale DIY florals.   It can be summed up in 7 deadly sins of DIY flowers.  They are:

#1 – Not doing at least one and maybe 2 trial runs

Even if you’re replicating an inspiration photo, a trial run is imperative.  The same variety of flower from a different source could be a different size or come with a different stem length, and it’s very hard to tell from a picture exactly how many flowers were used.  If the arrangement consists of anything but hand gathered flowers in a vase you will also want to practice the techniques (using foam, wiring, etc).  You’ll want a sense of how long the arrangements will take (and it will ALWAYS surprise you how much time they do take!), how they’ll hold up, and how they’ll look with the specific elements you plan to use so you can tweak any part of your plan before it’s too late.   Many DIY brides order bulk flowers through a website like Fifty Flowers where you must order large quantities, so an exact trial run with their flowers may not be possible, but try to replicate as closely as you can with a small batch from a market, florist or grocery store, and use the exact containers you plan to use for the real thing.  You can also take classes and make your trial arrangements in a supported environment if that appeals to you.  Many florists offer 1:1 coaching and DIY “bridal bootcamps” are even becoming more popular.

#2 – Doing your own flowers solely to save money

If you don’t particularly care about flowers and are drawn towards DIY solely for the cost savings, I think you’d be better off making your own non floral centerpieces and ceremony decorations and hiring a florist for personal flowers only (or for that matter there are plenty of non floral personal “flower” options these days, like silk rosettes and clay flowers).  You can do non floral centerpieces in advance, at your own pace, and not worry about anything wilting or not looking like you’d envisioned day of.  I’ve seen really cute ones with bird cages and dried botanicals, vintage books, vintage suitcases, the possibilities are endless.  If you want something living, you can do nice centerpieces with fruit and/or vegetables that are a lot less fickle and labor intensive than fresh flowers.  I think that anyone embarking on DIY wedding or event flowers should truly have an interest in learning the craft, or at least a strong passion for flowers with a limited budget as a strong motivator to do-it-yourself right and not cut corners or get frusturated with the process.

#3 – Not conditioning or storing flowers properly, or not timing their delivery properly

A good bulk flower source will be able to walk you through this and send you detailed instructions, but different flower varieties arrive in different conditions, from vase ready to requiring a few days to open before use, and many have slightly different conditioning and processing needs.  Tulips continue to grow after they’re cut, so they should not be arranged as far in advance as other varieties can be.  Lilies are often shipped in bud form and given several days to open.  Some flowers excrete a milky substance when cut that poisons the water for others, and need to be dunked in boiling water to seal it off.  Gerbera daisies should never be kept in more than a couple of inches of water because they will take in too much.   The point is just that there’s no one stop rule for how to receive, condition and store all flowers.  Generally, they will ALL need their stems recut with sharp clean shears on a diagional right after being delivered.  And they will all need to have below the waterline foilage removed to soak in their own clean bucket of warm water and flower food in a cool place away from sunlight for several hours to overnight to rehydrate.   Also, no flowers should be stored near fruits or vegetables because of a gas they ommit which is noxious to flowers.   But you should get to know a rep at whichever company you’re ordering your flowers through to get the specific lowdown on your flowers and talk about how to time the delivery case by case.

#4 – Underestimating how much time and space it will take to make the arrangements

Here are two great blog posts to illustrate the extent to which DIY flowers can take over your house (not that it’s a bad thing, just something to be prepared for!):

Wedding Bee “making of” post from an expert DIY bride (her aunt and mother took classes to prepare for their extensive DIY flower endeavor!) She posted another great one about picking up the flowers from the wholesale market (a U Haul truck was involved) here.  And second, here is a great wedding florist who works out of her home, giving us a glimpse into what’s involved.  It looks fun and beautiful to me, but these shots might be an overwhelming reality check for some!

Re: time, everyone will work at a different pace and arrangements vary wildly in terms of labor intensivity (hopefully you will not choose a maximally labor intensive design like an all wired bouquet!), but most single arrangements I’ve made have taken me at least an hour when you factor in unpacking, setting up, cleaning stems, creation and cleanup (this is not including the downtime for flowers to be rehydrated) so it’s a good starting point to budget for the time, unless your centerpieces are ultra simple.  Some of these steps will be combined when making multiples but flowers really do take a good deal of time to arrange!

#5 – Trying to make your own florals without a truly willing brigade of helpers

See above.  This is a lot of work, and it can’t be done very far in advance.  You will go nuts if you try to go this alone.  You need not only bodies to help, but preferably people who are genuinely interested and who have been given a realistic indication of what all is involved.

#6 – Not planning for delivery and set up

Once you receive the flowers, properly condition them, and arrange them you are not out of the woods! Who is taking them to the ceremony and reception site? Do they fit comfortably in that persons car? How are they being secured / protected in the car(s)? Who is setting them up? Does that person know exactly where they go? Who is breaking them down? Is that person really ready and willing to deal with them after a long night of partying? Then where are they going? Are they being tossed out? Donated? Honestly it is this set of questions that for me is one of the biggest deterrents to wedding DIY, and lots of people don’t even think of them until after they’re in knee deep!

#7 – Trying to make any arrangements the day of the event

This goes hand in hand with #4, but underestimating the time and space it will take isn’t the end of the world if you do that underestimating re: a few days before the wedding.  I know plenty of people who have stayed up until all hours doing their flowers the night before, but at least it doesn’t put a wrench in their actual wedding day this way!

In conclusion

Arranging lots of flowers is a labor intensive, messy, space sucking endeavor that can and should also be fun and rewarding.  But it won’t be if you’re working against the clock or don’t have the proper resources (space, help, supplies).   If you have a true interest in doing flowers yourself and don’t commit the 7 deadly sins, it can be a great experience that can save you a bundle of money.  It’s just important to understand that you’re paying a florist for expertise and experience and lots and lots of labor including delivery and set up.  To successfully do it yourself, you need to think of it as paying yourself instead for the same.  You or your friends and family will need to do some research, gain some experience, and put in the hard work.

As a parallel, I would never ever try to make my own wedding cake, or let a friend or family member do it unless they had made a similar large scale special event cake and I liked the result.  If I didn’t have a budget for a slick professional wedding cake, I’d consider an alternative like cute trays of store bought desserts.  I would definitely consider doing my own wedding flowers, but only because I’ve been tinkering and trial and erroring, really enjoy it, and flowers are so important to me that I wouldn’t ever consider predominantly non floral decor.

Hope this helps anyone weighing DIY!

May 5, 2011 - 10:18 pm

Rachael - Very good article. Your suggestions are dead on! So many people don’t realize that floral arranging can be more difficult than it looks. Definitely doing a trial run (or two!) is good for even a seasoned florist when trying something new.

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