Wedding flowers: Decorating the church

By Andy McIndoe

Having just done the flowers for a wedding I thought I would share the experience. I'm not a regular floral decorator but I've done quite a lot over the years. When friends asked me if I would do decorate for their wedding of course all thoughts of practicality, availability of time and budget gave way to my desire to fill the church and the reception venue with flowers. This was the opportunity to return to a world I have had a love affair with for over forty years: colour, fragrance, texture. The ultimate opportunity for creativity with plant material.

1 Pedestal and window

I knew I needed like-minded friends on board; not necessarily just flower arrangers, but people with a passion for plants and with the experience of working to a deadline and getting the job done. As far as the church was concerned there would be no dainty little pew ends for me; I like big creations.  I heard myself saying “you really only need a couple of big arrangements”, as I set about planning to fill every window ledge and available raised surface with flowers and foliage. I know that the overall effect is all important. The perfection of individual arrangements is secondary to the impact of the whole.  It is like garden design in many ways. We spend so much time worrying about the positioning of individual subjects we lose sight of the bigger picture.

2 Approach to the altar

There was also the reception venue and bridal flowers to consider, but I believe it is really important for the whole thing to tie together, choose a theme, vary it but make sure it all runs as one composition.  I like the flowers to reflect the personalities of the people and to be appropriate for the time of year.  I chose a palette of warm late summer colours: lilac, pink, mauve, deeper purple, cerise. The colours of aster, hydrangea, clematis and nerine. I used as many garden flowers as possible: astrantia, sedum, ammi (like cow parsley) and antirrhinum.

[caption id="attachment_9345" align="alignleft" width="550"]How to do wedding flowers Carnation detail How to do wedding flowers Carnation detail[/caption]

I usually use plenty of foliage, but I was determined to keep it light and airy. I cut phillyrea, pittosporum, viburnum and olive from the garden, along with copper-purple physocarpus to add some depth.  I probably rationed the foliage too carefully and we could have done with more in the last stages. I encourage everyone to use some foliage first to cover the floral foam and to start to form the basic shape. I try to keep that shape as loose and informal as possible. It is all too easy to form that perfect triangle and then start distributing each type of flower regularly through the arrangement; the effect can then be too contrived.

[caption id="attachment_9346" align="alignleft" width="550"]How to do wedding flowers How to do wedding flowers[/caption]

The church I was decorating has plain glass in the lights of the side windows and broad stone ledges – perfect for flowers. I used long trays on each window with a block and a half of foam. I soaked the foam in flow food and all flowers were conditioned in flower food. This makes all the difference to their life and resilience as the foam loses moisture. We kept the window arrangements light and flowing; starting right at the back of the foam. An easy mistake is to start too far forward resulting in an arrangement that leans forward and does not sit well on the ledge. As soon as you start working at any height it is really important to remember that the arrangement will be viewed from below – in this case by those sitting in the pews. Larger blooms are lost if facing upwards and towards the back of the composition.

[caption id="attachment_9347" align="alignleft" width="550"]Lecturn pedestal flowers Lecturn pedestal flowers[/caption]

I always like to use big “garden” arrangements as the focal point; in this case in front of the lectern and pulpit, just before the choir.  The light, wrought iron pedestals that carry small bowls on a tiny plate that churches usually have are useless for anything with any scale.  I also hate seeing big arrangements balanced on a light support. I used two weathered gold urns with black plinths. The urns are plastic sprayed in old gold. The bases are filled with concrete to give them weight. I then use a large bowl with three or four blocks of foam positioned vertically and taped firmly in the top.  I draped a vine of hops around the urn and plinth to soften it. I am always surprised how quick these arrangements are to do compared to some of the small stuff.

[caption id="attachment_9348" align="alignleft" width="550"]How to do wedding flowers The Flowers arrive[/caption]

This is where I should say something about the volume of flowers: it takes a lot!  A variety of blooms to achieve that garden look, and a variety of flower forms and sizes. Things like spiky veronica may not be that bid but they really make a difference. Dark sedums might look dull but they add depth and are wonderful deeper into the arrangement. Carnations may look stiff and informal but use the right colour and use sparingly and they give you those bolder blooms. Hydrangeas are fashionable at the moment. Their big mop heads add blocks of colour and wonderful weight to the arrangements.

[caption id="attachment_9349" align="alignleft" width="550"]Robe chest Robe chest[/caption]

I worked out the flower quantities for every arrangement on a spread sheet before I ordered. On a job of this scale this is imperative. The team all need to know what stems make up the basis of every arrangement before they start. Of course you need to make some adjustments as you go along but you need a firm foundation.

[caption id="attachment_9350" align="alignleft" width="550"]Wedding Flowers at The font Wedding Flowers at The font[/caption]

First impressions are all important. In this church the font is straight ahead as you come through the doors. This is the perfect pedestal for a large bold arrangement to set the scene for the church. I used trails of hops and a similar palette to the pedestals at the other end of the church.  Blue clematis and sparkling cerise nerines stood out in this arrangement. Although these might not be the largest, showiest flowers in the whole production they really stand out for their exquisite form and fabulous colours. They are also a surprise: subjects not always considered as cut flowers.

[caption id="attachment_9351" align="alignleft" width="550"]Wedding flowersThe handrail Wedding flowers: The handrail[/caption]

I used hops and eryngium on the rails up the steps into the church. These led to two large baskets of flowers in the porch. Again these work as an introduction to the whole and add interest as the congregation is waiting to be seated. At weddings folks tend to congregate and talk outside the church and then all go in together which takes time. Having flowers along the way really adds to the occasion.

[caption id="attachment_9352" align="alignleft" width="550"]Wedding Flowers: Pulpit pedestal Wedding Flowers: Pulpit pedestal[/caption]

It took four of us about five hours to decorate the church. That does not include putting flowers in water, cutting foliage, loading and unloading etc. My tip for anyone doing this type of decoration is: be organised. You need dust sheets, refuse bags, broom, dustpan and brush and all the rest of the equipment with you. You need flowers prepared, foam soaked and you need all containers ready to go. Allow enough time. I decorated the church on a Thursday for a Saturday wedding. I checked the church and watered on Saturday morning; misting the flowers with water a couple of hours before the service really freshens them for their big moment.


[caption id="attachment_9353" align="alignleft" width="550"]Church wedding flowers: The porch Church wedding flowers: The porch[/caption]

Andy McIndoe

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