Happy day! Spring blossoms are beginning to do their thing and it’s got us wanting to talk flowers. So for tips on purchasing and designing your own wedding flowers, we reached out to our good friend Kate Sparks at Laughing Lady Flower Farm, located just outside of Philadelphia.
With a few able helpers and an open mind, designing your own flowers can be both a budget-conscious and enjoyable experience. What’s more, the options for buying local, specialty cut flowers are growing in leaps and bounds. Small farms are cropping up everywhere, even within half-acre urban plots, making it surprisingly convenient to find a variety of high quality flowers in favorite colors like blush, ivory, and peach from May through October. Read on for a glimpse of what’s available when, plus other planning tips.
Hi Kate. Can you start by taking us through the highlights of each season?
Late April through May
Look for heirloom tulips (Belle Epoch is a popular variety), Ranunculus, Anemone, poppies, Fritillaria, French lilac, and hellebore; cherry blossom and quince branches are also nice for texture. Overall, spring is full of wonderfully fragrant, soft-color options, with pops of periwinkle and lemon cream.
Late May through June
Peonies are the undoubted favorite, with other delicate offerings like bellflowers, Astilbe, columbine, Nigella, more poppies, the first flush of garden roses, and lily of the valley — a quintessential bridal flower. Choose from a wide variety of colors: ivory, blush, juicy pinks, peach and more.
June through July
Expect peonies through mid-June, spectacular garden roses (a florist favorite), foxglove, heirloom lilies, Cosmos, chocolate lace flower, and the start of flowering vines. Pale apricot and soft gold hues add to every shade between blush, berry, and plum.
August through the first frost
At long last, the Dahlias! Not to be missed: Cafe Au Lait and Platinum Blonde varieties, with Lisianthus, tuberose, Zinnia, pincushion flower, Japanese anemone, and heirloom mums. Colors begin to get richer, including deep purple, burgundy, and rust, however ivory and blush are still plentiful. Crab apple branches, seed pods, and grasses add texture.
How are these offerings dependent on geography?
Generally speaking, what I mentioned applies to the continental US; things just shift a bit depending on your location. For example, flowers bloom earlier the further south you go. And because the climate is more temperate out west, the seasons for certain flowers are longer; Dahlias and heirloom roses do very well on the west coast. Think of the above as a rough guide, and contact your local farmer for a more detailed view.
Where can brides buy flowers in bulk?
Flower farms, including urban farms which refurbish the soil in abandoned plots, often sell flowers in bulk to brides. This is the simplest, most sustainable option, and you will receive the absolute freshest flowers. The Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers lists flower farms by state, and the Slow Flowers website also curates a great list. For supplements, Whole Foods always has a small yet responsibly sourced selection.
How do farms sell their flowers to brides?
You can usually count on at least 100 stems per five-gallon rectangular florist bucket. Bulk flower buckets generally range in price from $100-200. When speaking with your local farmer, ensure that your buckets include a mix of face and fill flowers. Face flowers are your larger, focal flowers like peonies and Dahlias, while filler flowers like Astilbe and Cosmos round out arrangements and provide texture. For a lush, garden-like look, you should also order foliage; popular favorites include dusty miller and Eucalyptus. Most farmers will build buckets to fit your desired color palette, just be sure to tell he/she which colors you prefer early in your discussions.
How much should a bride buy, and when?
This depends on what she is planning to design: bridal bouquet, bridesmaid bouquets, corsages and boutonnières, centerpieces, garland, etc. Roughly, you could create five small bridesmaid bouquets or five quart-size centerpieces with one 100-stem bucket of flowers, plus foliage. Consider the size of your vases too; votives look nice with just a couple of flowers and a sprig of greenery. Some farms will offer you a quote for bulk flowers up to a year before your wedding, however most discussions begin between three and eight months before your wedding date.
Do farms ever offer design services?
Because farmers work with flowers daily, they are often experienced floral designers too! Depending on who you work with, you may be able have certain designs (such as your bridal bouquet and boutonnières) professionally created by the farm itself, in addition to ordering bulk flowers and foliage for designing your own centerpieces and bridesmaid bouquets. Contact individual farms for more information on a la carte design services, as well as floral design lessons.
What should a bride plan for right before the wedding?
Plan to pick up bulk flowers one to three days before your event, and have a dark, cool place (away from fruits and vegetables) ready store them. Air conditioning is essential during peak summer months when storing, designing, and transporting your flowers. Set aside plenty of time and a few friends to help you design; depending on how much you are designing, this could be anywhere from three to eight hours. Also, consider how you will be transporting your finished designs to your venue and how much time you will need to them set up—generally at least an hour.
What tools and materials are needed?
You’ll need plenty of space, access to water, and a variety of materials on hand including sturdy floral clippers, floral tape, pins, and ribbon if desired. Consider any support you might need within your vessels, i.e. a small cage created from chicken wire to anchor stems, or floral frogs. At Laughing Lady, we rent our design studio by the hour to DIY brides. It may be worth asking your local farm if they offer this option as materials are usually included in the rental price, and you won’t have clean up!
Volunteer Opportunities in 2017
We are hoping to create a list of friends interested in volunteering at the farm during the times we need it most, such as planting seedlings in the spring. In exchange, you'll get a glimpse of how a working farm operates, plus gardening tips that you can bring home to your own landscape. Tools and lunch will also be provided.
If you are interested in joining our volunteer list, please fill out the contact form and write volunteer opportunities in the comments section. By doing so you're under no obligation, we'll just send you word when we need help and if you can come, we'd be glad to have you.
Thank you for your continued support, and here's to an abundant season!
Haha just kidding! Typical March loves to tease with warm weather then throw in an arctic cold front to keep farmers on their toes. Tonight will get down to 21 and Saturday night will be a chilly 15 degrees. This means I will have to put the row cover back on the flowers in the field and cold frame. I’m actually kinda, sorta, happy it’s getting cold again because I don’t want the tulips to bloom too short or too early. One thing I’ve learned is not to worry about the weather because mother nature is the one in control. The daffodils, tulips, and bluebells have sent up green shoots and will continue to grow through this cold spell.
Warm or cold, spring officially begins on March 20. Meanwhile, back at the farm, we are busy making pussy willow wreaths for the equinox. Celebrate the season with a lovely handmade wreath, fresh from our farm, to your front door. Wreaths will be available for delivery beginning March 19, or pick one up at the farm stand beginning March 5.
The field flowers and shrubs have been hibernating but we’ve been busy with planting schedules and seed starting. The germination chamber has been packed full of seed trays since the middle of January. Now the green house benches are crowded with seedlings waiting their turn to go into the cold frame for hardening off. Planting will begin, as weather permits, in mid April. Volunteers are welcome! Please contact Kate here, if you would like to help. We will provide gloves, tools, and lunch.
The ranunculus and campanula in the cold frame are growing crazy because of the warm February weather. Unfortunately most of the anemones got eaten by voles! Sweet peas and foxgloves will take their place. We’re hoping to have ranunculus, daffodils, muscari, hellebores, and quince for Easter on April 16 and Passover on April 18. What a beautiful centerpiece for your spring Holiday table! Visit the flower shop page for details.
Speaking of voles. I’ve adopted a farm kitten to help Zeus keep the hungry critters out of the green house and cold frames. I’m happy to report Harvest Moon, aka Harvie, is showing great potential. He caught a vole on his first introduction to the greenhouse! He caught a plastic bag and some leaves this morning. I hope he learns to discriminate soon.
The Laughing Ladies are always looking for the most beautiful, and unusual flowers to grow. This season’s newest discoveries will feature blue and white perennial Scabiosa, several varieties of Bearded Iris, Italian Ranunculus, exotic Fritillaria Persica, new varieties of Lisianthus and several types of Clematis and Campanula. We are running out of space in the back fields. Very soon there will be flowers growing in front of the house. If you drive by as we are making our wattle raised beds please honk wave, cheer or stop with cookies and something caffeinated. Be forewarned, if you stop without the goodies we will put you to work immediately! FYI, the other Laughing Ladies drink coffee but the boss prefers tea.
Plans for farm workshops and open houses are in the works. That information will be in the next newsletter. I wish everyone a joyous spring!
I’ts true, bouquets made with local flowers are fresher and last longer than bouquets made from flowers shipped from overseas. To get the very best vase life from your flowers follow these important tips.
1. Start with a clean vase: Dirty vases carry bacteria, which will shorten the life of your bouquet. If necessary, add bleach to the rinse water when cleaning your vases.
2. Cut at least half an inch of stem off each flower: The stems will dry out on the way home, making it difficult for your flowers to drink water. Cutting the stems before you place your bouquet in a vase will expose fresh tissue, so water can be absorbed more efficiently.
3. Remove any foliage that could be under water: Foliage breaks down in the water and causes bacteria to build up, which shortens the vase life of your flowers (and makes the water stinky).
4. Use a sharp knife or clippers to cut your flowers: Dull clippers smash the tissue of the stem, introducing bacteria into the water. Sharp clippers make a clean cut.
5. Fill your vase with cold water: Flowers take up cold water more quickly than warm water.
6. Recut stems & change water every 2-3 days: Flowers drink a lot of water, so keeping the vase full ensures that your bouquet doesn't dry out. Changing the water also helps to keep bacteria at bay.
7. Display your flowers in a cool area away from direct sunlight: Sun and heat cause flowers to mature more quickly, shortening vase life.
8. Keep your flowers away from ripening fruits and vegetables: Fruits and vegetables give off ethylene gas, which can cause your flowers to drop their petals prematurely.
9. Use flower food for most flowers: Flower food contains sugar to feed the flowers, plus a bactericide to keep the water fresh and clean. Flower food is especially helpful for those forgetful or busy folks who don’t always remember to change the water. There are a few flowers, like zinnias and sunflowers, that do better with a teaspoon of bleach in place of flower food. Keep in mind that bleach dissipates in a few hours and is only a temporary replacement for fresh, clean water.
10. Use bulb flower food when necessary: Bulb flowers, such as tulips, gladiolus, ranunculus and lilies, have special hormone requirements. Bulb flower food is specially developed to prevent their leaves from yellowing, help the buds open, and keep the blooms fresh longer.
This hot weather has made me tired and cranky, which is not a good thing when you are known as the “Laughing Lady." To make matters worse July is a slow month for florists and brides don’t want to get married when it’s 95 degrees. (What the heck is wrong with them anyway!) My crew has abandoned me and their overalls to don bikinis at various shore locations on the eastern seaboard.
Last night I set my alarm for 5:00 am with every intention of getting up at my normal hot weather time. This morning when the music came on something in me snapped. I CANNOT STAND ANOTHER 95 DEGREE HUMID DAY!!! (Believe me, the caps are necessary.) I had to fix my mood or change the farm name to Cranky Pants Flower Farm. So, instead of harvesting 10 million stems of celosia (it’s true, I counted), I listened to music and ate another slice of fresh peach pie. It was very yummy but not enough.
So, instead of chopping down weeds in the afternoon I designed a centerpiece in a beautiful new pedestal vase from BHLDN, with pink and white flowers. Barbie dream house, girly pink. Pink flowers make me happy. No one was there to tell me the pink should really be a little darker, or maybe not that pink, that’s too apricot or use the brown lisianthus instead of white, it’s ombre! I know some people like brown flowers, but really, brown? Pink therapy, an air conditioned studio, and dancing to the latin music stream is just what I needed. After making pink bouquets for Terrain tonight I finished the last piece of peach pie. If I’m not careful I’ll have to change the farm name to Chubby Lady Flower Farm. Tomorrow it’s back to work at 5:30 am. Or maybe I’ll make another peach pie instead. Good night.
Buying flowers directly from the farm for weddings is becoming more and more popular. As a flower farmer since 2000, all I can say is: it's about time! Local flowers are fresh, vibrant and unlike imported blooms, they retain their wonderful scent. Meeting the farmer and walking through the rows of colorful blooms with the person who is growing the flowers for your special day is a wonderful treat. You might see flowers which are unavailable to traditional florists either because they don’t ship well or because they are too time consuming to grow on large, commodity only farms. Farmers are proud of what they do and are happy to talk to you about which flowers will be available for your wedding and exactly how they are grown. Most flower farmers use sustainable growing methods and far fewer pesticides than flowers grown in S. America. You will hear birds and see all sorts of beneficial and pollinator insects working to keep the flowers healthy.
Working directly with a flower farmer is much different than visiting a traditional florist. There are no standardized menus with cookie cutter bouquets. Each farmer grows different flowers which are available according to local seasons and the weather. Every farm offers different wedding services. Growers will provide you with a list of seasonal flowers. Study the list so you are not disappointed when the farmer tells you peonies are not available for your August wedding. Be flexible, peonies may not be available but farm fresh dahlias are breathtakingly beautiful and come in a huge variety of colors.
Prices for farm fresh wedding flowers are based on the same factors as traditional florist flowers. Costs vary according to the varieties and number of flowers needed plus the amount of labor required to make the designs. Growers who are also designers should be fairly compensated for their experience and creativity as well as the superior quality and freshness of the flowers. Expect to pay about the same price for design services from a grower as you would from your local florist. Some growers offer boutique services such as a tour of the farm, custom grown flowers and wedding floral design classes. Offering these services means extra work for the farmer/designer. Expect to pay a fair price for these services which will vary by region.
One of the most important considerations when working directly with a grower is how much service you need and how much of the designing you are willing to do yourself. Flower farmers vary widely on the level of services they provide. At the most basic level farmers will provide a list of what is in season with no other services. The bride is essentially the florist and will need to know exactly how many and what types of flowers are needed for the arrangements. It’s best to make some trial arrangements and do the math before placing an order. Allowing the farmer to choose the colors and varieties of flowers is your least expensive option. It will cost a bit more if you choose specific varieties and colors.
Designing your own flowers should be fun for you and your friends or family. If possible pick up your flowers two to three days before the wedding and allow plenty of time. Have the flower farmer, caterer, wedding coordinator or someone not in the bridal party set up the flowers on the day of the wedding. Don’t worry, your flowers will stay fresh at cool room temperature. Trying to assemble flowers the morning or night before the wedding is stressful and could be a recipe for disaster.
Many growers have studios which they will rent to brides who want to design their flowers on the farm. Generally the grower will provide the flowers as well as all the tools and supplies needed. Usually the grower or an assistant will stay during the design session to answer questions and give guidance as needed. Growers might offer to keep your designs in their cooler until the morning of the wedding. Delivery on the day of the wedding can usually be included for an extra charge. Some farmer-florists also offer basic wedding design classes.
Growers who are experienced designers are willing to mix and match services to suit the individual needs of a bride. Brides might choose to design some simple centerpieces and have the grower make the more complicated bouquets, boutonnieres and corsages. This an "a la carte" option can be a great way to stretch your floral budget and still have custom designed flowers. A few flower farmers offer full service weddings; design, delivery, setup and cleanup. Charges for these services should typically be close to what florists in your area charge.
In popular tourist areas there are flower farms which also serve as beautiful wedding venues. If you want to get married on a flower farm ask the grower if wedding facilities are available.Buying your wedding flowers directly from the farm is not as simple as hiring a traditional florist, but vibrant, unique, seasonal flowers are well worth the extra effort. There is a great new resource to guide and inspire you: Fresh from the Field Wedding Flowers is a new book that features photos from dozens of local flower farms, including Laughing Lady. It provides detailed instructions on the mechanics of wedding flower design, and includes 75 minutes of video tutorials that will show you how to make a bouquet, boutonnieres, centerpieces and tall arrangements if you choose the DIY route.
Well it's official, Punxsutawney Phil did not see his shadow. Which means: early spring! With three feet of snow slowly melting nine days after Jonah blew through the East coast that's a bit of good news. This morning it was nippy with plenty of ice on my van but the weatherman says it will be 50 today.
Here at the farm, getting ready for spring begins in September. That's when we start seeding many of our early blooming spring flowers such as nigella, foxglove, dianthus, carnations, campanulas, and poppies. Thousands of bulbs are planted in October; bluebells, daffodils, muscari, and tulips are under the snow, resting and waiting until the days are long enough and the earth is warm enough. Last week we planted our first seeds of the year, Chantilly snapdragons. In the coming weeks we will be filling the germination chamber and greenhouse benches with many more flats of seedlings.
On this beautiful groundhog day, take some time to enjoy the blue sky and winter sun. Dreams are waiting under the melting snow.
Surely as cometh the Winter, I know
There are Spring violets under the snow.
--R. H. Newell
Laughing Lady Flower Farm is looking for seasonal farm workers beginning mid April.
On this cold, grey day it seems as though spring is as far away as a dream. But it will be here in only 63 days. Holy Asters Batman, I need to snap out of my dream state and get a plan in order! No seeds, no flowers. In two months I will be wondering where the time went. Along with all the seed, bulb, and plant catalogs taking up desk space is a timeline for when I need to hire employees to help grow and harvest all the beautiful flowers in my plan.
Kat, my field manager for the last three years left at the end of last season to pursue her own flower business and get experience as a freelance designer. I will need two field workers to take her place, plus 1-2 interns, an office assistant to help with organizing and keeping track of events, and a driver for local deliveries.
If you would rather be out in the sunshine and fresh air planting, weeding, and harvesting flowers instead of sitting behind a desk, staring out the window (if there is a window), please contact firstname.lastname@example.org and I will send you a job description and an application.
Farm experience is not required. I need physically fit workers who can commit to an entire season beginning in mid-April and ending in mid-October or early November, depending on weather. Part-time and full-time positions are available. Hours and days are fairly flexible but you must be able to work in the early morning and keep up a fast pace in all kinds of weather.
Laughing Lady Flower Farm is happy to announce a new floral delivery service! We at laughing Lady Flower Farm are always looking for ways to provide beautiful, locally grown flowers to our community.
Because the demand for our locally-grown special occasion and sympathy flowers has been increasing, we have decided to offer our beautiful flowers for all your special occasions: birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, job promotions and just because.
Every floral arrangement is custom designed for your special needs using seasonal flowers grown on the farm. Whenever possible we use up-cycled vases and vessels and never use carcinogenic floral foam. Custom floral designs start at $50. Delivery within 6 miles of the farm is included in the price. To have flowers delivered please call Kate at 215-345-7282.