At first glance, the lilies and hydrangeas you find at your neighborhood florist seem like charming, shapely, aromatic lovelies. Yet, when you think about where these imported blooms actually come from — racking up a dizzying number of “flower miles” from India, Japan, South Africa, and Ecuador before they’re even arranged in your wedding bouquet, boutonniere, or reception centerpiece — the pretty plants suddenly seem less green.
“Over 80 percent of the flowers available in the U.S. come from abroad,” says Jennie Love, a designer at Love ‘n Fresh Flowers, a farm in Philadelphia. “Not only are flowers grown in less than ideal conditions, quite a few unregulated chemicals that are not allowed in the U.S. are used on them. And there are poor working conditions for farm laborers.”
Locavores seek out seasonal vegetables and free-range meats for reception menus, so why not do the same with your reception decor? Rather than buying intensively raised and pesticide-treated roses and tulips, purchasing flowers from farms near your wedding site is an environmentally conscious option.
Stems snipped in their home countries travel out of water to Miami or New York City before being shipped out to local wholesalers. Their journey takes up to a week — and this dry voyage means that they can essentially be dead by the time they make it to your florist’s cooler.
“Locally grown flowers are fresher, longer lasting, and more vibrant,” says Love. “It’s hard to verbalize, but once you see locally grown flowers next to imported ones, they are just so much brighter and more natural looking.”
The likeliest place to stumble upon a regional flower source is your neighborhood farmers’ market. That’s where Connecticut bride Ada Egloff met David Burns, a painter who owns an organic farm in Old Saybrook, called Hay House. One look at Burns’s beautiful blooms and Egloff knew that a laissez faire flower-picking with close friends on Burns’s pretty property — which includes an art studio and a Buddhist shrine — could lessen their environmental impact while providing a memorable opportunity for friends and family to participate in their wedding in a unique way. Two days before the ceremony, Egloff, Banister, and a cadre of close cohorts wandered the fields of Hay House snipping zinnias, snapdragons, and “exotic little things I’d never heard of” for a circlet, boutonnieres, and bouquets, says Egloff.
The experience was a natural extension of the haute hippie aesthetic of Egloff and Banister’s backyard wedding, which also included handmade paper pompom chains, fresh oysters, grass-raised beef for burgers, and tiny jars of local honey the bride filled herself and gave to guests as favors.
If clever, buying regional flowers can also be economical. Pennsylvania bride Samantha Wittchen, owner of sustainability consulting firm iSpring, knew she didn’t want to take the cut-flower route as soon as she began planning her October 2011 wedding.
“You have to be a little bit more flexible,” she says. “But it’s not any more difficult than sticking to a budget.”
For Wittchen’s wedding, she used a fall variety of hydrangeas along with “tiny, purple, mystery blooms,” all plucked from her mother’s garden, she says. Wittchen also added 120 multi-colored zinnias she and a friend picked at a local farm the day of the wedding. At 10 cents a stem, the total flower budget for the day was $12.
An open mind, as well as an eye on the calendar, goes a long way in finding just the right blooms to match the mood of your wedding day. Depending on your region, certain flowers will come into season during different times of the year. May and early June brides will be privy to a bevy of peonies, ranunculus, and lavender, while September celebrations are readily dressed with cockscomb and dahlias. Some flower growers, with enough notice, will plant something especially for your special day.
Lyn Hicks of Harmony Hill Gardens in Sellersville, Penn., invites couples to stroll the lanes of her 1000-percent organic garden, and then pick their own blend of eye-catching buds and accents to be grown for their upcoming nuptials.
If plucking your own stems sounds more like a romantic fantasy than a pragmatic reality when trying to plan something as overwhelming as a wedding, many florists can be commissioned to source, assemble, and deliver local flowers for your wedding. Or you can visit the Association of Cut Flower Growers to locate a flower farm keen to bring some local color to your union.
“There are lots of flowers farmers around the country,” says Love. “And a good number of us do some sort of event work.”
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