Every couple wants breathtaking blooms at their celebration. Contributing editor David Stark chats with Shane Connolly, the man behind Kate Middleton's bridal bouquet and the author of A Year in Flowers, on how to bring everything together.
Shane Connolly

How do you get started with a couple?

I prefer not to pore through images of weddings before we've had a good chat, so first we talk about their favorite colors and styles. Then we look at relevant inspiration, such as single flowers, paintings, fashion-anything that might capture the mood we're trying to create, rather than photos of actual arrangements.

Good floral design shouldn't be just a pick-and-mix of what's been done before, and I find that's the danger if our first meeting is too image-led. I also like to meet with the couple at the venue and at their home. It tells me so much about them.

The lily of the valley posy Connolly designed for Kate Middleton.

Do you have any rules of thumb for bridal bouquets?

I always ask the bride what sort of handbag she would choose to complement her dress. The answer is usually a small clutch, so I rarely do huge bouquets. A bouquet needs to feel light and comfortable. The florist Constance Spry used to say that bridal flowers should be like jewelry and complete an outfit, not complicate it. I agree completely.

Peonies, one of Connolly's favorite blooms, mixed with ‘Maiden’s Blush’ lilacs.

When do you discuss budget?

It's great to establish one early on in the process. Then I can avoid suggesting [out of range] ideas that would have to be abandoned later and cause disappointment. What you don't know, you can't miss!

Any tricks to cutting costs without anyone noticing?

It's the larger, more dramatic elements, such as a huge urn of flowers as guests arrive or a wonderfully decorated dance floor, that create the real effect at a party. If finances are tight, the small, labor-intensive items, like complex boutonnieres, should be eliminated. Those details are the more sentimental icing on the cake. And to make the most of your budget, consider flowers you can reuse: Year-round I love incorporating plants into wedding décor. They can be recycled as gifts to special guests or planted in the couple's garden later.

Flowering branches from potted young crab apples adorning a country church.
| Credit: Jason Lowe

Do you ever use anything besides real blooms?

Yes, both to save money and for effect. If I'm making a big arrangement, I might use artificial flowers to supplement fresh ones in places where no one could touch them and break the spell. Silk blooms attached to gnarled old apple branches, for example, are indistinguishable from the real thing. For a May wedding, they could be employed to make the entire tent's ceiling look like a bower of apple blossoms. Then I'd place real ones in reach of hands and noses to complete the illusion. For centerpieces, fruits and vegetables shouldn't be overlooked. Our favorite event last year had tiered wooden boxes filled with mushrooms, nuts, medlar fruit [a kind of edible, large rose hip], and white gourds.


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