a midsummer’s night wedding

Last week, I met the Nancy Saam flower gang at the Merion Cricket Club in Haverford, PA.  Our mission:  to create a wedding day in the tone of A Midsummer’s Night Dream.  It was to be a whimsical woodland, a graceful garden, and a summery sweet setting; the type of shindig that the Fairy Queen herself would attend.

I know a bank whereon the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses, and with eglantine:
There sleeps Titania some time of the night,
Lulled in these flowers with dances and delight;
And there the snake throws her enamelled skin,
Weed wide enough to wrap a fairy in.

Bridal table canopy

Structural materials: birch trunks, curly willow, honey locust branches, and smilax vine wound down around birch trunks

Yet marked I where the bolt of Cupid fell:
It fell upon a little western flower,
Before milk-white, now purple with love’s wound,
And maidens call it, Love-in-idleness.

Some of the gorgeous materials used on the arbor: clematis, hanging amaranth, yarrow, nigella, viburnum, hydrangea, and more…

Things base and vile, holding no quantity,
Love can transpose to form and dignity.
Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind,
And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.

Marlene wraps the woodland cake with smilax vine, atop a tree trunk

What hempen home-spuns have we swaggering here,
So near the cradle of the fairy queen?

Centerpiece with pitcher plants, astilbe, fern, poppy, white scabiosa + seedpods, veronica, and chocolate cosmos

Nancy Saam tweaks the centerpieces

Pitcher plant, sarracenia – carnivorous!

Brenda trails smilax vine on the candelabras

What angel wakes me from my flowery bed?

Jane puts the finishing touches on her large cocktail arrangement

So we grew together,
Like to a double cherry, seeming parted,
But yet an union in partition;
Two lovely berries moulded on one stem;
So, with two seeming bodies, but one heart.


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union league wedding

Last week’s wedding was a big affair – 200+ guests at the Union League in downtown Philadelphia, with “garden-style” flowers by Nancy Saam and our team.  Jane, Pat, Nancy, Chip and I prepped the day before.

Pat creates large centerpieces using spirea, peony and viburnum – gorgeous

Jane and I made some designs on 3-tiered silver trays.  First, we cut the Oasis down to size and secured it onto the trays with prongs (held with floral clay.)

Then we added greens like fatsia leaf, euphorbia, hosta, galax leaf, and then flowers like Tuberose.

Finished tray is dripping with flowers like calla lilies, pink garden roses, astilbe, and viburnum. Moss is packed into the holes to complete.  Oh and ‘Green Trick’ Dianthus!

Then Jane and I made a long design for the placecard table, using lots of greens like lemon leaf, huge hosta leaves, and solomon’s seal.  We also added hydrangea and ‘Festiva Maxima’ peonies, from – you guessed it! – A Peony Garden. This design will be finished on site.

Now, the day of the wedding!  The truck arrives, packed to the gills.  Everyone lends a hand unpacking.  It’s many, many trips up the small freight elevator and into the various rooms we’ll be working – the ceremony room, placecard table, cocktail area, and finally the reception area.

I spend most of my day in Lincoln Hall, where the reception is to be held.  We are creating an arbor of sorts out of birch. The structure is in place, and we begin by adding a layer of leafy branches.

Birch Structure is nailed together and strengthened with zip ties where branches meet, and c-clamps on the tables.

Cages filled with floral foam are zip-tied to the branches in the front, and we begin to fill them with viburnum.

Here Nancy shows us where she’d like to see more viburnum added.

Brenda does the lion’s share of the work on this structure, and I am her assistant, handing her branches, mopping up spills, sweeping up leaves as we go.  She has had 18 years of experience in the floral industry.  She spends most of the day on a ladder, and if I may be honest, totally kicks ass!  Unfortunately we were working so hard and moving so quickly most of the day that I never got a good picture of her!!

Brenda adds peonies and stock to our flower bower of power!

As Brenda puts the finishing touches on the arbor, I’m called away to do some cocktail area arrangements and to finish the long placecard table design that Jane and I began.  I replace a few wilted peonies, add viburnum, kiwi vine, and curly willow, plus a little astilbe for good measure.  Then the design is hung with votives.  This is all done with such astonishing speed, I think I forget to breathe at this point in the day.

Back in Lincoln Hall, things have reached a fevered pitch.  All the last minute touches are attended to – the candles lit, the tables set, our work buckets tucked away.

inside the birch / peony arbor – bridal table

Diane lighting candles – so Downton Abbey don’t you think??

One of Pat’s centerpieces in place

Our silver trays are also centerpieces

But the piece de resistance is the bridal table…fit for a royal party of elves and fairies…or Philadelphians.

Completed Arbor

All it needs are the newlyweds, and happy lords and ladies of the evening to sit under it, and fill the hall with their love and laughter.  When I got home to celebrate Julie’s birthday, I showed my dad a picture of this.  His response: “I guess we know Thanksgiving is going to be a lot more expensive this year!”  Dad, you’re right.  I think we need to create something like this arbor for our annual family gathering!  You’re on construction detail.  Thanks for all the great ideas, Nancy Saam!

revel – my first paid floral gig!

I got hired to help out for a few days down in Atlantic City, NJ for a big job – a 1000 person benefit at the new casino, Revel, through Nancy Saam Flowers.  (My teacher and friend Jane does a lot of freelance work for Nancy, and gave my name to her a while back.)

Will I survive this flower job?

Encompassing 6.3 million square feet and standing 47 stories tall, Revel is a $2.4 billion lifestyle resort on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City.

It’s an incredible building, and because everything is brand new, it literally sparkles inside and out.  In some areas, it’s lush and dark in a 70s kind of way, in others, it’s bright and modern and clean.

And good luck finding your way around!  I think I must have walked 10 miles in the course of the 3 days I was there.  Beyoncé will be singing there for the casino’s premiere opening at the end of May, and tickets to see her in Ovation Hall (where our benefit was held) are $700.  I’m not even kidding.

Marlene and I – she’s one of the top designers

The scope of this project was enormous:  under the guidance of Nancy Saam, our fearless leader, I worked with a dozen or so other designers to create 73 woodland “tablescapes” for long tables, and almost 50 six foot ‘trees’ with mini gardens on their bases for round tables.  All the plant material for these designs had to be hauled up the freight elevator and processed upon arrival.

Debbie, one of the most amazing workers EVER, with a load of viburnum on the freight elevator

Flowering crabapple gets put into buckets of water right away

Dawn processes flowers like no one else!

First we started on the long tables.  All 73 tables would take a few days to complete.

Jane shows us the tablescape design

We covered the table runners with many non-floral elements to create structure, depth, texture, and pattern:  long pieces of grape wood, loads of sheet and mood moss, spheres of many types, succulents, votives, gold artichokes and pods, and skeleton leaves.  Within these items, we also laid out pre-soaked floral foam blocks in various sized liners and covered those with moss and galax leaf. The floral foam would then be filled with a variety of cut flowers and woodland treasures closer to the event.

With the tablescape structures mainly in place, we called it a day.  One of the challenges of this job was working on a floor that needed to remain pristine.  We put down drop cloths wherever we went and there was a lot of sweeping and mopping!

Valeri and Jane do some sweeping up – Valeri’s smiles never stopped.

The next day was all about making the trees – and they were quite a construction project! For the bases, burlap was cut to fit over sleek Xmas tree stands. Long birch trunks were then placed into the stands.

We divided up into 2-person teams to duct-tape wired cages containing pre-soaked floral foam to the tops of these trunks, making them look a little like stoplights in a forest.

Jane and Mary Jo attach floral foam cages

Marlene never stops moving so she’s hard to capture. Here she’s showing me how to start my tree.

After placing a bit of lemon leaf to hide the lower mechanics, we then began designing tree top after tree top using flowering crabapple branches.   Here’s what I did over and over again: select branch, cut to length, prune off small branches by the end, and place them in the foam. It’s fun!

Del creates a tree for the woodland tables – nice bling Del!

Valerie is lost amongst the branches, smiling

Eventually, the trees start taking shape, filling out like elven lollipops.

Pat kicks butt making trees! (my tree in foreground…i got attached to all of mine.)

As we were completing the branch structures of the trees, other designers under the guidance of Armas, a designer from moda botanica in Philly, began creating the little woodland gardens at their bases.  I got to pitch in at the end, too, tucking many lovely plant treasures into wedges of foam then obscured by moss.

Fern, fiddlehead, hellebore, orchid, hydrangea, veronica, chocolate cosmos, succulents, and much more

Diane creates a magical fairyland base garden

Have I mentioned how much I love these materials and designs???

The next day, we filled in any holes on the trees, completed more woodland bases, and added more magical touches, like hanging votives filled with reindeer moss.

Trees were constantly misted to stay fresh

Then it was back to the tables, to finish the tablescapes on the tables that had been brought out to Ovation Hall.  We filled in the floral foam sections with a host of delicious plant materials such as fern, long purple fiddleheads, antique hydrangea, bunny tail, euphorbia, hellebore, white astilbe, white scabiosa, and white ranunculus.  The end result was a tablescape that any woodland nymph would be proud to lounge about on!

canopies filled with candles will be added to the tops of the ‘cages’ on the tables

Meanwhile, Jane Godshalk spent her day designing with tropicals for the cocktail area.

Greens, foxtail lily, protea, orchids and hairy cybotium fern – pow!

Designers also created 18 tall glass vases of viburnum and branches for round tables.

a long cool drink of spring beauty

Armas created many of the cocktail arrangements, which were whimsical and woodsy at the same time.

Since Jane and a lot of other very talented designers were there, I was surrounded by expertise, and although we were working hard, I also got to ask questions and learn as much as I could.  It was exhausting and exhilarating.  I didn’t get to see the final end result of our work, but today I received some pics of the event…WOW! Great job everyone!

Final long table with canopy lit up, photo courtesy of Alix Jacobs

photo courtesy of Alix Jacobs

Here’s hoping there are many more successful events like this one in my floral future!

P.S.  Most of these pics were taken after I was done for the day or on a lunch break.