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.


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!

winter wedding

wedding cake

white hydrangea skirts the tiered cake

This week at the shop, we prepared for Saturday’s wedding, a floral event conceived back in June 2011.  The couple approached proprietor and lead designer Peicha Chang, asking for “bright” flowers within a certain budget.  Peicha met with them throughout the months to get to know their style, the colors they preferred, the color of the bridesmaids’ dresses, and the types of different floral selections they needed: from centerpieces to wrist corsages.  The week before the event, she purchased all the beautiful blooms for the big day.  On Thursday, she began making the centerpieces for the tables…starting with the greens (salaal and umbrella fern) as a base.

the stunning umbrella fern

After she was happy with the first centerpiece, using bright purples, dark pinks and solid reds coupled with light and dark greens; she cranked out the others (I think there were around 25.) Each centerpiece is slightly different when you look closer; some have darker tulips, some have hypericum berries, etc. But you’ll have to wait until they’re in their proper setting to really see them.  I watched her work, as miraculous creation took place, one beautiful arrangement after the next.

creating the centerpiece arrangements

ivy wrapped around the stems adds another layer of interest to the centerpieces...cool!

While Peicha did her thing, I was doing mine.  I was given a BIG job this day – making two wreaths of fresh white hydrangeas!  I really had a great time doing it.  Using a pre-made form filled with floral foam which had already been soaked, I cut down the hydrangea stems (my knife skills are getting better!) and poked each stem in, being careful to place the blooms in an alternating pattern.  You get big bang for your buck with these guys!

creating the hydrangea wreath

my first creation! thanks for trusting me with this, Peicha!

Okay so after the first one was done, then I did the second, and guess what, they were slightly different. So I had to go back to the first and press some blooms in a little farther to create a more uniform appearance.  While I was working, these wreaths were quietly dripping away – the reason behind doing this job a few days in advance of the big day.  You sure don’t want your product dripping onto wedding guests!

bouquets and personal flowers for bride's side- some wrapped in rosaries! beautiful!

Now for Saturday, the big day…I arrived at work very excited to see what was in store.  While Peicha finished the bouquets for the ladies, I was given a surprising task – delivering the personal flowers to the groom’s side of the family.  The groom was calm and happy as I showed him how to pin his flowers on.  Here, the best man models his boutinnière comprised of red ranunculus, waxflower and ivy.

the word boutinnière is french for "buttonhole" - ooh la la!

Back at the shop, my new colleague Emily packed up the centerpieces for delivery. Each vase is wrapped carefully in plastic air packets and put into a crate.

Then Peicha and I hit the road to deliver the bridal flowers.  Arriving at the Omni Hotel, everyone right down to the valet was happy to see us…well, maybe it was the flowers they were happy to see.   And after all her intense hours of labor, this is payoff day for Peicha – will the bride be happy? Will everything go off without a hitch?

elevator moment

Methinks the bride was more than happy.  Her exact words were “I’ve never seen more beautiful flowers.”  And Peicha and I both, upon leaving the bridal suite, began tearing up a little.  This is what it’s all about!

Next, we stopped off at the church to hang “my” wreaths on the front doors, and to add floral accents to the front pews meant for the bride and groom’s families.  (I had to do some guerilla bow-making on the steps of the church – thank God Peicha had taught me some rudimentary bow skills last Thursday!)

St Francis of Xavier - a beautiful church!

Alrighty, this day was moving right along! Let’s get going over to the Down Town Club to set up the flowers for the reception.

Jerome helps us - great guy with a great handshake

the Down Town club was founded in 1897 - i'm having a 'shining' moment

Peicha "fluffing" the centerpieces

Here they are in all their stunning glory! Amazing work, Peicha.

centerpiece in jewel tones: rose, anemone, waxflower, tulip, astrantia, umbrella fern

peony tulip centerstage

all white for the bridal table - gosh look at those anemones with dark purple centers!

I had such a great day – from witnessing Peicha’s grace under pressure and exceptional designing talent, to meeting all the ‘behind-the-scenes’ folks, and most importantly, seeing how flowers really touch the people whose event you’re involved in – I cherished every part of this new experience, and hope that there will be many more to follow.  Best wishes to the bride and groom!