Wedding Wednesday

Secret Lives: Floral Designers

Every rose has its thorn, and every rose arranger knows balance, agility, strength, color theory, and pagan gender roles

By Laura Cassidy January 20, 2010

Miki Maxey of Miki’s Flowers

Remember the Secret Lives of Wedding Photographers post? You asked for more so we’re doing more. Up this week: the floral designers.

Keep in mind: This series is meant to shine some light on what goes on behind the scenes; what makes these folks crazy, and what makes their day. Fees and rates can seem awfully abstract until you walk a few paragraphs or so in the vendor’s shoes.

(Interestingly, none mentioned walking or dashing or crawling or sweating thru the wholesale flower markets. And anyone who’s ever accompanied a designer to the markets on a busy day knows how strenous and stressful - and sometimes really hurry-up-wait boring - it can be.)

So here goes. I finally had the good fortune to meet Miki Maxey of Miki’s Flowers in person a few weeks ago at Luxe Wedding Design’s smash party at Georgetown Ballroom. That’s her there, with the bright pink blooms, and this is her two cents:

Miki: I should have read the danger signs when a bride once told me all of the florists that she talked to prior to me with didn’t want to do her wedding. It was a pagan wedding. Since that was a first for me, I took on the challenge. I ended up working harder than I ever had for any other wedding for little profit. I slept little and stressed much. I had to research the history of all flowers and if they were "feminine" or "masculine" because the bride and groom both had bouquets. By request, hers had to be flowing and 15 feet long and his must be up and erect. If any of the wrong flowers were in them, I was told bad luck may come my way. All of the attendants and close friends had capes with hoods and had names like "he who flies with the eagles" and "the princess of crystal waters". I had to run around trying to find who they were. The groom had opened toed sandals with blue fingernail and toenail polish. The placement of every single floral item had to match what symbolized east, west, north and south. I ran around Seattle trying to pick up specific bird feathers, hard to find sea moss and rare stones to place them in their arrangements. At one point, as I was decorating the ceremony site, one of the caped attendants screamed at me for stepping on the holy grass. This was in the grassy area of the U of WA urban horticulture center and there were no signs saying what was holy and what was not. There is much, much more to this story, but I’ll save that for another time.

Being a wedding florist is very different that I thought it would be in that your floral skills sometimes come hand in hand with being a therapist. Sometimes the bride, groom and/or family will get so stressed and emotional that they are completely out of character. They are not who I met at our first meeting. One bride asked me to scoop up dog poop that was in the grass. Another bride told me to fix her straps on her shoes when I was 8 & 1/2 months pregnant and couldn’t bend down (she had 30 other people standing around in her getting ready room when she asked me this). I try to remind brides that the most important thing to remember is that they are getting married to the man they love. Everything else may be important, but secondary. Luckily, many brides know this and are able to keep it together and enjoy their big day. I have definitely learned from my experiences in calming others down.

All in all, I wouldn’t trade my job for anything. I used to be a HR director, sit in an office and everyday felt the same. I felt suffocated. I still pay for my Masters of HR degree to this day and do not regret my career change. Now, every day is different, every wedding is exciting and most of all, I care deeply about each job so much that I cannot wait to get my hands on the flowers. I am very blessed to do what I do.

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Christopher Smith of Christopher Flowers

Next up, Christopher Smith of Christopher Flowers:

A bride getting married at the Seattle Asian Art Museum asked me to decorate the two camel statues in front as a bride and groom — veil and flowers for the "girl" and top hat and bow tie for the "boy." It was a fun idea, so I said "sure!" I spent hours and hours searching for a top hat big enough to fit the statue AND that looked like a real, classic top hat. Eventually I realized that I would have to make one. Hours and hours of craft store shopping and building later I had a great-looking, giant-sized top hat. The bride and everyone loved it. Of course, as the ceremony was ending it started to rain and the hat was destroyed. I had barely charged her enough to cover the materials.

One thing that was a surprise when I first started working in flowers was how physically demanding it is. You have to be a great designer, be creative and helpful, but you also have to be strong. Strong hands, arms, legs, and especially a strong back are essential. Lifting heavy urns and buckets, carrying big awkward boxes full of heavy arrangements, cutting thick branches, painting, stretching, not to mention standing for hours on end — just some of the things that make being a florist sometimes really exhausting.

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And now, Patty at Brittany Flowers in Kirkland (not pictured):

Being a floral designer is similar to living life inside a box of crayons. Life used to be simple for us, when the box only had eight colors. There was black, brown, blue, red, purple, orange, yellow and green. When you consider the fact that crayons now have 120 different shades, you can only imagine how complicated it is for the florist. If you think roses are red and violets are blue…your florist knows that it’s not true. In reality violets are actually periwinkle, which is a shade of blue, but violets can also be violet, which is really light purple, then again sometimes they can be purple, which can be lavender. Color interpretation can be a big problem for a florist. We could make it easier and go with a more common color like red…roses which are red like a ruby, or an apple, or like a sunset. In reality, a sunset is more of a combination or red and hot pink, which is called magenta. Then of course there is Cabernet, which looks more like wine, or Merlot, which is slightly more purple… and let’s not forget cranberry. This all came to mind today when a bride & I were discussing the colors for an upcoming wedding. It is always a funny conversation and a whole lot of fun with regards to color and how difficult it can sometimes be to select just the right shade. I always have to remind people that nature makes the color and we can’t always match flowers to one of the 120 shades of crayons. Even though it is so much more complex, life would truly be boring without color.

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Finally, Anne Bradfield of Floressence Design offers her insight:

Anne Bradfield

Flowers may be delicate, but the wrangling of flowers can be a brutal, athletic endeavor. I must have gained about 5 lbs of muscle mass in each arm in the years since I’ve been a florist. And my sense of balance has been seriously tested. I try not to think about the time I was at the top of a 20 ft. ladder at the Court in the Square, attaching a garland to the enormous arch with one hand, while the other white knuckled the top rung. Or about the time I was hanging string lanterns from a very tall tent, while standing on a ladder on top of a tippy table on lumpy grass. While everyone in the wedding party watched from the windows.

One time I had to babysit about 300 stems of stubborn lilies in the bathroom overnight, where every hour I re-warmed the water in their buckets, ever-so-carefully cracked any buds that showed a hint of opening, kept the lamps and space heater glowing, and prayed that they would magically open in time for their debut.

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You still have time to sign up for the wedding site tour through Woodinville’s wine country

and

You can still enter the Jones Soda engagement story contest and score ten cases of personalized soda for your wedding, rehearsal dinner, or next-day brunch.

More floral designers here on the SMBG site

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