An ever-so-common request from couples to floral designers is the incorporation of greenery in their wedding designs. Most of us are sharp enough to realize that typically, this request means that a natural, organic style is preferred, with a nice balance of flowers to their life-giving leafy counterpart.
Oft-utilized foliage in floral designs are typically those of Mediterranean or warmer, dryer climates. Foliage such as ruscus, eucalyptus, salal, and pittosporum come to mind. Due to their relatively punishing conditions, these plants develop thick, leathery leaves with a waxy coating to prevent desiccation in an environment with minimal water availability. These characteristics also make these ingredients quite handy in the floral trade - they can be shipped easily, last long out-of-water, and keep their character in a vase for ten days or more.
The downside of these ingredients, is that they tend to have a more ‘plastic’ look about them, and to the eye of this gardener/botanist, it doesn’t always feel quite right to incorporate foliage from thousands of miles away with our local, beautiful floral offerings. Coupled with the fact that our wedding designs need only to display for a single, albeit incredibly important day, I wanted to take some time to share the intriguing, fragrant, and unique foliage that we turn towards, season after season.
As Frost wrote of springtime, ‘Her early leaf’s a flower’ , and this time couldn’t possibly be more magical for a discerning couple. From April to early June, a rotating abundance of blossom is at our disposal. Beginning with the Redbuds (Cersis canadensis), Apples, Pears, Magnolia, Forsythia, followed closely by our native and Korean dogwoods (Cornus) and a personal favorite of mine, Mock Orange (Philadelphus). Nothing quite compares to the magic of a bouquet filled with boisterous spring flowers accented by delicate and intriguing flowering branches.
The backbone of all of our bouquets and table arrangements are dictated by a nice woody stem, and I am always seeking out leaf shapes that jive well in our arrangements. Becoming friends with the proud owner of a wooded lot, or planting some of these lovely trees yourself will lead you towards immediate and not-so-immediate results, respectively.
I frequently turn to the dark foliage of apple trees, or the dusty green Russian Olive, the small and easy-to-incorporate leaves of river birch, linden, and pear. In autumn, I love to anchor my installations with large branches of turning maple, oak, and sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua - so fun to say), and occasionally the leaves at the tips of these branches are small and sensible for bouquet and centerpiece work.
Nothing quite enhances a bouquet like sprigs of fresh and fragrant foliage. We grow many different types on the farm, and rarely does a bridal bouquet or boutonniere leave the studio without a little kick of somethin’ special in this category.
Basil is one of the most versatile and easy to grow annual cut foliage you can find. I’ve tested many varieties myself and have a fondness for most all that I come across, but some of my favorites include the dark and sexy ‘Aromatto’, medicinal and lovely holy basil, tall and spicy ‘Cinnamon’ basil, and light and dainty, ‘Mrs. Burns Lemon’ basil. I also have an affinity for the large, dark flower heads of ‘Thai Siam Queen’. There is surely a basil to fit most any floral palette.
Scented geranium is another must-mention. The extravagant fragrance of Rose geranium, coupled with its interesting leaf shape make it a beautiful, elevated addition. I also am fond of the tiny, dusty blue leaves of ‘Cody’s Nutmeg’ - a variety I discovered at one of my favorite, under-the-radar local greenhouses.
With dusty blue continuing to be a trend, and blue flowers being the most elusive, I feel ever so thankful for my large bed of short-toothed mountain mint. An excellent, local alternative to eucalyptus, this beautiful foliage holds in the garden from mid July up to frost, allowing us to cut from its bounty all summer long. Bright green and cheerful Apple mint is also a worthy addition, I love it’s balance in a colorful, market-style summer arrangement.
A holdover from my short-lived pursuit growing food crops is cilantro flowers and seed heads. Come late spring, when this cool-weather loving herb has had enough of the heat, it sends up its stems and blossoms out beautiful, delicate white flowers with a slightly sweet and mostly herbal fragrance. I plant a giant crop in the early spring, frequently cutting bunches for the kitchen in May, and come June the flowers all get hauled by the bucket into the studio. Frequently, the flowers fade before we can possibly use them all in arrangements, but its no bother, as the seed heads (which bear the spice we know as coriander) are also equally as interesting and delicate in flower arrangements.
A must have for that twirly, draping character, vines can lend so much to a design, much like their ability to give a garden an old, lived in quality. My favorite annual vines we grow are most assuredly love-in-a-puff, sweet pea vines, and tomato vines.
Sweet peas are frequently lauded for their lovely fragrance and old-fashioned feel, and I truly get a kick out of them every year during their short spring season. It’s also quite worth it to grow some of the more basic, white varieties (cheaper seed!) for harvesting the light, dusty green vines to add to bouquets and centerpieces.
Love-in-a-puff, with its lacy, delicate leaves, and charming seed pods can be used in so many creative ways. Its lime green color looks great set against a summery palette of pinks, peaches, and soft purple.
Tomatoes knock it out of the park with their shiny fruits and fragrant, herbal foliage. I’ve tried a few varieties, but my favorite for floral design that warrant them a sizable spot each year in the garden have to be the red and white currant, with their long, rambling habit and small clusters of fruit, and indigo rose, with a deep, purpley black set against a dark leaf.
I add to my clematis collection each year, but if I had to pick only a few, I would certainly choose to keep the beautiful, nearly blue ‘Betty Corning’ and the common, yet easy to grow and abundant ‘Sweet Autumn’. Flowering vines like these rank highly in the most-coveted category in my heart, right up there with the blossoming branches.
Rest assured, we will continue to seek out and grow gorgeous foliage to compliment the local blooms that make their way into the studio week after week to satisfy our couples’ interest in the unusual and remarkable.