Lifting the Veil on the Floral Industry

The heart, art, and hard work behind wedding flowers.

One day last spring, I found myself sitting in a studio on the first floor of the Cork Factory building. I was nervous. Loosely strung bistro lights cast a soft glow about the space, and a menagerie of lanterns, votives, and urns lined the walls. There was painted brick, concrete floors, and tall windows. It was utopian and utilitarian all at once, and I liked it. 

Before me sat Mary Ellen LaFreniere, the founder of Steelcut Flower Co. I had responded to an Instagram post of hers looking for a studio assistant, and after a few email interactions and a phone interview, she offered me the job and asked if I’d like to see the studio before I accepted. I was taking a gamble, leaving a full-time job that paid my bills to work a part-time job that engaged my creativity. My new duties included processing flowers, washing out buckets, cleaning candle holders and vases, pre-wedding prep, and weekend set-up and tear down. There would also be the chance to design my own florals as my skills increased. Something about the way Mary Ellen put words to what motivated her business shed light on an inclination toward floral design that had been hidden in my heart since I was a teen. I decided it was worth the risk and accepted the job.

Before moving to Baltimore from the Midwest, I had done a few DIY weddings for friends. In other words, I was well-versed in optimistically combing through Pinterest, fawning over lush bouquets with captivatingly full blooms that seemed to dance and sing before my eyes—only to end up with bouquets that were pretty, but lacked the voice, movement, and personality that I saw online.

My first day on the job I attended a workshop Mary Ellen guest taught for aspiring floral designers. I heard familiar words from my college art classes: form, nuance, color palette, negative space. A thrilling new world opened up to me as I realized those Pinterest-worthy bouquets I’d always admired weren’t happy accidents, but rather the result of carefully cultivated skills.

Since then, I’ve spent countless time in that little studio cleaning wax from candle holders, stripping thorns from roses, and ensuring flowers receive proper care until they make their wedding debuts. I moved from studio assistant to designer and now spend hours crafting bouquets and centerpieces. I pass the weekends adding flowers and foliage to arches, mantels, fireplaces, chairs, and tables, perfectly placing them to look as if they were always there, living and persisting in peculiar places. My feet and shoulders yell, and my sleep schedule suffers, especially after wedding clean-ups and late-night U-Haul returns, but I’m incredibly satisfied.

Most of us don’t know much about flowers, but we do have a field in which we’re well-versed. I used to manage a hair salon, and anyone who has found a good stylist knows they’re worth their weight in gold. You most likely chose them because of their skill set, experience, price point, and even their personality. It’s about finding somebody that you share a common language with, somebody who gets your vision and will bring it to reality.

Like the services offered by stylists, most floral designers have a minimum cost when it comes to weddings, and you can expect the cost to reflect more than just the literal price of the arrangements you order. In reality, a small percentage of a florist’s time is spent designing, and the bulk is spent consulting with clients, exchanging emails and phone calls, planning, sourcing the flowers, hydrating and cooling the flowers once they arrive, prepping vases, loading vans, climbing ladders, cleaning up after the last dance, then responsibly disposing of all the flowers, and (did I mention?) scraping wax from the insides of candle holders. As I now know from experience, this work usually involves a team of people, and labor doesn’t come free.

Designers spend years honing their skills. They practice at home, apprentice with a mentor, work toward certifications, and attend workshops. As you search for the florist to meet your needs, do your research. Amy Epstein of Crimson & Clover Designs offers some helpful suggestions: “Look at the comprehensive scope of your florist. What’s their reputation like? What’s their portfolio? Less experienced florists usually cost less. With more experienced florists, you will most likely find higher cost. Maybe they have a team of people working for them, which means they can execute higher-level events.”

As someone who has done my share of free, amateur floral work and has now entered the professional floral industry, I can tell you that many “money-saving tips” offered on blogs and Pinterest (for example, garlands instead of centerpieces) still take hands and labor to accomplish. Some florists are willing to work at price points below their minimum if you shop from an a la carte menu or pick up the flowers from their studio and do the schlepping yourself. However, if you want a full-service floral design team so you and your family and friends can be hands-off and enjoy the day, you must be willing to pay for what they’re worth.

This city has shaped my path as a floral designer. I garner inspiration from the beauty and potential that exists in greens growing from cracked sidewalks and rough exteriors, not to mention the countless wedding venues (the historic, the humble, the stately). I’m moved by the vibrant community of creatives and vendors in the Baltimore wedding industry and grateful to have begun my journey here.

All dos and don’ts, tips, and personal anecdotes aside, I want to remind you to consider the business owners and teams behind any wedding services you seek. They’ve likely said, “I do” to their own hopes and dreams. They’ve failed and had the courage to try again, they’ve sacrificed much and pressed forward with resilience. They deserve to be respected and compensated for the amount of work they put into what they do, and they’ve got the heart to help you make your day exactly what you’ve dreamed of. To all of the brave brides and floral designers out there bringing dreams to life—may you find your way to each other in perfect time.

The Dos & Don’ts

I compiled a list of dos and don’ts for choosing a wedding florist based on interviews with several florists, including Washday Floral, Victoria Clausen Floral Events, Crimson & Clover Floral Designs, and Thurman & Fig.

• Your research. All experience levels of floral designers are worth supporting. Find one that best suits your style and your budget.

• Bring inspiration you’ve found on Pinterest, Instagram, etc., and use those images to have conversations about what you do and don’t like.

• Ask questions about what is included in prices. Good floral designers have no problem explaining these details to you.

• Be flexible! Designers are highly creative and experienced in their industry. Trust them with suggestions on table décor and vessels to complement your day perfectly.

• Expect a designer with invaluable experience to undercut themselves to meet your budget—it’s not personal, and usually they’re happy to recommend someone more budget-appropriate as long as you’re transparent with them.

• Be surprised if a designer points out something unrealistic about your inspiration photos. They are just being as honest as possible about what product and outcome is possible for you.

• Expect to DIY some portion of the flowers to save cost but hire them for
the “big stuff.” If there’s not enough work to pay the team for the week leading up to the wedding, they
normally can’t sacrifice staff on the
day of the wedding either.

• Purchase anything before speaking with your florist. One designer had a client buy vessels that weren’t capable of holding water—oops.

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