This was a question one of my friends asked me when I became a florist. It is quite a long answer and I thought it would give you a behind the scenes view into how those perfect wedding flowers are created. So here goes!
What is conditioning?
Getting wedding flowers to open just the right amount is a skilled process, but it is one of those hidden things that nobody ever really sees. The word florists use for looking after the flowers is ‘conditioning’ and no we are not giving them a shampoo, condition and mini massage (although hold that thought on the massage…).
Conditioning is all about keeping flowers looking their best for the longest time. This is a battle against bacteria, heat, light and time and many flowers have their own unique requirements.
Let’s look at the process for some very special fair-trade garden roses. These beauties are from the lovely people at The Real Flower Co These are packaged extra securely when they arrive with me to make sure that they are not damaged.
Not what you expect
As you can see this doesn’t look a lot like what you get in a gorgeous bunch of flowers and certainly not what your wedding flowers should look like. There is a lot of work to do. Firstly, I need to remove the lower leaves so that they do not sit in the water and go slimy – this encourages bacteria and bacteria are the enemy of cut flowers! The next step is to cut the stems at an angle. This gives a greater surface area for the stem to soak up the water. Once in buckets of water that are not too cold or too warm these roses need to sit in their paper collars for a few hours before anything else happens. This lets them start to rehydrate after their journey out of water. It is also a good time for me to rehydrate and I go for a cup of tea!
Release the roses!
When the roses are a little more hydrated it is time to free the flowers from their cardboard collars so they can start to open. Around this point is where different florists have different processes. Typically, now would be the time to remove the rest of the leaves and the thorns. However, these are garden roses and they are a bit ‘special’, needing more time to look their best after a journey so keeping a few leaves on helps with rehydration and leaving the thorns on means there are no open wounds on the stem where bacteria could get in (sneaky blighters). Oh, and once you have taken them out of the water the stems need re-cutting before they go back in as rose stems ‘seal’ over very quickly, stopping them from drinking up more precious water. It seems really ridiculous doesn’t it!
It may sound a little weird but picking some of the petals off the roses is an important step. With garden roses it is a good idea to do this early on. With standard roses it would generally be done just before they are arranged. All roses are delivered with their ‘guard petals’ on. These are really what they say on the tin – the outside petals that have protected the bud as it was growing. This means they are often a funny colour and quite damaged. These and any other damaged petals can be removed to make them look wedding flower perfect. Taking off these outer petals also helps the flowers open more quickly – a bit like changing out of your skinny jeans and into pyjamas after a takeaway!
Are we nearly there yet?
This is the bit where the experience really kicks in. The roses now need to be left to open in a cool room away from direct sunlight. How long they need to be left is completely up to how open they need to be on the wedding day, how warm it is in the room and whether you have used any flower food. Typically, garden roses need a couple of days to start looking themselves and may take four days to open to full gorgeousness. Then, a bit like trying to ripen a pear at home, by day five they they are just perfect and by day six they might be too open and even if you just casually glance in their direction the petals will fall off all over the floor. Getting it just right is tricky and one of the reasons why wedding flowers cost more than a bouquet you just pick up on the way home.
Finally, arrange the flowers
Most wedding flowers are arranged at least a day before the wedding as there is so much to do. This means the roses have to be arranged before they are looking their best and properly open. Again, this is all about experience and giving the roses enough space in the arrangement to be open properly the next day without being too crowded. Oh, and if you haven’t removed the thorns yet, now is the time. Each thorn individually, without damaging the stem (or yourself). If anyone fancies doing just this job for me, please let me know. I think it might rank as one of my least favourite jobs along with scrubbing buckets.
And the massage thing?
I mentioned that conditioning didn’t mean giving the flowers a nice shampoo however a lot of flowers – like these garden roses – have special needs. Peonies are one of those flowers and sometimes they do need a little massage to open! The flowers can have a lot of sticky sap holding the petals together so to get them to open quicker one tip is to wash the flower in warm water – dissolving the sap. Then gently squeeze the flower to free the petals from where they have been stuck and put in a nice warm place in some lovely warm water. If you want to know the more extreme methods florists go through to make the peonies open just drop me a message!