Planning a wedding? You’ll need flowers, right? Before you scour Pinterest for ideas, then order some exotic blooms shipped from faraway places — maybe roses from Ecuador or orchids from Colombia — why not consider flowers grown closer to home?
Local and seasonal flowers are a top flower trend for 2019, according to weddingwire.com, a nuptial planning website.
And that doesn’t have to mean settling for common garden-variety blooms picked in someone’s backyard. Minnesota flower farmers are growing increasingly varied and distinctive options for bouquets, boutonnieres and centerpieces.
“I make the case for local with every bride, and I include local product in every wedding I do,” said Ashley Fox, Ashley Fox Designs, Woodbury. “As a designer and somebody who cares about the planet, it just feels good to do this.”
There’s a misperception that local means rustic, she said. “We want brides to know that local flowers can look modern and innovative — not just a Mason jar full of daisies. We want to show people these flowers are cool.”
It’s a message that Debra Prinzing, the Seattle-based author and founder of the “slow flowers” movement, has been spreading for more than a decade. Her books, “Slow Flowers” and “The 50-Mile Bouquet,” celebrate small flower farmers who are struggling to compete as big chain stores buy in bulk from growers all over the globe, driving prices down.
Many of the flowers shipped from South America have been sprayed with toxic chemicals, she said, and by the time they arrive in U.S. stores and end up in a vase, they don’t have the longevity of flowers grown locally.
“I met hundreds of flower farmers, and those people inspired me, to see the David and Goliath story of where flowers come from and how they’re grown,” she said.
Two years ago, Prinzing launched the Slow Flower Summit, a conference to help growers and floral designers connect. At the third annual summit, which was held recently in the Twin Cities, designers toured area farms and watched demonstrations at the Twin Cities Flower Exchange (TCFE) in St. Paul.
Founder and owner Christine Hoffman started the exchange three years ago to create a wholesale market for locally grown flowers. The 13 “core growers,” plus some occasional suppliers, pledge to grow their blooms chemical-free, without the use of pesticides.
“It’s better for the people growing the flowers, it’s better for the person designing the flowers, and it’s better for the planet,” Hoffman said. TCFE has 80 registered buyers, about half of whom are wedding designers, she said.
TCFE has streamlined the process of designing with local flowers, Fox said.
“When I started my business, I looked up flower farmers in the area and began to drive to them and pick up flowers. Some days, I’d be driving around for four hours. It was worth it, because of the variety. But with the exchange, I can go to one place 20 minutes from my home.”
Hoffman has a floral design background, “so she knows how we think,” Fox said. For example, flowers are displayed in color-coordinated groupings, for easy shopping by designers who are trying to work within a bride’s chosen palette.
Sustainable and more
Besides supporting area flower farmers, what are the benefits of choosing Minnesota-grown flowers for a wedding?
“You get local product that’s pesticide-free,” said Katie Horvath, owner/designer, Sister Honey Floral Co., Minneapolis. “It’s a lot smaller carbon footprint. And you get better product that’s really fresh and beautiful.”
In Fox’s view, local flowers produce more beautiful and interesting arrangements.
“It’s an artistic preference,” she said. “When you buy local flowers, you get movement and texture.” There’s also more color variation than with hothouse flowers. The gradations allow the design to “move across the table,” she said.
Locally grown blooms also have more staying power than flowers shipped from South America.
“When I get a bucket flown in, I have to hydrate it to plump it up,” Fox said. “With TCFE product, I know immediately that this stuff is going to last. For weddings, that’s what you need to know.”
There isn’t really a cost advantage to using local flowers, Fox said, but there’s less waste. “The money spent is similar, but with shipped flowers, usually a few are bad. With local flowers, there’s barely any waste at all.”
Couples don’t have to sacrifice the look they want when they opt for Minnesota-grown flowers for their wedding, Fox said. “The product is so unusual and beautiful, once people see the possibilities. You have to educate the client.”
She listens for the colors and textures that the client is seeking, then suggests local products that can create that look. “I might say, ‘You love blush roses — you might really love blush lisianthus from a local farmer. It’s just as beautiful, and you can feel good about it.’ They may want blush roses, but as soon as we show them apricot foxglove, they’re insane for it.”
Just about any color palette can be achieved using locally grown flowers, Fox said.
“In the beginning, the farmers weren’t growing a lot of white flowers because they couldn’t sell them at the farmers market. But now that they’re selling directly to designers, we have as much as we need. We ask them to grow something, they grow it next year.” For example, she requested, and got, mauve-hued cosmos, which pair well with the blush-colored blooms now popular for weddings.
The widest selection of local flowers is available from midsummer into fall, designers said. But winter weddings offer some locally grown options.
“In winter, we can force bulbs, use evergreens, alpine things and dried flowers,” Fox said. “Dried flowers are ‘meh’ to most people. But we can use straw flowers and dried things in a very modern way.”
Even in peak summer, sometimes couples can’t get exactly which Minnesota-grown flower they want, when they want it, because of the vagaries of the growing season.
“But that’s the case for flown-in flowers, too,” Horvath noted.
There’s a lot of trust involved, Fox said. “Experimentation can be scary. But artists can come up with something pretty fun.” She encourages her clients to trust her to work with what’s available to create something that matches their aesthetic. “Let me find the great MVP of the week.”
“Slow flowers” founder Prinzing is gratified to see interest in local flowers on the rise. “There’s been a gradual, steady growth in farms investing in growing cut flowers, and in progressive floral designers who are motivated to make connections with farms,” she said. “The message is getting through. The shift is happening.”