Wedding: Wild at Heart

There’s so much more than flowers to bring the beauty of nature to your wedding day

Like many brides-to-be, I found the inspiration for my wedding florals in a magazine. But it wasn’t a bridal magazine; it was an issue of House & Garden. And the arrangements weren’t lush, bloom-packed bouquets; they were thoughtful, organic displays that resembled living sculpture.

Like many brides-to-be, I found the inspiration for my wedding florals in a magazine. But it wasn’t a bridal magazine; it was an issue of House & Garden. And the arrangements weren’t lush, bloom-packed bouquets; they were thoughtful, organic displays that resembled living sculpture.

[sidebar]Turns out I’m not alone. More brides are venturing outside the florist’s box of long-stemmed roses when choosing their wedding flowers. Some incorporate other elements of nature — seedpods, moss, berries, feathers — into bouquets and centerpieces for added texture; others do away with blossoms entirely and opt for bare-branches arrangements that are striking in their simplicity. “It’s not really just about flowers anymore,” says Brian Kappra, owner of Evantine Design in Philadelphia. “People who are attuned to the subtleties of nonfloral material appreciate the sparseness and beauty of it, the curve of a branch or the pattern of the bark.”

Anyone can play off the trend. Add a twist to traditional flowers, or replace them. Make it rustic or modern. With Mother Nature as your florist, it’s hard to go wrong.

Branching Out

BRANCHES ARE FAR AND AWAY A BRIDAL (and florist) favorite — I’ve had a love affair with flowering cherry and dogwoods in tall glass cylinders for as long as I can remember. But that was before I signed on to be a November bride. Fall and winter weddings are a great reason to look beyond blossoms, and you might be surprised at the number of options.

“Exotic branches tend to come out in cool months,” says Chai Kanchanahoti, owner of Fleur in Center City, winner of last year’s Best of Philly florist award. He gets most of his inventory locally, and stocks 10-15 varieties, including birch, French pussy willow and other dark woods, from fall until the end of spring. “Branches add height without seeming too crowded,” he says, which can help arrangements look really open and elegant when it comes to a high-ceilinged space such as a large ballroom. For an evening wedding at Ballroom at the Ben in Philadelphia, he grouped birch branches in the center of tables and hung candles from them. “It looked wonderful,” he says. If you’re still pining for flowering branches, Kanchanahoti also has wired individual orchids to branches for what he calls a “modern, Asian look,” and once even wove branches into a nestlike cage to hold floral arrangements inside.

Leafy branches have a place at the table too, says Jamie Rothstein, owner and president of a floral design company of the same name in Philadelphia. “In fall, we have gorgeous chestnut leaves,” she says. “They are this brilliant green leaf the shape of an oak leaf, but the back is silver. We use them in the beginning of October. Oak leaves are very tall and are nice and can rest on their laurels, too.” She has used 6-foot tall bundles of oak leaves in simple glass vases for a contemporary look. “Set on a table, you have this gorgeous umbrella of leaves,” she says. “It’s very eye-catching in a room. I love the drama. It looks like you took a tree and put it inside a ballroom.”

Bare branches — birch is most popular — are a hit in winter, although Rothstein occasionally combines them with a striking bloom, such as curly willow and French tulip (“a normal tulip on steroids,” she says). She also has used tall, heavier evergreens like pine and Fraser fir, and sometimes throws in ilex berry branches for the pop of red. “Branches are a good choice to decorate a chuppah,” she says. “They look spectacular as a ceremonial canopy, and I’ll usually hang candles from it, too.”

Fruitful Ideas

KAPPRA USES ALL KINDS OF FRUIT ON THE branch: oranges, lemons, apricot, figs. “We use blueberry on the branch all the time,” he says. “We start with it when it’s in its blooming phase and throughout July with fruit on it, and into the fall when it just has foliage.” He’s also worked with more exotic varieties including rose hips, chinaberry and manzanita, a branch that he describes as looking “like it’s been air-dried.” “We actually did those once mounted on a plank of wood and displayed it horizontally on a table with candles around it,” he says.

Many florists sing the praises of pepperberry. The fruit, which resembles miniature champagne grapes, is tiny — the size of a peppercorn — but grows in pretty pink-burgundy clusters about 3-7 inches long. “If you want something that cascades nice and soft, you use pepperberry,” says Kappra. “If you want something more upright, you’ll use rose hips.” Foliage is as popular off the branch as on. Among Kappra’s more unusual requests are artichokes on stems and one wedding where the bride wanted succulents. “We used them along with a little bit of foliage for the bridesmaids, and then had a little bit of floral material for the bride,” he says. On the reception tables were low, square glass containers filled with moss, water and floating succulents and candles.

“I’ve seen whole bouquets of berries,” says Sherri Williams, founder and president of Williams-Sossen Events, which has offices in Philadelphia and New York. “You can use berries [the way you use] baby’s breath, as a filler.”

Because they come in many colors — brown, pink, yellow, green — hypericum berries mix well with a number of flowers, making them a good choice for maids’ bouquets. “You can actually mix berries with very common flowers like roses and orchids,” says Rothstein. She’s also a fan of seedpods, especially green lotus pods, which she says can look “really cool in a bouquet.” Williams has seen some creative uses for moss, too, which has advanced in the floral food chain from a common base for arrangements to the arrangement itself. “I just did a hanging piece at a wedding that was all balls of moss and a dried herb hanging from it,” she says. “It had no florals in it, but it was very stark, very modern, very creative.”

Greens also include grasses, from tropical varieties in summer arrangements to rustic wheat and rye. “Grasses are versatile,” says Rothstein. “You can braid them or bend them into shapes. Equisetum, also called horsetail, is a grass that looks like green bamboo, but you can bend it, pin it, make mats out of it, line glass containers with it. Wheat is wonderful to use in the fall, and rye. They have great textures.”

Flora and Fauna

places to go out on a limb — berries and other fruit tend to stain, and what little girl dreams of tossing a bundle of sticks at her wedding? — they are the perfect place to go a little wild … literally.

“I see feathers being used a lot because they’re just so lush and beautiful,” says Williams. “You can incorporate them into the arrangement of, say, all ivory roses, but I’ve also seen them at the base of the bouquet as the actual holder of the flowers. That’s just a beautiful, exotic look.” Different fowl can give you different looks, from a short, tight cuff of dyed pheasant feathers (Rothstein once deconstructed a feather boa to get this look) to drama-laden ostrich- or peacock-feather centerpieces.

“It would be great to wrap the stems of a bouquet with faux fur,” says Katharine Patty, owner and creative director of TableArt in Ardmore. “It would feel so good to carry.” For one winter wedding, she threw white fur rugs over buffet tables instead of linens and sprinkled around votive candles and groups of tall, white birch branches. Another experiment she’s itching to try is leopard — not the real thing, of course; she imagines a leopard-print ribbon wrapped around bouquets of orchids, or pheasant feathers held by girls in chocolate-brown dresses. And for the bride, a more subtle wrap of leather or suede.

Unlike plants of any kind, however, animal accents are best kept to a dull roar — in other words, use them sparingly. Kappra has done a few fur bouquet handles or collars, even some napkin rings, as well as tight designs of white feathers and pearls to surround candles. “It’s good as a subtle little touch people will pick up,” he says. Which is just the way nature intended it.