When it comes to wedding flower DIY projects, there’s always a gradation – some people make their own vases but hire a floral designer, some buy flowers and arrange their own bouquets, and then there are those that decide to grow the flowers themselves. As a floral designer and gardener, I long ago bought into the hype of growing your own flowers. I get beautiful flowers, picked at the ideal stage, grown chemical free, and, with some advance planning, can have my choice of flowers far beyond that of the wholesale flower market. My clients appreciate that locally grown flowers can speak to a commitment to, or importance of, a place and a season. More importantly, garden flowers make beautiful memories. Forever after, the scent of sweet peas or a bright zinnia will transport you and your guests back to the joy and love they experienced at your wedding.
But let me be clear – growing your own wedding flowers is not for the anxious or faint of heart couple. It requires advance planning and some gardening know-how. It also requires some good weather, and a workable back-up plan.
In Edmonton, the most critical determinant of whether or not you can, or should, grow your own wedding flowers, is your wedding date. Obviously, if you’re getting married any time between mid-September to late April, growing your own flowers will be next to impossible unless you are good at forcing bulbs and/or have a greenhouse. In May, you will likely be able to grow spring bulbs and combine them with spring foliage and flowering branches (more on this in a later post), but June is a rather limited month unless we have a late spring or you have been cultivating dozens of peony plants for 3+ years. July, August and early September, however, hold potential for those wanting to add a wilder element to their wedding (in both planning and execution!).
Mid- to late summer in Edmonton is good for flower growers because this is when annuals with abundant blooms really come into their own. All of the varieties I’ve listed below are easy annuals to grow from seed and outsized producers. You’ll be shocked by the amount of flowers a seed packet can produce.
For example, cornflowers, cosmos, and sweet peas, can all be sown early indoors or directly outside, and reliably produce dozens of stems from June through to heavy frost, as long as someone waters and deadheads them. Some of my favourite varieties are Centaurea ‘Blue Boy’ and ‘Classic Artistic’; Cosmos ‘Double Click’, ‘Psyche White’ and ‘Cosimo Collarette’; and for sweet peas… well you can’t really go wrong with any of them, but start with some of the heat-tolerant modern grandifloras from online seed retailer, Renee’s Garden.
For a bigger punch, zinnias and sunflowers are beautiful in August and into September. There are so many varieties of each to try that I encourage you to go explore seed catalogues (just check each variety’s height and flower size– for example, there are many short zinnias or huge sunflowers that are unsuitable for cutting). If I had to pick, I would choose ‘Persian Carpet’ and ‘Queen Red Lime’ zinnias, although all of the Benary’s Giant series are great too (and as giant as advertised). Truthfully, I haven’t grown sunflowers for cutting in many years since I don’t find them easy to maneuver into complex bouquets or arrangements. But if you are using them as your primary flower then go ahead and plant as many as possible! Seed companies like Johnny’s Selected Seeds are particularly helpful in providing an average time to bloom, which can help with your planning.
It’s also essential to grow foliage and textural elements for bouquets and arrangements. My favourites for summer are basil and mint, grasses like Panicum ‘Frosted Explosion’, Amaranth ‘Opopeo’, Scabiosa ‘Black Knight’ and the seed pods of nigella and poppies. For a rustic wedding, you might consider growing wheat, millet and Queen Anne’s Lace (or it’s dark purple cousin Daucus ‘Black Knight’). I also love cutting sweet pea vines (instead of just the flower stem) for arrangements.
In general, to successfully grow flowers for cutting, you’ll need to make sure they’re well fed and watered. I plant in soil enriched with compost every year, but if your soil is average, then you may want to add compost or fertilize a few times. More critically, I water several times a week. While most of these plants will tolerate some dryness, they’re more productive when their water needs are regularly met.
My final advice would be to begin planning early. Buy seeds in the winter or early spring and lay out a planting schedule – then stick to it (weather permitting)! A week or two delay in planting can make a big difference in whether or not you have flowers to pick. If you can, start some seeds indoors so that you can plant them out as soon as the last risk of frost has passed (usually end of May/early June).
As with all gardening, the key is to try! Research and following seed packet instructions are unquestionably helpful, but they can’t replace becoming familiar with your own growing conditions and the plants themselves. If you’re not as comfortable with gardening, then I encourage you to try growing only a portion of your flowers – then if they don’t bloom on schedule you have a back up, and if they do bloom, you or your floral designer can add them into your bouquet or arrangements for a special touch. For one of my weddings this summer, the bride grew wheat herself that I used in the bouquets and boutonnieres – a sweet touch referencing their farming background in central Alberta.
I wish everyone who is growing their own wedding flowers in Edmonton the best of luck! It is not always easy, but the results are unique and beautiful!