The Brides & The B’s: Bouquets & Boutonnières words Helen Freund A couple tying the knot on a cruise ship wedding at sea. Coachella-inspired flower crowns for the entire bridal party. A concrete balcony made to look like a lush, tree- filled orchard. An airplane hangar recast as a reception hall. When it comes to weddings, Rouses Floral Director Susan Sistrunk has seen it all.

floral team went a step further, decorating the entire mule cart with flowers while the bridal party was at lunch, even hand-tying dendrobium orchid stems through the mule’s bridle and around the tin cans dangling from the back of the cart. Often, florists working on an event are tasked with maintaining a certain level of secrecy throughout the process. A couple of years ago, a florist in one of the Houma Rouses stores supplied the flowers for WE tv’s Bridezillas . Because of the closeted, top-secret production schedule most reality television shows adhere to, her mother’s cousin did all of the purchasing discreetly. During the episode — called “Cry Me A River” — the emotional bride, Callie, erupts in waterworks throughout the day, but in the end makes it down the aisle smiling, with her bridesmaids in vivid strapless coral gowns, carrying lush matching bouquets. While the general consensus is that prepping for the big day should begin at least a few months in advance — to ensure that the correct flowers can be brought in on time — the Rouses florists are well- versed in the art of last-minute floral arrangements.And though the department’s focus is on supplying the wedding party with every bloom they desire to the best of their ability, it’s also to counsel, to offer recommendations and suggestions when a particular flower requested might not be the best route — or might not be in season. “One woman came in and wanted all her bridesmaids to carry magnolias — well, magnolias only last a day or so,” Sistrunk said. “It’s not a flower you can cut and put in a bouquet.” Instead, the florists suggested using a fresh magnolia leaf with a silk magnolia flower. “We’re always giving suggestions, because people will see something on Pinterest and ask for that, but they don’t know that it’s not real,” Sistrunk said. “The florists are good at trying to lead them in the right direction.” An always popular bridal wish is for peonies,which are only available at certain times during the year, and which are often flown in from Israel, requiring a long and costly trip. When peonies are available, the florists do everything they can to satisfy that request, but they often suggest garden roses, whose tight, circular blooms and large petals are a welcome — and less expensive — substitute. Sourcing the flowers, as well as the greenery, trees and shrubs, involves a varied approach that utilizes everything from small-scale local vendors to massive greenhouse operations in South America. Flowers arrive on trucks from California and via plane from Bogotá, Colombia, where the booming floral business ensures that plants and flowers are available for export year-round.

With wedding season in full swing, floral departments everywhere are already kicked into high gear, working tirelessly around the clock to source and artfully arrange the best blooms for that special day. Sistrunk oversees the entire floral operation for Rouses Markets, a job that encompasses a wide swath of duties, from purchasing all of the flowers, dealing with a multitude of vendors and juggling last-minute requests to handling extravagant affairs for 400-plus people, decorating intimate receptions and quickly adorning soirées for sweethearts making 11th-hour dashes for the courthouse. “We have people who walk in and say, ‘We’re getting married at City Hall in half an hour — what can you make for us?’” Sistrunk said. “People get married in barns, at City Hall, in churches and reception halls — there’s no right or wrong way anymore.” Though the manner and traditions in which weddings are celebrated vary widely, the incorporation of flowers into the celebration is an enduring theme. Not merely decorative, flowers serve as a symbolic gesture of love and gratitude, with the different types and colors each carrying individual messages. It’s no wonder that peonies are so popular; the flower is said to represent so many wonderful things: love, romance, good fortune and a happy marriage. And flowers aren’t just for highlighting the big day; they also often come into play for events leading up to and even after the main event — like floral arrangements for the engagement parties, the altars, the reception and post-wedding brunches. The bridal entourage uses flowers for the boutonnières, the corsages, the ring bearers, the flower girls — or, in one woman’s case, the flower dog. LSU football fans have requested purple and gold blooms for the bride’s toss bouquet, and hopeful grooms-to-be often want the engagement ring they selected be threaded onto a long-stemmed rose before they pop the question. “We do everything from the bridal shower to the first baby,”Sistrunk said. “We have girls who come into town for their bachelorette party and say they’re going down to Bourbon Street, and ask for something really crazy to wear when they go out as a group.We get some really crazy requests …but we do it!” At a wedding a few years back at St. Louis Cathedral in the French Quarter, the bride and groom asked that their carriage include some of the wedding flowers for the trip to their reception. The



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