23 May 2023

The bridal bouquet

Flowers have been associated with weddings since Classical times. Their symbolism of new beginnings, fertility and optimism, played a major role in the weddings of Ancient Rome, when brides carried or wore flower garlands. In the Middle Ages, strong-smelling herbs such as dill were used to create sweet fragrances and were thought to ward off contagion and evil spirits. The Victorian era was much preoccupied with the language of flowers, and the belief that messages could be transmitted through the choice of a bloom and acknowledgement of what it denoted. As a result, flowers were much valued during courtship, and the choice of flowers for the bridal bouquet was symbolical as well as aesthetic.

Royal brides have carried an array of beautiful bouquets to their weddings, often featuring myrtle, roses, orchids, stephanotis, gardenia and lily of the valley. The emphasis, from Queen Victoria onwards, has been on white flowers – Victoria, who was married in the February, had snowdrops, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, the Queen Mother, carried a bouquet of lily of the valley, Queen Elizabeth II carried a bouquet of home-grown white orchids. Every royal bride since Queen Victoria has included myrtle in her bouquet; myrtle is thought to symbolise love, fertility and innocence, and was used in Greek and Roman wedding rituals.

When Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, the Queen Mother, was married in 1923 she spontaneously laid her bouquet of white roses on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on her way into Westminster Abbey. She was perhaps remembering her own brother, Fergus, who was a casualty of the Great War, and this was the start of a royal tradition that persisted throughout the 20th century.

Choosing a Bouquet

The bouquet completes the bride’s look and should be chosen to complement the wedding dress. As a rule, the more intricate the dress, the simpler the flowers should be, and vice versa. The shape of the bouquet should reflect the style of the dress, as well as complementing the line of the dress. It should be in proportion to the bride’s height and weight. A sleek fitted dress suits a tapering style of bouquet; a larger skirt suits a rounder shape. Tall brides should choose longer bouquets, whereas petite brides may opt for smaller versions. The bouquet should be held at hip-height. Many brides make the mistake of holding it too high, which spoils the line of the dress.

The colour of the bouquet should fit in with the wedding scheme and should coordinate with the bridesmaids’ dresses and the flowers at the ceremony and the reception. The flowers the bride chooses for the bouquet must fit with the general style and setting of the wedding. For example, peonies and English roses can suit the cottage-garden style of the country, whereas lilies, orchids and sculptural tropical stems are more appropriate for a chic and sophisticated city wedding.

It is best to keep flowers simple; some of the most stunning bouquets consist of only one or two types of bloom. Those that include many different types can look messy and lose impact.

The bride may wish to hold just one stem, have a bouquet of only one type of flower, or choose a combination of several types of bloom. Discuss ideas with the florist. Write down any thoughts in advance and take along a swatch of the dress fabric and any magazine cuttings that have inspired and caught the bride’s eye.

She must make sure she likes the scent of the flowers and steer clear of anything too pollen heavy. Bouquets can be made up of flowers alone but will often include a little greenery. A matching single stem can then be used to make buttonholes for the groom, best man, ushers, and fathers.

Ensure that a proper grip can be obtained and that it is comfortable to hold and not too heavy. Most florists wrap the holding place with satin ribbon, but grosgrain is a good alternative, as it is less slippery.

Getting the Timing Right

Timing is important; most florists need to be booked at least six months in advance for summer weddings. The budget should be discussed early on so that the florist is sure that they are recommending flowers within the right price range.

The choice of flowers is entirely personal. The florist will need to consider the rate at which they wilt, the time of year and the chosen theme for the day.

Virtually every flower imaginable can be obtained at any time of year from abroad, so the bride is free to choose whatever she wants. It is recommended, however, that seasonal flowers are chosen as they will be fresher and less expensive.

• Spring

Narcissi, Tulips, Muscari, Cherry Blossom, Lily of the Valley, Cymbidium Orchid, Honeysuckle.

• Summer

Peonies, Hydrangea, Garden Rose, Gardenia, Freesia, Iris, Sweet Pea, Lavender, Cornflower.

• Autumn

Alstromeria, Dahlia, Phalaenopsis Orchid, Antique Rose, Lisianthus, Michaelmas Daisy.

• Winter

Amaryllis, Snowdrop, English Arium, Velvet Rose, Mistletoe, Snowberry, Winter Jasmine.


Many ceremony venues will have restrictions on confetti. Metallic confetti is usually totally banned, and many venues dislike paper as it looks so unsightly afterwards. The dye can also seep into bridal fabrics and skin if it gets wet.

A good alternative is to use real flower petals. There are specialist companies offering petals from all sorts of flowers in different colours. Baby bridesmaids can hand these out in a basket, or small cones of petals can be distributed to guests.

Tossing the Bouquet

The tradition of tossing the bouquet into the crowed evolved in England as a means of safeguarding the bride from rowdy guests. The bride was thought to embody good luck, and female guests tried to tear off pieces of her dress or bouquet as a good luck charm – tossing the bouquet over her shoulder was an effective way of heading off the crowds. It was believed that the single woman who catches it has received some of the bride’s good fortune and will be the next to marry.

If the bride wants to hold on to her bouquet as a keepsake, she can have a spare bouquet made specially to throw, or by removing a few stems to dry. Alternatively, the catcher may be willing to give it back.

The bouquet can be preserved after the wedding by hanging it upside down in a dark place. There are also specialist companies who professionally preserve the bouquet by freeze-drying.


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