30 May 2024

Wedding Flowers

Wedding flowers fall into two categories: the bouquets and buttonholes carried or worn by the wedding party; the flowers used to decorate the church or ceremony venue and the reception venue. In both cases, the choice of flowers will conjure up a certain ambience and aesthetic and you may therefore opt to go for a unified look.

Traditionally, the groom paid for the flowers for the church and the wedding party and the bride’s parents paid for the flowers for the reception venue. The wedding party flowers comprised: a bouquet for the bride; bouquets for the bridesmaids; buttonholes for the groom, best man, fathers and ushers; a corsage for the two mothers.  These days, hard and fast rules of wedding etiquette are being eroded, with couples often paying for their own wedding, so these traditional practices are not inevitably observed, and couples may choose to ring the changes when it comes to the distribution of bouquets and buttonholes.

Whatever is decided, it is worthwhile noting that wedding flowers are a venerable tradition dating back to antiquity. The Greeks and Romans carried fragrant herbs and spices to ward off bad luck and wore garlands of flowers and greenery to symbolise fertility, loyalty and fidelity. In the Middle Ages flower-bedecked weddings were essential because they masked the pungent odours of unwashed bodies and poor sanitation.

The Victorians were fascinated by the language of flowers, which provided an excellent way of conveying emotions at a time when social strictures severely curbed communication. Orange blossom, symbolic of chastity, was the flower of choice for Victorian weddings and Queen Victoria’s wedding headdress was made of real orange blossoms. A myrtle sprig, which came from a bush grown at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight (it was grown from a cutting brought from Coburg by Prince Albert), was included in her wedding bouquet and ever since it has been a Royal tradition to include myrtle in the bouquets of Royal brides.

Bouquets and Buttonhoes

The Bride’s Bouquet

The very best bouquets always complement the wedding dress. In general, the more elaborate the dress the plainer the bouquet should be, and vice versa. The shape of the bouquet should reflect the style of the dress and should be in proportion to the bride’s height and weight – no bride should be swamped by an overwhelming ‘statement’ bouquet. You can choose between traditional bouquet styles: the pageant (or presentation) arrangement is long-stemmed and fits in the crook or your arm – this can give a dramatic effect but will certainly restrict your movements; smaller bouquets, or nosegays, are held in both hands. It is perfectly acceptable to hold a single stem.

The flowers you choose for your bouquet should suit the general style and setting of the wedding. For example, peonies and English roses can suit the country, whereas lilies, orchids and sculptural tropical stems are more suitable for a chic city wedding. Make sure you do not find the scent of the flowers too cloying, and steer clear of anything that is too pollen heavy, which might stain clothing.

When selecting the flowers for the bouquet, keep it simple: some of the most stunning bouquets consist of only one or two types of bloom. If possible, choose flowers that are in season, which will be fresher and less expensive:


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


Peonies, Hydrangeas, Garden Rose, Gardenia, Freesia, iris, Sweet Pea, Lavender, Cornflower


Alstroemeria, Dahlia, Phalaenopsis Orchid, Antique Rose, Lisianthus, Michaelmas Daisy


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

The bouquet should be held at hip height and ensure that you can get a proper grip and that 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.

Traditionally the bride tosses her bouquet into the crowd after the wedding; the single woman who catches it is believed to be blessed with good luck and will be the next to marry. This custom is thought to date to the Middle Ages when it was devised as an escape strategy to stop eager spinsters touching the bride or attempting to tear off fragments of her wedding dress in the belief that they would attract good luck and a wedding proposal.

If you want to hold on to your bouquet as a keepsake, you can have a spare bouquet made especially to throw or remove a few stems to dry.

Bridesmaids’ Bouquets

Bouquets should be understated and simple, perhaps hand-tied singles or small bouquets. A basic version of the bride’s bouquet is a safe option, or the bouquet can coordinate with the bridesmaid’s dresses and the bride’s bouquet.

It is sometimes hard to get baby bridesmaids to carry flowers. So a pomander with a ribbon around it, attached to the wrist, is a safe choice for girls. Alternatively, they may enjoy carrying a small basket containing flowers or petals that reflect the bride’s bouquet.


This is a single stem flower set off by foliage, worn over the buttonhole of the coat/jacket, which should match the colour scheme of the wedding flowers. Often the groom’s matches the bride’s flowers and is more elaborate (with more greenery) than the rest of the party’s. The best man’s, ushers’ and fathers’ buttonholes reflect the bridesmaids’ bouquets. A boutonnière fixing under the lapel holds the stalk in place and keeps the buttonhole upright.

Buttonholes are worn on the left-hand side of the jacket, over the heart.


These are small sprays of flowers (two or more blooms) and foliage for the bride’s and groom’s mothers, which re worn on the right-hand side of the coat or jacket, or alternatively as a ‘bracelet’ around the wrist.

Flowers for Decoration

Flowers for the Ceremony Venue

Many couples will dream of decking out the venue with flowers, but the reality is that ­– especially in the case of civil venues – other weddings may be taking place on the same day, so a compromise must be reached. In the case of church weddings, it is wise to contact the day-to-day flower arrangers, who may be willing to help or offer advice about the most suitable places to position floral decorations. If you are given a free hand, you can opt for end-of-pew decorations as well as statement bouquets.

Flowers for the Reception

Firstly, you must check if flowers are included as part of the service; if this is the case, you will need to ensure that you have input and check that the flowers chosen coordinate with the theme and style of the wedding day.

If you are using your own florist, you will need to put them in contact with the management of the venue so that they can check when they can gain access to set up their arrangements. There are no hard and fast rules about reception flowers: in general, the more elaborate flowers are placed on the ‘top table’ (where the bride and groom sit), with smaller versions on the guests’ tables. Be wary of extravagantly large table arrangements – they will be dramatic and striking but they may make it difficult to converse across the tables or even to see the bride and groom.

Reception venues can be very large and decorating them is a daunting, and expensive, task. Going for seasonal flowers – as with the bouquets – is always likely to be a cheaper option. Or you could consider using flowering plants or shrubs in ornamental pots, which are much more substantial than bouquets, and can be re-purposed, or gifted, after the wedding.

Florists play an important role in your wedding planning, so make sure to select one well before the wedding day, as they are likely to be booked months in advance. The actual choice of flowers can be left until one or two months before the wedding and should only be made once the colour ‘themes’ of the wedding have been chosen.

Click here for Debrett's Wedding Handbook


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