Finding flowers for your wedding - how to avoid a DIY disaster

Finding flowers for your wedding – how to avoid a DIY disaster

Even though it is still cold and it was snowing a few days ago, I can hear the birds chirping outside, store windows are touting warm weather frocks, and people are pinning bright springtime pins on Pinterest.

Suddenly I find myself loving peach again and other springtime colors.  And I have flowers on my mind.

Oh flowers.....

If you are planning your wedding, or have planned your wedding, you know how much agony these delicate buds of joy can wreak on you and your wallet (as in $1500-$3000 worth of agony).

When I got married, I planned to DIY all my flowers. Three months before I walked down the aisle, I realized I didn't have enough time to make the arrangements, I would have to store them at my venue the night before, and my venue wouldn't let me store them anyway because they'd have to run the AC all night just for my flowers. My lack of planning ahead resulted 1-2 nights of sobbing, and a lot of stressful days - all at a time when I wanted to stop worrying about stuff and start celebrating!

I am just taking a guess here…but I bet I'm not the first person out there who has stressed out about wedding flowers...and I'm certainly not the last.

So in an effort to help at least one person planning their wedding avoid a few days of freaking out, I’ve compiled a list of things I would’ve done differently if I had the chance… please chime in and leave a comment if you have any suggestions too!

1) I would've figured out how many flowers I need earlier on. Once I had my venue selected and I had a general idea of what kind of decorations I wanted, I should've written out a list of how many flower arrangements I needed (how many boutonnieres, bouquets, centerpieces, etc.). It would’ve been just a ballpark list, but it would've helped me  realize it's too much to do before my wedding and I probably would've looked into hiring a florist earlier on for some or all of my flowers!

2) Since I was planning to DIY my flowers, I should've come up with a plan as early as possible. If you are thinking about DIY-ing any of your wedding flowers – even if its just the bouquets – I urge you to figure out how much time you’ll need and come up with a plan as early as possible! Weddingbee's discussion boards are an excellent resource for advice on where to buy your flowers, success stories, and links to tutorials.

Here are some helpful tips that I remember from my research....

  • Practice in advance
  • Recruit a team of family and friends to help
  • Choose durable flowers
  • Allocate time to prep the flowers for the arrangements
  • Make sure you have a cool, dry place to store your flowers
  • Find someone with a truck or large van to be in charge of transporting the flowers
  • Make sure you have someone who can set up the flowers and deliver boutonnieres and boquets
  • Make sure your venue knows your plans and are ok with them
  • Make sure you have someone who can deliver and set up the arrangements, and your venue knows about your plans

3) Consider flower alternatives. You may realize that DIY-ing  your flowers is not a viable option. The good news is that you don't have to use flowers for everything - in fact, you could get away with not having a single flower in your whole wedding.

If you're on Pinterest, you've probably seen tutorials for how to make flower arrangements out of newspapertissue paper, and other forms of paper.  Recruit your bridesmaids months before your wedding and make centerpieces out of  tissue tassel garlands, or attach some strands of tissue paper and tinsel to sticks and stick them in some old bottles. The possibilities are endless and the best part is, you can do it all in advance.

tissue tassel garland centerpiece - stylemepretty

4) But don't give up on flowers if you really want them! I was lucky and found an amazing florist who was more affordable than going the wholesale flower route, and great to work with. And she grows all her own flowers! (Yes, I know I was really lucky!) But maybe you will be too if you do a little research! I suggest looking on the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers' website for a list of local florists and growers in your area.

Finding flowers for your wedding – how to avoid a DIY disaster

Bridesmaids photo taken by Elizabeth Messina, and featured on Ruffled. Tissue tassel garland centerpiece featured on StyleMePretty and photo taken by The Photography ShoppeFlower arrangements by Kate Sparks of Lilies and Lavender, and photo taken by Lauren Fair Photography.

Finding the perfect(ish) wedding venue part 2: what to ask before you sign the contract

Reading Art Works in Reading PA - photo by Lauren Fair Photography This post is part 2 in a series on finding the perfect(ish) wedding venue - particularly less conventional venues, budget-friendly venues, and DIY-friendly venues. In part 1, I provided some tips for finding venue options.  But what do you do when you have found some options worth checking out?  What questions should you ask before you sign the contract?

To answer these questions, I turned to wedding coordinator extraordinaire, Danielle Pasternak. Danielle was my wedding coordinator, and always had the best she has worked with a lot of DIY brides with all kinds of budgets and venues. In typical Danielle fashion, I asked if she could contribute to this blog post and 12 hours later she got back to me with this.....

When it comes to venue hunting, it can be an incredibly overwhelming process. In fact, most couples compare it to house hunting. Your venue is going to set the tone and environment for your wedding and that is a huge factor.

As an experienced wedding coordinator, my first bit of advice when it comes to choosing your venue is to listen to what your gut/heart is telling you. Similar to when you are looking for that perfect house, dress, recipe, whatever - you’ll just know when you’ve found one that just feels right.

But listening to your gut isn’t always black and white, so it helps to have some solid information to make a good decision for you and your spouse-to-be. Especially before you sign on the dotted line.

no. 01: Guest list. Before searching for any venue, you’ll need to know your approximate guest list count. Asking your venue how many humans it can comfortably hold (note: comfortably, not packed in like sardines) will help determine a good fit. If your guest list is sitting at 200, but the venue only holds 150 max, then either remove some people from your A-List or look for another venue. Now, if your guest list is flexible based on the space, then you can search for your venue first and plan your guest list around it’s capacity.

no. 02: Timing restrictions. One of the things most couples forget is timing. Typically, when you reserve a venue, you are limited to the amount of time your party can be happening. The standard time is 5 hours including cocktail hour. But if you’re looking to also do your ceremony at the venue, that changes things. Ask about how many hours are included, if you can add more and how much it will be to do so.

no. 03: Set-up and teardown. Along with the timeframe of your party, chances are your creative team will be doing some decorating and setting up prior to the guests’ arrival. While some venues allow you to do this in the week leading up to your event, others will only allow a few hours. The same goes for “teardown” or the removal of all of your belongings at the end of the night.

no. 04: Outside vendors. It’s important to ask your venue about using vendors that are not necessarily on their “list” (if they have a recommended vendor list). Some have no problem with it, others will require the vendor show proof of insurance, and others will not allow it. It’s their house and, therefore, their call. This is incredibly important if you have your heart set on a specific caterer, photographer, baker, etc. and they are not included on their list.

no. 05: Noise restrictions. Depending on location and county rulings, your venue may have a time at which all music (loud noise) must cease. If you want your band to play until 1am but there is a noise restriction after 11pm, then that isn’t your best option.

no. 06: Events per weekend/day. To go off of no. 3 with your set-up restrictions, it’s important to ask a venue how many events they typically take on per day or per weekend. If a venue is running multiple events in one day, you may have the feeling of being rushed in and out in order to move to the next event. This is NOT always the case, but it is important to ask ahead of time so you aren’t blindsided when they tell you your vendors can’t set-up until 4pm because of a bridal shower at 12pm.

no. 07: What’s included in the site fee. This seems fairly self-explanatory, but always ask exactly what is and isn’t included in the site fee. This includes tables, chairs, linens, food, alcohol, parking, staff/wait service, coat check, etc. This also includes the ever-important taxes, service fees and gratuities.

no. 08: Alcohol. If you are planning on purchasing and supplying your own alcohol (this does save you money), ask if this is possible and will they have someone serve it. If not, what are you alcohol options? Do you pay for each drink, per person, a flat rate - or is it included in everything?

no. 09: Parking. Depending on your potential venue location, parking may be a good question to ask about. If there is not a parking lot, is there garage parking, street parking, valet parking?

no. 10: Decor. While some venues are a blank canvas, they may have rules when it comes to what you can and can’t do in their space. Most venues won’t mind most decor as long as it’s easily removable. When it comes to hanging items from the ceilings or walls, that is a different story and they typically have some guidelines.

no. 11: Handicap accessibility. If you have any guest who is not good with stairs, be sure to find out if they have other options to make things comfortable for them. The same goes for bathrooms.

no. 12: Getting ready area. If you are having your ceremony on-site as well, ask about private areas where your bridal parties and yourselves can get ready. This can include hair and make-up, getting dressed and/or just hanging out prior to the start of the festivities.

no. 13: Other requests. Prior to your search, sit down with your fiancé and discuss what’s really important to you in a venue. Just because you must have beautiful chandeliers, doesn’t mean your partner feels the same. Know what’s important and what is preferable, but not exactly a deal breaker. Then you can go into a venue knowing confidently what questions to ask and what to expect.

I always say that “it never hurts to ask” and it truly doesn’t. And please, please, please read those contracts before signing them. If there is anything that isn’t clear or different than what you’ve discussed, talk about it. Never rely 100% on any written promise.

So good luck in your venue hunt - and above all else, have fun!

Danielle has a blog that is full of more amazing advice, as well as great ideas and inspiration for weddings.  If you are close to booking a venue, I suggest reading her blog post on signing contracts and advice on negotiating prices with vendors.

If you are looking for a wedding coordinator and live in PA/NJ/DE, you can email her at

PS- if you have any advice about finding a wedding venue, or something you wish you had known or asked before you booked your venue please leave a comment!!!!

Finding the perfect(ish) wedding venue part 1: where to look

Once upon a time, a newly engaged girl named Peg* dreamed of having an intimate, rustic, barn wedding, filled with strands of garlands, twinkle lights, and sparkles - just like all the pretty weddings she had pinned and bookmarked from her most favorite wedding blogs. Then reality set in. Peg realized the venue of her dreams didn't exist - at least not with her budget or guest list! All that remained were rustic barns with very rustic bathrooms, or barns that looked like her high school prom banquet hall...... My dream wedding...until I realized a barn like this equipped with bathrooms, a food prep area, and electricity is hard to come by!

My best friend and bride-to-be recently tweeted, "i realized i like planning other people's weddings better than my own", and I couldn't agree more. When you start planning your own wedding you have to stop dreaming and start thinking about the practical, logistical stuff (boo!). This is especially true when it comes to finding a wedding venue.

I can tell you right now that unless you are super rich, or you are only inviting 20 people to your wedding, the perfect venue doesn't exist. And if you want to have a DIY wedding, or do anything outside of the typical banquet hall-style wedding box, the search is going to be even harder. That doesn't mean you should settle for a barn with porta potties though. You just need to keep an open mind, figure out what you're willing to compromise on, and when you finally find a place, don't be afraid to ask LOTS of questions and get things in writing.

First and foremost, let's talk about where to look. Websites like The Knot, and Wedding Wire have comprehensive lists of venues and reviews. But you'll also find that a lot of the most popular venues listed on these sites are also the most expensive, come with an exclusive caterer, and may even have a host of other pre-packaged offerings that offer little room for you to put your creative stamp on the day. Here are some ways that you can expand your search.....

  • Search wedding blogs. One of the easiest ways to find unique venue options is to visit your favorite wedding blogs and enter your city into the search box. I wanted to get married in or around Philadelphia so I would enter search terms like "Philadelphia", "Bucks County", "Berks County", "Pennsylvania", "Reading", "New Jersey", etc. Weddings that are featured on these blogs have a lot of unique decorations and DIY touches that usually require a lot of setup (and an accommodating venue), and they also feature a lot of venues that are naturally beautiful and unique without much work at all. And if you're getting married in or around NYC, I suggest checking out Brooklyn Bride for venue ideas!
  • Search local wedding photographer's websites. Kill two birds with one stone and look on local wedding photographer's blogs to see where they have photographed weddings. You may even find a photographer too!
  • - Weddingbee has tons of forums on every subject imaginable related to weddings. There's probably an entire discussion on "alternative wedding venues on a budget in (your town)" where fellow brides have listed places you didn't even know held weddings!
  • Offbeat bride - This site has a well-vetted list of unconventional wedding vendors, including venues.
  • - Very useful site to find venues in Philadelphia, Baltimore, South Florida, and Istanbul (I kid you not).
  • Search for unconventional venues. You can find some unconventional options by searching on websites for local parks, The Barn Journal website, which has a list of barns across the country available to rent for weddings, local wineries, libraries, museums, college campuses, and spaces for local societies or clubs (like the German Society of Pennsylvania).
  • Ask a wedding vendor - Some of the most valuable advice about wedding venues you can get is from a wedding vendor - generally if they like working with the venue it's a really good sign. A great way to talk to vendors is by visiting an alternative wedding expo. There are A LOT of new and unique wedding expos popping up all across the country. If you are lucky enough to be in proximity to one, you should definitely go! You'll be able to talk to tons of photographers, planners, florists and caterers, and get their feedback on their favorite wedding venues. Some expos I know of includethe Lovesick Expo, The Cream Event, Borrowed, and The Lab Event.

Anyway, these are just a few ways to help in your search for a unique, perfect(ish) venue. If you have any suggestions not listed here, please share in the comments!

Stay tuned for part 2 of this series, which will focus on considerations and questions to ask when visiting potential venues.

*Name has been changed to protect the innocent.

Photo of barn is from Ruffled and was taken by ASH Imagery.