Whether designing with flowers for a huge formal event or a small casual affair, the trend is toward a more wild and natural look, according to floral designer Ariella Chezar of the FlowerSchool in New York.
That can include blooms, branches, fruit and foraged materials, like rosemary and jasmine, she said. And the best place to start is with your local flower farmer or farmer's market.
"It's important to consider the setting before deciding on the arrangement. Mason jars are great, but they wouldn't work at the Waldorf," said Chezar, who has designed floral arrangements for hundreds of weddings as well as for the White House. She is co-author with Julie Michaels of the new "The Flower Workshop" (Ten Speed Press, March 2016), which has tips on everything from textures and colors to foliage and containers. It includes step-by-step instructions for more than 45 floral projects.
Another important factor in selecting flowers and arrangements is which colors suit the bride, Chezar said in an interview from her home in upstate New York.
"It seems like 90 percent of the blonde brides choose pastels and 90 percent of brunettes opt for jewel tones, since people tend to be drawn to the colors they look best in," Chezar said.
But the most crucial element is finding out what flowers are in season in the vicinity of the wedding, said Chezar, who is also a flower grower.
"About 80 percent of the flowers used in the U.S. come from abroad, and there's a real interest now in using locally grown flowers," she said.
"Just as there is a 'slow food' movement, there is also a 'slow flowers' movement," she explained, and local or foraged varieties are "very much the look du jour pretty much anywhere you go."
Slowflowers.com is a directory of over 700 flower growers in every state except North Dakota, she said.
Debra Prinzing of Seattle, who launched the site two years ago, said: "Farmers who sell to the public are an incredibly useful resource for brides, a real repository of knowledge. And the ethos of local, or at least U.S. sourcing is something brides really want these days."
Farmers know what's in season, and having a story behind the flowers at your wedding — a sort of provenance — adds to the event, said Prinzing, who adds stationery tags to centerpieces for local weddings telling where the flowers were grown and what variety they are.
"It's a cultural pivot toward local sourcing for all things. And in terms of the aesthetic, it's a mindset of looking for all things seasonal and natural," she said.
Chezar says that look can be attained through a generous use of foliage, branches and vines, as opposed to "just stuffing the flowers together tightly. People don't necessarily think about the foliage, but it's what breaks up and highlights the flowers and gives them a more natural look."
Containers are also important.
"The idea is to let things extend beyond the edge of a vase, to give a sense of movement and direction. Cylindrical vases are the least friendly to this because they are too vertical. Urns or bowls or anything that allows flowers to extend outward is much more wonderful to work with," Chezar says.
Besides flower growers and farmers markets, she said, "another great resource is nurseries. If you don't want to deal with cut flowers, you can have a mass of pansies in a pot. Nice containers elevate even humble plants to something more elegant, and a plant is almost always cheaper than cut flowers, plus it lasts."
She warned, however, that those trying to make their own wedding centerpieces should think carefully before deciding to do so.
"Nobody realizes how much work it takes to do your own flowers," she said. "Don't think you can do it the last week. You need to plan way ahead, do some research to get a sense of what's going to be available when you'll be needing it, put together an idea board of varieties and colors, and practice doing it ahead of the event itself."
For those who do opt for creative homemade arrangements, there are infinite options.
"I've found wild grapevines contorted in shapes I could never reproduce, fiddlehead ferns unfurling with the day, and spiky chestnuts still green on the tree. Take advantage of generous gifts like these," Chezar writes in her book. "They are nothing you can plan, but they can make all the difference between an ordinary arrangement and one that turns heads."