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Doing the wedding flowers

Image above by Josh Jay

‘You can do it’ and ‘Start early’ are two phrases from Annabelle Hickson’s ‘A Tree in the House’ DIY flower book that replayed in my mind as my daughter Isabelle, her groom Ben, family, friends, and I arranged their wedding flowers.

I have witnessed Annabelle transform a shearing shed with clouds of cotton, and chandeliers of gum leaves, as well as a convent with explosions of autumn leaves. Annabelle even worked her floral magic on our shop verandah for a Book Lunch among the launch events for ‘A Tree in the House.’

When Isabelle and Ben announced their engagement and started planning a wedding at our village of Nundle in north west NSW I was confident we could wrangle zip ties, chicken wire, flowers and foliage into joyful displays of seasonal colour.

Not only did we attempt DIY wedding flowers, but we supplied 30kg of lamb, 10kg of desiree potatoes, honey, tomatoes, eggplant, herbs and pears for the wedding feast by Armidale caterer Cathy Armstrong of Kinship Kitchen Cafe. The groom brew three beers and made a keezer - a keg refrigerator.

I answered an Instagram post by Mandy at The White Cottage Flower Farm,Tenterfield, selling Cafe au Lait dahlia tubers. The tubers and timber stakes went in the ground after Melbourne Cup Day, when the risk of frost was likely passed. I was an excited, expectant mother, inspecting the soil for signs of dahlias sprouting. When the stems emerged I supported them, gently tying them to the timber stakes. The first flowers appeared six weeks before the wedding. They just had to keep blooming.

Friends checked in on the dahlia progress, one confessing, "For some reason I just fear for them being eaten by something, sheep, insects…"

As the wedding date approached I began to panic that I couldn’t find my copy of ‘A Tree in the House.’ It had been stored with almost every other book we own during our 18 month house renovation, and no matter which cardboard box I opened, it was nowhere to be found.

I even attempted to buy a second copy, but the Tamworth bookshop was out of stock. 

In the continuing desperate search I looked in a different room and there it was. I latched onto it like a security blanket, and that night read it cover to cover for the second time. With ‘A Tree in the House’ in my hands, I felt we could attempt anything - even boutonnieres.

For weeks I had been anxiously observing the deciduous trees in our yard and around town for signs of autumn colour. Ten days before Isabelle and Ben’s wedding Izzy sent me a text message from Newcastle, ‘How are the local trees looking at the moment? Any yellow?’

Things were grim on the local autumn foliage front, but I responded with hope, ‘It’s still pretty green, but some good patches of colour’ accompanied by four photographs of gleditsia, acer and pistachio trees in our shop backyard with (small) patches of yellow.

A week later when we were scoping for autumn foliage in real life, an east coast low had stripped those specific trees of autumn leaves. 

The next day we returned with a tarp for gathering branches and a wire trug of gardening gloves and cutting implements, several secateurs, and various sized saws that I’d grabbed from my husband Duncan’s shed (he later told me one of the saws was for cutting metal).

Isabelle started cutting whipy lengths of box elder, apricot, and plum, chosen for their beautifully shaped leaves with hints of yellow or red. Golden raintree seed pods added bronze texture.

Izzy’s friends Tom, Mackenzie, Dom and Belle arrived and we issued them with gloves and secateurs, and they added foliage to the tarp. ‘It’s my first forage,’ Belle announced.

There were gleeful sounds from an alley beside our shop as Isabelle removed lengths of scarlett virginia creeper growing on our neighbour’s building.

A few text messages and phone calls to friends with beautiful gardens and we had access to stunning red and yellow autumn foliage that we’d spotted the day before; acer, golden ash, and oak.

‘Take as much as you want’ were generous words I heard several times. 

The day before the wedding we set the alarm for 6am knowing it was going to be a big day. I photographed Isabelle and Ben in front of the dahlias. Now that it was time to harvest, I was hesitant to cut them.

It took longer than expected to select the best flowers, remove their leaves and place them gently in tall buckets. I harvested three buckets of dahlias and left less perfect blooms in the garden. On the way to the car I added zinnias, medlar, and ornamental pear. 

When I arrived at the reception venue, Nundle Memorial Hall, Tom and Mackenzie had returned from Tamworth where they’d picked up four buckets of brightly coloured dahlias ordered from Shona at King George Flower Farm. 

Nundle friend Susi dropped off several buckets of hydrangeas, abelia, olive, and liquid amber from her garden.

Isabelle and I made a much anticipated visit to June’s Nundle garden and picked a bucket of roses, sedum, and salvia.

Back at the hall our land army of flower arrangers stacked glass bottles and jars on trestle tables, filled them with water and delicately placed stems in vessels, aiming for a combination of different heights and colours.

Isabelle’s Bridesman Tom dutifully held an orb of chicken wire as Izzy made her own Bridal Bouquet choosing her favourite flowers and foliage from our many buckets, dahlias, roses and and wispy, draping abelia and virginia creeper.

We were surrounded by friends and siblings filling enamel jugs and buckets, battery acid jars, even tea chests with arrangements of flowers and foliage.

In the hall Ivory Lane Events Styling created an autumn foliage ceiling installation - our confidence didn’t extend to suspending branches above guests’ heads. But we’d probably have the confidence now.

Isabelle had her heart set on floral nests to create an arc-shaped altar in the paddock where the ceremony was planned. When the bride-to-be pleaded, “Mum can you make the floral nests, they’re stressing me out’ I repeated Annabelle’s mantra in my head, ‘You can do it.’

With chicken wire in plastic tubs placed inside an antique timber dough kneading basin I created an altar centrepiece, weaving lengths of oak, ornamental pear, acer and gleditsia foliage with dahlias, roses and zinnias. I am sure Annabelle was occupying my mind and body. I had never done this before and yet somehow it was coming together.

We stored the floral nests in a cool mud room at the ceremony site, our neighbours’ property, ready to be moved into place the next day, and closed the door on the flower decorated hall to meet wedding guests at the pub. The day of the wedding I opened the mud room and it smelled like a florists’ shop, a pleasing fecund scent of moisture, vegetation, and floral perfume.

The bride and groom arrived together and we waited in the house before Isabelle would walk to the altar…only there was no bouquet. It was back at their accommodation, a half hour return trip. Who knew how to access the accommodation and where to find the bouquet? The Best Man. So began a very long 30 minute wait to spot plumes of dust signalling Best Man Dom’s return. Bouquet removed from its vase, stems dried with a tea towel, and safely in the bride’s hands it was time for Isabelle to walk down the grass aisle to Ben and floral nests, made with love.

Megan Trousdale
Megan Trousdale


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