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Flower Power: How to Elevate Your Events with Florals

Top tips from a floral and décor maven on how to use flowers strategically, and cost effectively, to transform a gathering into a very special event.

In today’s event environment, everyone is looking to scale back on the extras and provide more value for the buck. But whatever you do, don’t skip the florals, said CeCe Todd of CeCe Designs LLC, a floral and event designer based in Birmingham, Ala., during her session at Catersource + The Special Event this summer in Miami.

“Florals automatically elevate an event,” she says. “Like it or not, they are considered a status symbol—they say you invested in the experience. They say to guests, ‘You are important to me.’ They promote productivity, and they induce joy and happiness.” 

They also give today’s Insta-crazy guests a gorgeous backdrop for their selfie shares, she added. Part of the reason why florals bring so much to the party is that they tickle almost every one of the senses: smell, touch, and sight, but also taste (some flowers are edible, after all).

“Florals can create a feeling, a subconscious perception, that set the tone, atmosphere, and concept without you having to say a word,” Todd says. And she should know: Todd has spent 18 years using her “insane attention to detail” and over-the-top style catering to the needs of a client list that includes celebrity clients such as Journey, Train, Kevin Hart and Ariana Grande.

Special Events magazine recently caught up with Todd to find out more about how to power up events using flowers without busting your budget, along with some tips on today’s hottest floral and décor trends.

Special Events: How do you determine the appropriate floral styles, colors and amounts for an event?

Todd: One great rule of thumb is, if you’ve seen it in a casket cover or a funereal spray, don’t use it at a special event! There are some flowers that, while they deserve to be in funeral arrangements, will not evoke joy at a wedding or special event—they will have the opposite effect.

While I tend to work in the high-end luxury market, this goes for any event: Abundance is key, but not always the best key. For example, you can have an abundance of baby’s breath and gerber daisies and it will not send the message you want—they are too mundane. And, while everyone seems to want baby’s breath for some reason, it actually is not as cheap as you think. It’s horrible to work with, like wrangling kittens, and it requires 42 stems of baby’s breath to cover the same area you could with a single hydrangea. It is more expensive when you do the math.

On the other side of the spectrum is lily of the valley, one of the most expensive flowers—it’s what queens use in their bouquets. You wouldn’t want to use an abundance, but if you place a vase of lilies of the valley in a prominent location, it says, “I invested a lot in this event.”

The most important thing is to make the size of your arrangements proportionate to your event’s scale and purpose. For a wedding, if you have a huge head table with a bunch of tiny arrangements, it will look underwhelming. If you build an over-abundant canopy of flowers over the head table, it will look a bit ostentatious. You want to stay in the comfortable happy medium.

In terms of types of flowers, you can’t go wrong with roses—just don’t use “grocery store” roses. They should be fully flowering and beautiful, not all puckered up. Think about using flowers that you see growing in people’s yards, like gladiolas and snapdragons and hydrangeas. However, as much as I love sunflowers and they do invoke joy, they probably won’t be appropriate for a wedding unless it’s being held in a barn.

SE: What are other common event floral design mistakes to avoid?

Todd: The number one mistake I see people make is being unbalanced in their budgeting. Some will want to spend a million dollars on a photographer and budget $300 for florals, while others will budget $75k on florals and have their brother’s sister’s college roommate do the photography. People tend to go to one extreme or the other, when what they really need is a balance of really good flowers and a really good photographer.

Another mistake I see a lot is wanting to go with just putting a candle on each of the tables. If you’re going to have the tables, you need to put something nice on them that says you care. You don’t have to go over-the-top crazy, but even a couple of bud vases will set a better tone than a candle. If you don’t have the budget to do it right, think about scaling the size of the event to your budget—if you invited 150 instead of 350, you could curate a better experience. Again, keep everything proportional.

And the trend of using mason jars, wooden slabs, burlap, and baby’s breath needs to be buried in a shallow unmarked grave! It is time to put that one away for good. Instead, fill your grandmother’s crystal vase with hydrangeas. There are ways to be thrifty and still have something beautiful.

SE: How can event planners on a budget still have fabulous florals—any cost-saving tips to share?

Todd: Spend your money where the florals will have the most impact. For a wedding, you’re only at the ceremony for a short time, so don’t invest too much on décor there. Have beautiful bouquets for the bride and bridesmaids, but you can skip the aisle florals. For the reception, create one big focal point, usually at the head table. You can go with candles on the rest of the tables—all they will remember is the epic-ness of your over-the-top head table. But not just a single candle, I’m not going back on what I said about those. But a cluster of mixed pillar candles with some greenery and small flowers; and maybe place the bridesmaid’s bouquets next to the candles.

But don’t use the bridesmaid bouquets as the sole centerpiece—that’s another mistake I see a lot. Remember that guests will get to the reception before the wedding party, so they’ll walk in and see half the tables are bare. First impressions count!

Also think about where you can repurpose. For example, you can repurpose aisle flowers to be centerpieces after the ceremony. You can reuse the altar flowers to showcase the cake at the reception. Even if you have a big budget, there’s no reason to just burn through it when you can get double use out of some things.

Also repurpose what’s already in your venue! For a wedding in December, pick white, red, and green for your colors, and use the decorations that are already in your wedding and reception venues. It’s free décor! The same can be true for other times of the year—use what’s seasonal and already in place.

If the wedding is in February though, do not pick red and pink to be your primary colors! Everything gets marked up for Valentine’s Day, and roses that are usually $75 a dozen will be $150. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good Valentine’s Day wedding, but if you want red and pink and roses, be prepared to pay twice as much.

My best advice is to hire a good floral designer who knows how to stretch a budget. I know how to accomplish a bride’s vision without them having to sell a kidney.

SE: With the holidays on the horizon, what are some of the floral trends event planners should know about?

Todd: I would be remiss if I didn’t tell people to be prepared for shortages this holiday season, not just in florals but also in everything from forks and plates and linen to shrimp. COVID-19 affected the supply chain for everything, and a lot of suppliers have had huge losses and have had to raise their prices. It can take months to get something here from India or China, and even if you do get it, it could be 20, 30, even 50% more expensive. Most flowers come from South America, which in addition to farms closing due to COVID, there have been floods and crop die-offs, which means they’re no longer in the right rotation, and they have staffing shortages. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but be prepared for shortages, and for higher prices. If you’re not ordering now, especially for anything that needs to be shipped internationally, you may not be able to get that order in for holiday parties.

One positive that has come out of this is that we’re all working together more, trading and bartering among the different vendors. Be that blessing to somebody right now. If you have it, share it, because you’re probably going to need something someone else has too.

That said, this year we can expect the trend toward individualized and personalized everything will continue—floral and décor will follow along with the trend toward individual servings instead of buffets—and I don’t think holiday events will be any different. So giant shared charcuterie boards will probably be out. For an event I did this summer, we placed small charcuterie boards at every place setting, complete with each person’s name in hand-lettering, tied with a ribbon and some florals. That says, “I value you so much that I went to the trouble and expense to have your name hand-lettered.”

It’s more about the experience—for holiday parties, I can see tiny fir trees at every place setting with their name and a Christmas ball tied on with a ribbon. Think individualized, personalized, and experiential. Everyone has been locked up and they want to have fun with others. So yes, make sure you have good flowers, but also make sure you have great experiences and interactive moments. If you do corporate events, put more money into the experience and give them a night out they’ll remember. 

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