Q&A: Local florist offers up ‘petals’ of wisdom

The Clarion Herald recently asked Roger Villere, founder and owner of the family-operated Villere’s Florist, to reflect on his interactions with couples as they plan the flowers and other decorative elements of their wedding and reception. Villere knows of which he speaks: He has logged nearly 60 years in his chosen field and is currently celebrating the 50th anniversary of his eponymous florist business, headquartered in Metairie.

What should couples do before going to the florist to discuss the church flowers for their wedding?

They should become acquainted with the floral regulations set by the pastor – by checking with the parish office or the wedding coordinator. Some churches allow elaborate decorations, and other churches have gotten to the point where they allow very little in the church. For instance, we used to do a lot of candles up and down the aisle, and it was beautiful. Over the years, people had accidents. The glass would break or the candles would drip on the carpet. If you can do something like that, it’s beautiful – if you have the right venue. Every church is different. Some are very restrictive, others are really flexible. Some might allow you to decorate the pews, but require you to use rubber bands to anchor the items or something that won’t scratch the pews. Go to your church to find out what you can and can’t do. It will save time and disappointment if the bride knows up front that she can’t have certain items in church. That way we can discuss ways of incorporating those flowers at the reception venue instead.

What should brides take with them when they sit down with the florist to plan their floral scheme?

We interview them so we can work through their ideas. It’s helpful if they bring in pictures or write down their ideas or a theme that they might have in mind. Perhaps they want a tropical theme or a Victorian theme or a spring theme or a winter theme. What do they have in mind for their wedding and how do we build around that theme, keeping in mind the budget that they have? We also ask them what color the dresses are. You can’t say “I’m gonna have a fall theme” and then have all spring-colored dresses.

What are some common misunderstandings that brides have about flowers?

Most don’t have an understanding of what flowers are available and the many ways they can be arranged. They’re not familiar with the seasonal aspect of flowers. Most flowers are available year-round, but because of seasonal aspect, some of them are very expensive because they have to be grown under special conditions.

What challenges do you encounter during the early stages of devising a wedding’s floral design?

One of the things that complicates the process is that brides  will come in with her bridesmaids to discuss the flowers; and the next time, they’ll come in with their mom; and the next time they’ll come in with their future mother-in-law. Everybody’s got different ideas and wants to go in different directions. So, sometimes the bride gets pushed aside. The challenge is to keep everyone focused on what the bride wants and within the budget they are willing to spend. Very few people have unlimited budgets. We’ve done $150 weddings and $30,000 weddings.

Give us an example of a decorative element that a bride might desire in church, but that might be costlier than she realizes.

They’ll see pictures of their mom’s or grandmother’s wedding and want to replicate that look. Their mother may have had a cloth carpet that ran up the aisle and all the way out to the street. We used to be able to clean those carpets for $10, and now they charge us $300 just to clean them. Most people are now opting to use (less expensive) plastic.

After the church, the reception venue is the other major location of wedding flowers. What should couples keep in mind when it comes to their reception flowers?

Florists can transport the church flowers to the reception – repurpose the flowers – but we can’t “beat” the bridal party to the reception because they usually have a police escort. It’s not the best situation to be decorating while everybody’s at the reception, but an experienced florist can do it. We will come in the back door whenever possible.

What work is commonly done in advance by florists at the reception venue?

We decorate the wedding cake – put the flowers around the cake – set up the table decorations and any other desired floral features, such an arch for the picture area. Or maybe they want some kind of background, like palms or ficus trees. Sometimes, we’ll be asked to do the Italian lights on the branches. Plants can provide a focal area, like where the band’s going to be or where they will be taking pictures.

Have you designed any memorable wedding reception themes over the years?

One father of the bride wanted his daughter to feel like Cinderella. We built a tunnel with the trees and the twinkle lights and all the spring flowers. You walked through this wonderland of amazement!

Are there places other than the church and reception hall for which 21st-century brides are seeking the help of a florist?

A lot of times we are asked to decorate where the bride is getting dressed. Usually they spend a few hours with their bridesmaids – putting on their makeup, having their hair done. They’ll bring food in. They want it to look nice.

Given that you have been in this business for nearly six decades, what has been the biggest change you have witnessed over the years?

We now have increased availability (of floral stock) because the modernization of transportation allows us to more easily access various flowers in different countries. With the airlines what they are now – the thousands of connection routes – we can fly in flowers from all over the world. In past years, we had to grow them mostly in the United States. It was very expensive, because you had to manipulate them in greenhouses to control their bloom. You were adding cool air or covering with them with cloths at night to make it darker sooner, because some flowers are light sensitive; some are cool sensitive. Or we’d be adding extra oxygen and carbon dioxide to the greenhouses to make them bloom, or adding heat to them at certain times of the year. It got really expensive. Now we can access flowers from all over the world – from countries where the climate allows them to grow better – and then fly them in. It’s actually cheaper to do that than to grow them in the United States and then have to manipulate the temperature and other factors.

Tell us about some of those international sources that American florists are using these days.

Chrysanthemums from Mexico are shipped in by refrigerator truck; Guatemala grows some beautiful carnations; Ecuador grows some fabulous roses; Holland grows tremendous bulb flowers; Hawaii and Jamaica grow tropicals. When it’s the off-season for certain flowers in the Northern Hemisphere, we can fly them in from Australia and New Zealand!

– Beth Donze

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