"About 1/3 of my flowers were from my garden, grown from seed." –Cara Jo
When we saw Cara Jo's Instagram post (@cojorado) of her wedding bouquet and then read that she grew 1/3 of the flowers from seed and arranged them herself—we just had to talk to her! Growing and arranging your own wedding bouquet sounds romantic and fun, so we asked Cara Jo if she would share her story and some tips. Here is what she had to say:
I like that when I grow plants from seed, they sometimes go crazy in the yard and take on a life of their own. Also, watching something go from a tiny seed to a plant, to a beautiful flower is just fascinating. Nature is amazing and I love having a little bit of it in my yard. I love just sitting outside and watching the bees play in the garden. I also enjoy drawing flowers, so I'm taking classes at the Denver Botanic Gardens for botanical illustration. Some of my instructors have done the drawings for your packets!
Did you start growing flowers intending to be a backyard florist?
I have always been known among friends to have the best flower garden (not really sure why!). I do have a bunch of flower beds around our backyard. I started growing them to attract bees to the yard to help pollinate our vegetable garden, which I also grow from seed. I never really intended to have as many flowers of my own at the wedding, but I'm happy with how it turned out. But to my pleasant surprise, they did!
How did you plan your cut flower garden to have things in bloom when you needed them?
I follow the dates on the packet, to be honest with you. I have a spreadsheet that has all the starting dates based on our last frost date here in Denver. So, I know 4-6 weeks before the average last frost date that I need to pop some Larkspur and Lupine in the ground. Sometimes life gets in the way and I totally space out on what I'm supposed to do and when and sometimes end up putting things in the ground later than I want. Luckily, the growing season in Denver is forgiving for cut flowers so I'm usually okay. I actually tried to stick to my calendar this year and had loads and loads of flowers ready for the big day!
Did you have a back-up plan?
Oh yeah. I ordered flowers from a local wholesale florist, as well. I knew with the date of my wedding and the stress of everything else that goes into wedding planning I wasn't going to have the time to do it all.
For thinking that you didn't have time to do it all, you sure did A LOT! What was your secret trick?
I am a magician at planning! Haha, no really, I just used a spreadsheet of what needed to be done when and just stuck to it. We made the bouquets the day before the wedding and I got up early (so very early) and cut all the flowers I could. It was about 4 dozen cosmos and just as many snapdragons. I also cut all my dahlias at the same time. I put them right into some water and put them in the basement (cool dark place, but not the fridge), so they didn't open up too much before we arranged them. I had a massive breakfast, did some knitting, and then I just went to town. We did the bridal bouquet first and a friend helped me make sure that it looked good from all angles. When we were all done, we put them in a bucket with a few inches of water. The key trick was cutting the stems longer than the desired length. I worked with the hotel to have them store the flowers in their walk-in cooler overnight. They stayed perfect through all this and I made sure I kept them in water right up until I was ready to walk down the aisle. I was actually cutting the stems off while in my wedding dress minutes before walking down the aisle. I used lace from my mom's dress to wrap the stems and put a little 'bride' pin on it for fun.
What were your favorite cut flowers to grow from seed?
My favorites have to be snapdragon, hands down. I love their little flowers and variety of colors. A close second is cosmos, all of them. They're so whimsical and grow so many flowers over the season. Zinnias (literally every variety) are always in my garden. Other favorites are bells of Ireland, lavender, sweet peas, calendula, African daisy—and I could go on and on.
Any tips for new cut flower growers?
Zinnias, sunflowers, cosmos, snapdragons, and calendula are super easy. My snapdragons keep overwintering, and I'm not even mad about it. I love seeing cosmos seedlings pop up in the spring from the seeds that got caught in the wind last season.
I have a few books I reference when I have questions about flower growing. The first one is The Flower Gardener's Bible, which has lots of tips on how to grow different kinds of flowers and how to lay out your garden. This one was really valuable to me and I still reference it ALL THE TIME. My second one is Rocky Mountain Month-by-Month, which tells you what to do with your yard (lawn, flowers, trees everything) every month, so you're not overwhelmed.
But honestly, the best advice I have is: don't wait until your flower is in full bloom to cut it, and cut it in the morning. I always get up about 30 minutes after sunrise and go out and cut flowers for the day and they will last me a few days. Oh, and deadheading. I will deadhead when I'm cutting flowers so it's all done at the same time.
Any flower design tips?
I took a flower bouquet class with a florist here in Denver. It was really helpful in figuring out how to arrange flowers. It was probably the best $50 I spent! Greenery is your friend, and bells of Ireland are a great way to add some green flowers.