~ A 6th Generation Flower Farm ~

8664 360th Street – St. Joseph, MN

Podcast Episode 17

Growing Flowers for Your Own Wedding with Michelle from Cider Mill Farms

Liz: Welcome to another episode of the Sunny Mary Meadow podcast/blog. I am really excited to talk about something that I get messages with questions about all the time…growing flowers for your own wedding. I have a special guest with me today. Her name is Michelle, and she is from Cider Mill Blooms. Michelle, why don’t you go ahead and introduce yourself.

Michelle: Hi, I’m Michelle. I run Cider Mill Blooms out in Townsville, Ontario. I’m going into my fourth growing year, and I grew flowers for my own wedding last June. It was interesting and fun. It was really fun.

Liz: I am getting married in October. Obviously, there are a lot of people that I could have asked to be on this episode when I think of other growers and other flower farmers. I’ve seen other people grow for their own wedding or that actually do wedding flowers. Even if you aren’t going to grow flowers for your own wedding, if that’s a part of your business that you want to do, this will be helpful. There are also a lot of people who sell buckets of flowers for weddings … there are just a lot of different options there. I think this is going to be an episode that relates to a lot of people.

First, I’m going to give a little bit of background on something that Michelle and I share as part of our stories – how we are intertwined. So, Michelle and I are each flower farmers. She got married last June, and I will be getting married in October … both of our weddings were/are after being widowed at really young ages, which is not something that you come across very often. She and I immediately connected just over DMs. I think I sent her something, and then she sent one back, and I’ll never forget the very first message she sent was, “What was your husband’s name?” I’ve talked about this in some of my Bloom and Grow episodes, but that just comes from a place of knowing and understanding that it’s so important for someone to ask or say that. It’s like, “Wow, okay, she knows. She gets it.” I was just immediately drawn to her Instagram page over that. So, we’re just gonna talk about this briefly, and then we’ll get into the flowers. Michelle and I had a phone call this afternoon on the phone just to kind of prep for this episode/post a little bit, and we talked about how this time around, it’s just different … that second wedding. You get to kind of pick a little bit more what’s important to you, you don’t have to go through all the hoops like you would for a first wedding. So, Michelle, let’s talk about the role that flowers played in your wedding.

Michelle: They are probably one of the most important parts to me because flowers are such a big part of me, my life, my journey. I started growing them when I was in a really deep dark place. And so, I guess my flowers have always been little bits of … I don’t know …  little bits of my heart in a way. I started growing to kind of deal with my sadness, my sorrow, my grief. So, all of my flowers have been like products of my grief. But to actually grow them for something joyous, like my wedding … to have this other side of it was so exciting. Like, finally, I’m growing flowers for something happy. Actually, when you asked me to be part of this podcast/post, I was thinking about what my flowers really mean to me. It’s like, “Oh, this is the first thing that they’re going towards where they were being grown out of happiness and not out of grief. If that makes any sense.”

Liz: Trust me, it makes so much sense. You’re preaching to the choir here. You know, and I think you know, how important it is for me to grow them for my own wedding. I will be honest, though … I love growing, I love flowers, I love all those aspects of it. But in many ways, I, surprisingly, really enjoy the business side of my flower business. I enjoy having events and seeing what customers like. I love looking at the analytics. So, that’s super fun for me as well. But with growing them for my own wedding, I get to pause, take a deep breath, and say, “What colors do I want? What do I want to do?” Instead of “What do my customers want to do?” It just kind of creates this whole new perspective.

My flowers that I will be growing will probably make people think, “Oh, well, there’s an awful lot of pinks.” They’ll be more blushy pinks to fit in with my fall colors. And then I did a ton of Roseanne Brown lisianthus, so we’re just really hoping for a second flush in the fall. I don’t know. We’ll see if it happens.

Okay, so let’s get into kind of the nitty-gritty of growing flowers for your own wedding. Did you set your date around your flowers? Even though you’re in Canada and I’m in the United States, I’m way more north than you. So, I’m in Zone 4B, and Michelle is in Zone 6B…right?

Michelle: Correct.

I set my wedding date kind of around my season because I knew it had to be between my tulip season and when my bouquet subscriptions would start to go out. So, I was like, “Okay, June is a good time,” and I knew we’d be able to go away for a little bit after, too. Then as soon as we got home like it was go, go go. Basically, my theme was whatever is blooming, and then I grew everything in the colors that I wanted and liked.

Liz: Exactly. So, Brent and I just got engaged in January, but we’ve been planning our wedding for quite some time, or you know, having that conversation of like, “Okay, you better hurry up and ask me if we’re getting married this summer.” We were either thinking we’d do it in June or late September/October. We planned around the subscriptions, too. I actually changed my subscriptions. Like, I just knew last fall that we were gonna get married, and we’re gonna get engaged soon/get married next year. So, I purposely made my subscriptions only 10 weeks instead of 12 weeks to allow myself that room. But then it just so happens that the band we want for our wedding isn’t available till October 6th, which is perfect. There might be a light frost already, so that we might miss some of those less hardy annuals. But honestly, I really don’t want a lot of sunflowers, and I’ve got plenty of frost cloth, so it’s gonna be fine. I think last year, our frost held off until mid–October. Two years ago, we did get a frost on September 20th. So we’ll just see what happens.

How did you decide what to hire out versus what to do yourself?

Michelle:

So, I worked with Joelle from Red Barn Florals. She just lives a couple of roads over from me, and we just click. We love the same things and the same style. I knew I couldn’t do everything by myself, but I had a vision that I wanted. I wanted the whimsical, cottage-y florals, and Joelle loves the same stuff I do. So, she helped me with my arbor installation, as well as my bridal bouquet, because I knew I wanted it to be perfect, and I knew I’d let the nerves kind of get to me. And I didn’t want to be just stuck doing all the flowers the day before my wedding. I made my own centerpieces and my own other little arrangements, and she did like the big feature things because I knew I could trust her to do it.

Liz: Yeah, exactly. I think having that one person you can trust to be in charge of it is key. We are having probably between 100 and 125 people at our actual wedding. But then we both have huge support systems of friends. So we’re gonna have a big dance and late-night appetizers/food truck type of thing, starting at 7:00. So, the majority of our guests will come then. But the wedding itself will be significantly smaller than my first wedding.

But I had my friend Taylor come over (and I say friend because we’re friends now, but I really didn’t know her that well beforehand). She only lives 20 miles away. I’m about an hour outside of the Twin Cities, outside of Minneapolis/St. Paul, and she does a lot of event work down there. Most of her brides are more in that area and kind of high-end design floral work. She buys her flowers wholesale. So she came over, and I told her my big plan. I’m like, “Okay, here’s the barn that I’m getting married in.” It’s beautiful. It’s just a couple of miles down the road. I’m actually not getting married here at the farm because I know myself, and I know I’ll stress. And if there’s a frost and all the flowers are dead, I would just stress too much. We have the perfect place to do it for free.

It’s actually the farm my late husband’s mom (whom Sunny Mary Meadow is named for) grew up on. The current owners, Dave & Judy, were my late husband’s godparents. It might sound weird to be getting married at a place with a connection to your former mother-in-law, but they love Brent so much. They loved him before we got together. He is godfather to their grandchild because he’s best friends with their daughter’s husband. It’s just so connected. Brent completely helped remodel that barn, so he’s allowed to get married there, probably more than me. My baby shower for my first daughter was there. And it’s just the perfect location.

So, I showed Taylor pictures of what I wanted, and I think that’s so important when you’re picking someone to be the point person. So, my wedding is going to be on a Friday, and she said, “Keep in mind this is going to be so different.” Event work for something like this compared to the bouquets I sell is so different. Michelle and I both pick the flowers when they’re barely opening and then we want to get them in the customers’ hands within about 24 hours because we want them to enjoy them for a week at a time. That’s not the case with a wedding. She’s like, “Well, we’ll start picking on maybe Monday.” I’m like, “What?! No, we’re gonna be picking Friday morning.” And she said, “No, we’re not.” I was like, “Okay.” So I’m going to have volunteers out here picking on, like, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. We’re just going to be picking every possible stem. We’ll make centerpieces (different jars for all the tables), and then she’ll install all the pillars and everything that Friday morning. So, it’ll be perfect. And then I have a couple of flower farmers that I’ve already reached out to, there’s three of them for sure, for additional flowers if I need them.

The next thing we should talk about is how you wanted to really work your wedding around what was naturally going to be blooming. Let’s talk about that a little bit more.

Michelle: So, I had my year two peonies blooming beautifully, and I know you’re not supposed to cut from there, but I harvested every single stem because I just wanted my peonies. I had tons of stock, snapdragons, nigella … just everything that was available and blooming that I knew could work. It all just got cut. I made it work somehow.

And I did supplement some and rely on some wholesale stuff. And then I definitely wanted the Juliet roses from David Austin in my bouquet, so those had to be purchased, too. There were a couple of things for greenery, too … I didn’t quite have my bupleurum ready yet or my eucalyptus, which of course, is not ready to like October here. So yeah, I had to buy a couple of things, but there were quite a few things that I was able to grow and use.

Liz: Yeah. And as we talked about, I think the whole point of this huge local flower movement is to use flowers when they’re naturally blooming. Yes, you can usually get tulips year-round but it saves money to buy in-season. You just kind of adjust your expectations. Trying to get certain flowers in the dead of winter is expensive. I mean, if you’re a December bride and you’re like, I really want peonies, it’s like, “Okay. I don’t know what to tell you. It’s gonna be ridiculously expensive. They’ll need to be shipped in.”

So do you do weddings, Michelle?

Michelle: I’ve done two, but they’ve just been for close friends because it’s just me. I can’t handle the workload. I’d love to do more of them. But so far, just micro weddings/ COVID weddings.

Liz: There we go. I am just getting started doing a couple. And then there is a wedding venue in St. Joe (my town) that’s kind of going to be my guinea pig for this, but I’m not going to do the bouquets for the brides and bridesmaids. I’m not doing the boutonnieres. Those they’ll need to go through florists for, but I will do things like centerpieces. It’s kind of how I’m getting my feet wet. Because honestly, I just don’t think I’d enjoy it. I think if a bride was like, “This is not symmetrical,” I’d be frustrated. I don’t have the customer service skills to do it. I’d be like, “Okay, calm down.”

Michelle: That’s why the COVID brides were the best … they just wanted to be married.

Liz: Exactly. And that’s where I’m at now with getting married for the second time. After you realize how fragile life is and realize, “I just want to be with the person.”

Michelle: Yes, I got married on a Thursday evening.

Liz: Yeah, I get that. I’m getting married on a Friday afternoon. With the brides that I’m looking at doing, I think one of them I could actually do. Then there’s one, who, once we got pretty far along in the conversation, I said, “You know, I’m not sure this is the right fit.” And she said, “I’m not sure it’s the right fit either.” I’m like, “Okay, sounds good,” because she started asking a lot of really detailed questions that I couldn’t answer yet. She wanted to know what would happen if something she wanted wasn’t blooming yet, and I had to tell her that then it just wasn’t blooming yet, and there wasn’t really anything I could do to change that. I did tell her that with my wholesaler, I could order it up until 5 pm the night before, and they would deliver overnight. I have an excellent wholesaler, and they’re only an hour away. They’re a wonderful, reputable company; most of their flowers are grown here in Minnesota, so they’re still Minnesota-grown flowers. I can order for you and guarantee you have the lisianthus you want in this color and the color of snapdragons you want in that color (though hopefully, we don’t have to order snapdragons … I should have plenty of those depending on what time of year they’re getting married). I said, “Honestly, the more flexible you are, the more enjoyable this will be. If you come out the week before and you see it, you’ll be able to figure out what will work.

I actually have another bride and her bridesmaids that are going to come out the Thursday evening before the wedding (which is on Saturday), and they’re going to pick all the flowers for the wedding. They’re going to pick like six buckets of flowers. I sent the bride a screenshot of my Excel spreadsheet and said these are the seeds/flowers that I have. And she’s like, “Oh, I love this, and I love this ….” And I’m like, “Well, okay, some of those won’t be blooming at this time.” It’s the first week in August or something like that, so I told her what I can pretty much guarantee I’ll have then. And then I told her, “If you want eucalyptus, we can order that in if you want. If you want big hydrangeas or something, we can order those in.” So, we can make it work by doing both ways. She has an aunt that used to work as a florist, so she’s gonna make all the centerpieces, and it’s gonna be beautiful. Again, if they’re just a lot more flexible and are willing to work with the colors I have, it can work. You know, I’d be sort of willing to kind of grow what people want, but also, for the most part, it’s not like I’m planting jack-o-lantern orange-looking zinnias anymore. I just don’t do those anymore. I tell them, “You’re gonna like these Queen Lime zinnias, I promise. I promise. You’re gonna like the blush pink.” And so, I think, when brides are a little bit more flexible, it can work.

Michelle: Yeah, and I think if they come in with a color palette, or even a vibe, and stuff like inspiration photos, and ideally something that kind of matches the style of flowers that you do as well, then that’s really helpful.

Liz:  Yeah, exactly. Pick your vendor based on what they do. I mean, that one bride was sending me pictures of certain things that she wanted. And I just, I was like, “Okay, okay, I need to shut this down.” She’s super nice, but she’s not gonna be happy with me, and I’m not going to enjoy doing this. She actually did say, “Well, the florists are just so expensive.” And I’m like, “Uh huh.” I did some googling because I’ve heard this before. Again, I’m not a traditional florist and don’t buy things wholesale. And I think that most flower farmers listening to this will attest to this … I know it’s hard, but I think our prices need to match florists slightly more. I mean, do you want to be the cheapest one? You can do it for a season or two with way cheaper prices, but if we’re completely pricing them out, maybe we should be charging a little bit more based on the labor. I think people have a hard time charging for their time, but a wedding florist will do the markup. The general markup in the industry is 350% of the cost of materials. So, it costs $30 for the flowers … that’s $150 for a bouquet. It’s $150 for a centerpiece. I definitely don’t mark my flowers up that much. If I sell a bunch of 10 stems for $20 to $25, depending on what it is, it’s alright. But the markup for a bouquet or centerpiece is because of the time and what it takes to be perfect me, and if it’s not perfectly done, the bride is going to be upset.

I don’t anticipate ever getting into the full bride and bridesmaids’ bouquets. I know I could probably make way more money if I did that, but I also don’t like the idea of having to spend all my Saturdays doing that and being available. I know you could probably make them up on Thursday or Friday, but it’s still a stressful time. And if the aunt that’s picking them up on Saturday morning is confused about where to go if you’re not home, even if you try to lay it out, it still becomes this stress of, “The flowers are 20 minutes late, and the photographers are waiting, etc.” 

Michelle: Yeah, you’ve gotta love it to do it. That’s not exactly where I see myself going, either, and that’s okay because there are so many people who are good at that. Let them be good at that.

Liz: So let’s just kind of go back and forth a little bit, talking about April through November. You’re in Zone 6, and I’m in Zone 4 … what types of flowers, in general, would work. I mean, if you plan an April wedding, you’ve got to kind of adjust your expectations, but you could probably get tulips in some areas. I will have tulips in late April in my high tunnel. Had I put some frost cloth on them a while ago or done like a poly low tunnel within my high tunnel, I definitely would have had tulips even sooner. So I think you could kind of force them that way or force them indoors, too.

Michelle: Yeah, for sure. Tulips, and that’s also when your anemones and ranunculus are coming, too, so you can have all those. That’s also when you have your flowering branches, like forsythia, and lilacs …

Liz: … and even a lot of flowering crab trees here in Minnesota. You know, those branches are so beautiful. I think you can really experiment with some of those. May, it’s the same thing as April. Peonies start coming up for us more in June. I think for most people, they are in June. But in May, there is the ranunculus and then a lot of the cool-hardy annuals. You talked about stock. Some of your perennials will start blooming, too, like delphinium …

Michelle: Oh, and your yarrow, too. I had my larkspur, as well, that came up, and I had Bells of Ireland.

Liz: I think the hardy annuals, for the most part, are just so whimsical and just so pretty-looking. I don’t know, I’m really excited for my late-June bouquets.

Michelle: Yeah, they’re my favorite. I mean, I think they’re all pretty, but the first ones of the season are just the prettiest, in my opinion.

Liz: And you’re just proud of them. Then I think, a lot of the sunflowers, like the ProCut sunflowers that are only like 50 days to maturity, you can really time out and make sure they’re blooming when you want. I will be doing some ProCut plums for my wedding. Do you grow those?

Michelle: Yeah, I try to. My gophers eat those, though.

Liz: So, I do a lot of sunflowers, but I’m actually not going to do the ProCuts for my subscription bouquets anymore, and I like my stem bars and my you-picks. I shouldn’t say all ProCuts. I’ll do some ProCuts. I’ll do like the Gold Lite, but not the Plums because they have such floppy stems, and they almost need to be supported within the vase or within the jar, or within a bundle. But for my own wedding, I’ll be able just to stick them at the bottom of an arrangement, and they’ll be pretty. 

I will contact Taylor because she and I went through and made a list of everything that I should have blooming then, and all the colors. I can’t think of all of them off the top of my head. In June or July, you can have a lot of those sunflowers, a lot of snapdragons, and your heat-loving annuals like your zinnias …

Michelle: And your cosmos, your celosia …

Liz: For me, it’s about mid-July to late September when those will be available. And then my dahlias really don’t start blooming until, like, the last week of August or early September.

Michelle: Okay, yeah. And mine are usually mid-July or late July.

Liz: Oh, wow. Nice. Yeah, I’m actually cutting back on the amount of dahlias that I grow. They don’t bloom until toward the end of August, and they’re just a lot of work. My customers truly like and enjoy them, so I’ll always do some, but I don’t think I can really charge a premium for them the way I would like to. I’ve tried saying, “Well, this is a bouquet of six dahlias, that’s $40 compared to my other bouquets that are $25.” And they’re like, “Well, why is it more?” And I explain they’re a lot of work, and they’re like, “Okay, I’ll just stick one Dahlia in with the rest of the flowers.” For the amount of work and time that it takes – the investment it takes and dividing up the dahlias, and you know …

Michelle:  … and storing them. And then their vase life isn’t that great.

Liz: Exactly. They only last a few days. Some customers get that, and some do not. They’re like, “Well, why are they more expensive and they last less long?” So, I explain, “Well, because they’re rare and fragile, and you only get to enjoy them for a little while, scarcity … They don’t really want to pay more for that.

For our wedding, I’m really hoping to get a second flush of lisianthus. I contemplated and still probably could buy some plugs of mums, but with it being October 6th, I just don’t think they’ll bloom in time. I really don’t. That’s a big up-and-coming cut flower for weddings now, but I’d have to grow up in my tunnel because my frost hits so early, and I just am not going to have enough room in my tunnel. So, I don’t know, I might end up buying some of those wholesale. Like the really pretty, spidery-looking, pink ones. I’ll have a lot of different colors of lisianthus. I’ll have a lot of snapdragons. I’ve got a lot of Cornel Bronze and Ivanetti dahlias, the ProCut Plum sunflowers, zinnias …

Michelle: I just saw that Antonio Valente posted about how he had foxgloves in the fall. He just planted them late.

Liz: If I had room, and if I was more organized, I would be curious to try doing ranunculus in the fall. I’ve seen a lot of blog posts lately about doing ranunculus in the fall in Minnesota, they say it’s perfect. You pre-sprout them in August and then plant them in your high tunnel, and then like in October/November, you have ranunculus. But for me, that would mean pre-sprouting them at the end of June (90 days before transplanting). And that is at the height of my busy season, and then to get those transplanted and then to waste the premium high tunnel space, I don’t know if it’s worth it. They’d have to go in a high tunnel. I could not put them in a low tunnel and hope for the best. I don’t know, maybe, but our Septembers are still pretty hot, and there’d have to be a lot of shade cloth. I don’t know, it’d be risky.

You know, in the color palettes right now, I think a lot of people use a lot of general greenery. That’s kind of what’s in …is white flowers and greenery. Actually, Taylor, who’s doing my flowers, said she’s so excited about the color because all of the weddings that she’s been doing in the metro area are all white flowers and greenery. Or if they’re crazy, they do a little bit of blush as a pop of color.

Also, I haven’t quite talked to her about this yet, but I may ask her, “How do you feel about making like 50 flower crowns for anyone that wants to wear a flower crown?” We’re not going to have bridesmaids and groomsmen. We’ve got a lot of people that have supported us. My two daughters are going to have flower crowns, and that’s going to be super fun. But I thought about, I don’t know, maybe like an honorary bridesmaid situation. And I just think it’d be so fun to somehow have a table of flower crowns. But again, is that realistic? Probably not. But whatever. It’s so fun, though. You should have fun at your own wedding.

I’m gonna pay Taylor an hourly rate because she said she didn’t know how to price doing something like this. Because if we need wholesale, I want to buy them, and then I’ll be growing all the others. I absolutely want to compensate her for her time and not get a deal or whatever, I just want her to do it. Then there’ll be other people helping, volunteers that genuinely just want to be a part of something bigger, and it’s going to be so fun. So Taylor and I decided an hourly rate was probably just the easiest way to do it.

I think you referenced this earlier … the importance of having an inspiration page. Otherwise, maybe just adjust your expectations. If you want locally grown flowers, think about what that really means. That means you’re gonna get what’s blooming, you’re gonna get the colors that they have, or you can shop around you can shop from a couple of different flower farmers. Last year, I did have someone buy a bucket of sunflowers from me because the other grower that she was buying from did not have sunflowers blooming at the time in the color that she wanted. It just depends on the growers/business – some are like I don’t really want to do weddings, or they say I’m not doing buckets, or I’m not doing bouquets, or you can buy them here, or you can buy them pre-made, etc. It just depends. Just ask around.

Michelle: If you’re flexible, for sure. I think if you kind of go in with the mindset of knowing these flowers are local, this is what’s blooming, they’re the freshest flowers you’re ever gonna get, and with inspiration more than specifics, you’ll probably come out ahead and be pretty happy with what you’re gonna get.

Liz: I have a friend who is growing her own flowers for her wedding, and she’s never even grown a vegetable garden. She asked what tips I had for her, if it could be done, etc. I told her yes if you plan ahead. She’s getting married in August, so she’s going to plant a ton of sunflowers. I told her to look at the number of days to maturity and work backward from her wedding date. For things like zinnias, you can give yourself a little bit of wiggle room. After we talked about it a little bit, she’s adjusting her expectations. I told her, I’m not trying to sell you anything. You can go with whomever you want, but if I were you, I’d do what you can do and then maybe order some wholesale. You can still make your own arrangements, but to also grow them if you’ve never grown them, is a big endeavor. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.

The biggest tip is to find your local flower farmer and start talking – the earlier, the better. For example, if I knew my sister was getting married in August and I knew it enough ahead of time, I’d ask her what colors she wanted and grow accordingly. And who knows, you might find a flower farmer who doesn’t care what color they grow as long as they’re not ugly and will grow whatever color you’re wanting to use, even if they weren’t planning to grow much of that color.

Real quick, where can we find you on Instagram? Do you have a website?

Michelle: I’m @cidermillblooms on Instagram. I left Facebook, so look for me on Instagram.

Liz: I think about making that jump sometimes, but most of my customers who buy from me are actually on Facebook, so I’m keeping both for now. Thank you so much for joining us.

Michelle: Thanks for having me. Good luck to you!

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