Arranging flowers for church weddings and festivals

PLANNING

Over the past 25 years flower festivals have been held in churches throughout the British Isles. The occasion is one when the whole building is decorated with flowers, sometimes quite simply, sometimes in a very elaborate way, and is for several days kept open to the public, usually from about 10.00 am until about 8.00 pm. Sometimes a charge is made for admission, or for a programme; or containers – carboys are excellent for this purpose – are placed about the church in the hope that visitors will contribute generously in appreciation of what they have seen. The object is not, however, simply to make money, though the festival is a very good way of raising funds; more importantly, it generates interest in the church itself, both locally and futher afield. It is a great attraction to visitors from overseas; Americans in particular are fascinated, both by the flowers themselves and by the beauty of our church buildings, which they might not otherwise see.

There are certain essentials to a successful flower festival and the first is the wholehearted enthusiasm of the incumbent and at least three other people, one of whom should be an experienced flower arranger. They form the nucleus about which must be gathered the team needed to organize and run the event.

A festival needs to be planned well in advance of its date, nine months at least and preferably a year, and a date must be chosen with care so that the festival does not clash with other local events, particularly other fund-raisers. It follows that the intention to have a festival must be publicized early; for instance, the diocesan office should be told, and also other churches in the locality, which may have a similar event in mind.

The festival committee will need to have sub-comittees, meeting at fairly regular intervals throughout the year. One way and another there will be a great deal to be done and much of the work will be hard and unglamorous, particularly during the actual week of the festival – filling buckets, picking and conditioning plant material, fetching and carrying generally. Remember that a festival usually lasts for three days, from Friday to Sunday, and sometimes over Monday as well. The previous Monday and Tuesday must be given over to picking and conditioning and Wednesday evening and Thursday to staging: so there is a good week’s work.

Having talked about the snags let me hasten to say that I have been involved in a great many flower festivals, directing them in such diverse places as St Albans Abbey, which is vast, and Whipsnade Church, which is tiny, and I have always found the work rewarding, and inspiring. I shall describe the functions of the key officers of the committee and the various sub-committees and every detail of planning, but obviously in the case of a small church the size of the operation will be scaled down and carried out by fewer people. For the sake of convenience and ignoring the Sex Discrimination Act I have assumed that, the incumbent apart, the participation in the running of the festival will be female! In fact many jobs are often done by men, who may well be numbered among the flower arrangers.

The chairman

Whether the idea of having a flower festival originates with the incumbent himself, or whether someone else suggests it to him, it is usually he who will make preliminary inquiries to ascertain the practicability of having a festival and who will appoint the chairman of the organizing committee. The chairman will then constitute the basic committee. The chairman will need to know about flower arranging and the conditioning of flower material, but she need not be herself a very expert flower arranger, because the actual designing and directing of the festival is the task of the artistic director. The chairman will be responsible for overseeing all sub-committees, for checking every aspect of the festival, including the conditioning of plant material and the staging in festival week; in other words, for co-ordination generally.

The secretary

The secretary’s task will be to deal with the very large amount of paper work which will have to be done and the endless queries on the telephone. It is an advantage to have as secretary someone who is available at least for part of the time during the day, and it is essential that she is available on the telephone.

The publicity officer

This is another key person in the festival. She will be responsible for publicity for the festival throughout the previous year. It is very desirable to have an imaginative person – possibly quite young – with new and original ideas.

The artistic director

When the festival committee has been formed it must appoint an artistic director. She need not be a professional florist: I remember a particularly beautiful festival in a small local church which was directed by the incumbent’s wife. She knew and loved every part of the building and her feeling for it was expressed in the design, which has had a lasting effect on my own approach when directing a festival.

The artistic director’s job is to plan the whole festival. She must decide where there are to be flowers and on a colour scheme for the whole building, and she must indicate the location of the individual arrangements on a plan of the church. She must be on hand to give advice when staging is taking place. She must help over the buying of flowers, conditioning them and arranging them. Also, she will be expected to attend some of the committee meetings before the festival is staged so as to advise.

It is important to realize that not only must the artistic director be a skilled flower arranger, but she must also be a person of originality and vision capable of designing a scheme appropriate to the building as a whole. Nor does her task end there. Flower festivals use every sort of flower arranger, some skilled, some very nervous and inexperienced, some -1 have to say it! – ruthless and bossy! The director must keep these various talents under her control. In some cases she must encourage and help; in others she must make sure that the more dominant workers do not discourage the timid! I have worked at festivals with brilliant directors who have insisted on their plans being carried out to the last petal – in such a ruthless and rigid way as to make the festival an unhappy occasion instead of the joyous event which it should be. There has to be some degree of compromise and there must be tact and kindness. Having said all this I now feel very embarrassed as I know that some of the people with whom I have worked over the years will be shaking their heads and saying, ‘Good heavens!

Does she think that she is the paragon whom she describes?’ The answer is that of course I am not: I am describing the director we would all like to be!

When the committee invites somone to design and direct the festival it should bear in mind the fact that the job calls for months of work, and should expect to pay a fee. Many artistic directors are happy to give their services free, especially if the festival is to be held at the director’s own church; but where the director has no personal connection with the church and is a working professional florist she may not be able to afford to give up all the time required, and then it is up to her to say what her fee will be and for the committee to decide whether it can afford to employ her. The director must say at the start exactly how much time she is prepared to give to the festival and what she requires the secretary to do for her.

The treasurer

The treasurer is in sole charge of all money transactions and responsible for receiving and settling all the bills.

The catering chairman

The catering for the festival will be most satisfactory if someone is appointed as catering chairman and then forms her own sub-committee. The task of this sub-committee is to plan and provide the catering for the general public during the festival. In fact it is very often possible to get the Mothers’ Union with the help of the Young Wives to take on this important job.

Sub-committees

The artistic director will work with the main festival committee. The other key officers whom I have described may want help and in that case they can form their own sub-committee composed generally of friends whom they are accustomed to working with. I am much opposed to large and complicated committees. It is much better to have small groups of hard-working people who are used to working together.

Aims of the festival

Once the flower festival committee has appointed its officers the incumbent will ask the chairman to call a meeting to discuss exactly what sort of festival is planned. Some small churches decide only to decorate the church with flowers; larger ones may be more ambitious and incorporate exhibitions of, for example, embroidery, crafts or pictures; or may decide to stage some special feature as an added attraction.

The aims and plans of the committee should be quite clear so that the artistic director can be informed. It is important for her to know about any special features which are contemplated before she prepares her plan. In fact the artistic director is usually invited to attend this first meeting.

Cost

The other important matter to be discussed at the first meeting of the committee is the question of cost. Publicity, postal charges, flowers, Oasis and many other items mount up only too quickly. Many festivals are financed by fundraisers – coffee mornings, jumble sales, etc – held well in advance, the proceeds going straight into the flower fund. Otherwise the initial cost has to be met from church funds.

A flower festival will not be a financial success if the outgoings are too high. Expenditure on publicity is essential and there is bound to be a bill for postage. Great care should therefore be taken not to overspend in purchasing flowers.

The artistic director’s plan

At the time when I was first asked to direct a flower festival I had never seen one! I had as a professional florist of course worked in churches for many years, and this was helpful: but a flower festival seemed very daunting. In a way, however, to have no preconceived ideas was a help.

I decided to use flowers so as to accentuate the beauty of the building, concentrating on carefully planned colour ranges. This was 20 years ago and today the festival which I directed then would probably be thought to be very naïve. Nevertheless, I have remembered the lessons which I learned then and they have given me the confidence to tackle enormous projects. So, to the new artistic director I would say: ‘Take heart, plan carefully, and make sure that your festival chairman and committee are in complete agreement.’ This team working in harmony – their sole object being to make the church building more beautiful and to attract people to it – will establish the right atmosphere, and that will last even through the odd dramas which appear as staging day approaches!

In the case of a small festival the artistic director will be able to make her plan unaided. In the case of a cathedral or a very large parish church she may need some assistance. When in 1977 I was asked to direct a flower festival in St Albans Abbey, one of the largest of our cathedrals, I realized that I must have a design committee. At first as I sat in various parts of the building I was terrified by the vastness of the task which I had undertaken. By degrees, however, I came to see that the building could be split up into distinct areas which could be individually planned – the nave, the aisles, the choir, the transepts, the presbytery, the chapels and so on. So I gathered together a group of friends whom I knew to be very experienced in decorating for flower festivals and I was able to explain to each my plan for a particular part of the building. They then carried out the plan, though subject to my overall control. It was a great assistance to me to have the benefit of their ideas and knowledge both throughout the planning stage and during the festival itself.

The first consideration in making the plan is colour, and this must to some extent be dictated by the building itself. St Albans Abbey provides a good example. The largest area which I had to consider was the nave, a dominant feature of which is the medieval paintings which adorn a number of the columns of the arcades. In some lights the paintings seem to be predominantly pink, in others terra cotta. At first I found it hard to decide upon colour scheme for the flowers. By chance I saw on television the ballet of Othello in which the principals wore costumes in shades of brown, cream and terra cotta, and this decided me to settle on those colours for the nave! We had vast constructions against the pillars, while flower balls hung from the lights in the arches of the arcades drew the eye up to the superb wooden ceiling. Towards the nave altar the colouring was gradually shaded down into pale cream and white. The effect was very dramatic. It is a good idea to include green in a colour scheme. It is an effective foil to other colours. Moreover, the material is generally obtainable free! At St Albans we had banks and pedestals of green of every shade in the aisles and the contrast with the other colours which I have described was splendid.

When you have decided on your colour scheme, then think about composition. A flower festival provides an opportunity to paint a picture with flowers. As an artist uses vertical and horizontal lines, so ., should the artistic director. Constructions and pedestals provide vertical shapes, garlands horizontal. Flower balls give another dimension.

Particular care must be taken over colour and composition in a case in which it is decided to include a special exhibition – for example, of crafts or embroidery – in the festival. The best course is to keep the special exhibition in one part of the building, such as a chapel or transept, and under its own director. If the special exhibition is intermingled with the flowers, the two directors must work together.

Flowers themselves may be used to illustrate special themes and so add interest to the festival. I have, for instance, seen biblical texts and local history brilliantly illustrated with flowers. The difficulty with special exhibitions generally is that, unless they can be confined to one part of the building, the concept of an overall colour scheme and design, intended to accentuate the beauty of the building, may be lost. This is because each set piece in the exhibition is the expression of an individual idea and symmetry suffers accordingly.

Not all church buildings are beautiful in themselves, so that sometimes the plan must aim not at accentuating features but at hiding them.

Before the artistic director plans her scheme in detail she must be provided with a ground plan of the building on which every important feature is marked. Very often there is already such a plan in existence and it can be photocopied. Several copies will be needed. The artistic director will need two or three, and the secretary should have one. It is as well to have some spare copies.

The artistic director must go round the building with a copy of the plan and mark in on it the position of every flower arrangement, garland, pew end decoration and so on. Great care must be taken to ensure that the plan is accurate and I find that the artistic director needs an assistant. The artistic director calls out the details and the assistant marks the plan accordingly. It will usually be found necessary to start with a draft plan and to ‘fair copy’ it. It is very helpful to use different colours for different types of arrangement, one colour for pedestals, another for garlands and so on, and to have a key to the colours at the side of the plan. By the use of colours a better idea is given by the completed plan of what the church will look like.

Each item should be given a number and it is important that the sequence of the numbers on the final version of the plan should follow the route which the public will take when moving through the church. If, for example, the public are admitted through a porch at the west end of the building, the numbering will start with the arrangements in the porch. Remember that the plan is completed well in advance of the festival and that from it the allocation of positions is made. The artistic director’s nightmare is that on staging day Mrs Smith and Mrs Brown will each appear laden with flowers determined that she has been instructed to do pedestal no. 3!

Allocation of arrangements

When the plan is complete and it can be seen exactly now many arrangements there are to be the artistic director must decide how they are to be allocated. If there is a regular flower guild it is important to ask first of all how many of its members wish to take part in the festival and how many and what sort of arrangements they want to undertake.

Source of flower arrangers

Do not bring in outside help until you are satisfied that full use is being made of the local regular flower arrangers. It is very sad if any of them feel ousted. If they are happy and there are still positions to be tilled, the committee must decide who else is to be asked. Nowadays many neighbouring churches, including churches of different denominations, help each other at flower festivals, and a letter written to local clergy asking for volunteer flower arrangers usually produces a good response. There may also be local organizations like Women’s Institutes, Townswomen’s Guilds, Horticultural Societies and Flower Clubs, all of which are invaluable as sources of decorators. The recipient of the letter is asked to tick her choice and to send the slip back to the secretary. The letter should be sent to every parish and organization which has offered help. It is sensible to give a closing date for the return of the slips, because many people are very vague about time! When the slips have been returned the artistic director with the help of the secretary can then allocate any positions which have not yet been filled.

PUBLICITY

One of the most important aspects of a flower festival is good, original and well-organized publicity, planned well in advance. Too often a beautiful festival has had very few visitors simply because people outside the parish have not known of its existence. I have been amazed sometimes at the attitude towards choosing a publicity officer of flower festival committees. I have heard remarks like ‘Old Mr Bloggins might do it’, regardless of whether old Mr Bloggins is interested or has any ideas! Choose your publicity representatives very early on and if possible recruit some young people. Youth clubs will often work very hard, not only delivering pamphlets, etc, but also producing ideas. If you can get the members of a youth club keen and interested they will during staging week do such things as driving decorated cars or vans, touring neighbouring towns and villages with loud halers giving details of the festival, and walking up and down the streets with sandwich boards with festival notices. Original ideas like these attract the public’s attention. Then there are many more conventional methods of publicity such as posters, pamphlets, notices and programmes.

Posters

Posters in two sizes are needed, a few very big ones and a number of smaller ones which can be conveniently displayed in shops and windows. Shops do not like very large ones. The large posters need to be printed on a good clear background. The fluorescent ones are excellent. A bright pink or yellow background with black lettering is easily seen. Do limit the lettering to basic essentials like FLOWER FESTIVAL in huge print, with details of opening times and a large arrow pointing in the direction of the church. These posters ought to be placed at cross-roads, and if the church is in an isolated village try to get some of them sited at stategic points near junctions on main roads. There should also be some huge posters in the churchyards. Small posters for windows, to be legible, should have the minimum of information; for example, FLOWER FESTIVAL, opening times, special features (if any) and catering arrangements. I have often seen posters with a life history plus little drawings – illegible from any distance!

Pamphlets

Simple pamphlets to be left at neighbouring churches and put into the letter boxes of houses in neighbouring villages are excellent publicity.

Programmes

Each flower arrangement is given a number and this is printed in the festival programme with the name of the flower arranger beside it. If the church is of historic interest, it is worth while printing a short history at the beginning of the programme. Programmes will be available for sale at the church door, but they can also be sold a week or two in advance of the festival as a means of publicity for it. Bitter experience teaches one, however, that there is no point in spending money on expensively produced programmes. They simply do not sell. The public wants the basic information and will only pay accordingly! Do, indeed, be economical not only over programmes but over all printed material, except for the very large posters which must be of a high quality.

AA and RAC signs

The Automobile Association and the Royal Automobile Club will supply excellent signs simply saying FLOWER FESTIVAL with an arrow. They are fairly expensive, but well worth the price. Representatives of the organizations will visit the area and site the signs at strategic points. There is a minimum fee, for about six signs, with an additional charge for any further ones.

Local radio stations

It is worth while to contact local radio stations, which are very good about giving information, usually on the Saturday, about local flower festivals. This is a superb form of advertising as it is often picked up by motorists on their car radios when they are out on day trips and they will sometimes deviate from their planned route to go to the festival.

Television

If the festival is a large one it is worth while trying to find some famous person to come to it and to make sure that some television station knows. If the television cameras are there photographing the VIP your publicity is assured!

Local press

A member of the publicity team must go and talk to the local press and describe the festival which is being planned. If there is a special feature or exhibition, talk about it, and suggest photographs well in advance of the festival. The problem about photographing the actual staging is that by that time it is too late for the current week’s edition of the local newspaper. If, therefore, you are having a famous visitor, plug that fact; or try to get the press interested in the organizers; photographs of the chairman and the artistic director, if they are known in the area, all help.

A petal collage always creates enormous interest on the part of the press, and for that reason is well worth the effort involved. The staging of the collage starts early in festival week, so that a little mock-up with some of the workers is invaluable! A good publicity officer ought to be able to get the writter of the woman’s page of the local paper interested. If the editor of that page were visited she might well make a feature of the work involved.

The committee should pay to have an advertisement inserted in the local paper. There is often a page on which forthcoming local events are described, and this page is read by most people who take the paper.

National press

Every effort should be made to get a large festival into the national press. The St Albans Abbey Festival in 1977 was featured in a large picture in The Times and this undoubtedly brought in visitors from a very wide area.

Travel agencies, tourist boards and hotels

If the festival is in or near to a big town, it is well worth giving pamphlets and other information to local hotels and also to travel agencies and tourist boards. A travel agency or tourist board which arranges sight-seeing tours will sometimes include a flower festival in the itinerary, and with this in mind a member of the publicity team should visit these organizations several months beforehand.

Women’s Institutes, Townswomen’s Guilds and Derby and Joan clubs All these organizations, having outings in view, may be interested to hear of a flower festival, so write to them about six months in advance. They will want to know about catering arrangements – Derby and Joan Clubs will want to know exactly what kind of meals are available – and also – a vital piece of information! – about lavatory accommodation.

Diocesan Office and other churches

The Diocesan Office should be given the date of the festival as soon as it has been fixed. There is usually a diocesan magazine, or at least a leaflet, in which the date can be inserted, thus giving early notice to other churches which may have festivals in mind and will not want them to coincide. To have festivals in neighbouring churches at the same time is disastrous.

About two weeks before the festival pamphlets should be delivered to the local churches of all denominations with the request that they be displayed. Also ask the local clergy to give out in church details of the festival the week before it opens. If they do so at each service this is an excellent form of publicity.

VIEWING DAY

The committee must fix a day about two months before the flower festival when the church is open and the flower arrangers come to view it and to be given details of the festival. If it is a large festival it is as well to have two sessions, morning and afternoon, with a break for lunch. Viewing day is very important. If the organizers give time to welcome and listen to the helpers, it will set the whole tone of the festival. If everyone is happy at the beginning, they will still be happy at the end.

The incumbent will want to be at both sessions to welcome the visitors, to explain why the festival is being staged and to introduce the chairman of the committee, the artistic director and the secretary. The artistic director will then explain exactly what the festival scheme is and take the visitors round the whole church. A large plan of the building should be displayed on an easel where it is plainly visible. Every position for flowers should be shown numbered on it, so that the director can explain it.

It is important for the artistic director to encourage the visitors to supply as many garden flowers as possible and to explain what a flower pool is. It is a very important part of a festival. There will be some people working on large flower arrangements who will want the church to supply flowers, and the secretary, who will be with the artistic director, will take down details of their requests. It is much better for the church to buy flowers from one local supplier than to leave it to each flower arranger to buy individually, a course which will enormously increase expenditure. There may be flower arrangers who will want the church to supply pedestals and containers: a careful list must be kept of requests of this sort.

Most flower festivals are dependent on outside help and the church must express its gratitude by thoroughly caring for these friends. On viewing day there must be tea or coffee available, and it is very much appreciated if during staging day refreshments are supplied. I remember one festival where there was a ploughman’s lunch in the vestry, and it made all the difference. If the committee is able to make catering arrangements, information about them should be given out on viewing day.

Time should be given for each flower arranger to talk to the artistic director so that she can explain exactly the sort of arrangement which she has planned, including the overall size and the colouring. Some flower arrangers ask a great many questions on viewing day. They want to know the precise size, shape and type of arrangement or pedestal, window cill or other position which they are filling. My view is that the director’s role is to give the exact colouring — a scheme is ruined if someone deviates from this — and an indication as to size. If there are pillar arrangements or pedestals or flower balls which need to be uniform in size, it is a good plan to have an example of each on viewing day and to keep a firm eye on staging day to make sure that the arrangements remain similar. There are, however, many other types of arrangement which, provided that the colouring is right, should express the individual arranger’s taste and style. Flower arranging is, after all, an art, and the last thing a festival wants is rows of arrangements all alike.

Not everyone agrees with this view. I was interrogated at a large festival by a very fierce lady who wanted me to give an exact ‘design’ for a large window cill. I explained the colouring which I wanted, but I told her that I felt that she should plan her own scheme in this area. ‘Are you the director?’ she asked. ‘Yes, I am’ I replied. ‘Well, in that case I suggest you direct!’ Well, I did, and re-allocated the window cill to a brilliant man flower arranger, who filled it with glorious lilies and foliage quite beyond anything which I had envisaged. It was, of course, a show stopper!

It is useful at this time for the artistic director to have a notebook handy to jot down comments and ideas from the visiting flower arrangers, and in particular to make a note of any nervous helper. On staging day the director can then be at hand to help in a tactful way. I have had very inexperienced ‘young wives’ who with a little help and encouragement produced the most spectacular garlands at a festival although they were clueless and frightened at the beginning.

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