Pollen Unveils Its Flower Donation Program: ReBloom

I’ve often said that after a wedding or event, the flowers are only six hours older than they were at the start of the event, and they still have a lot of life left in them. As a florist, one of the more painful parts of the event industry is seeing all of our work go into the trash after the event. Such a waste! At Pollen, we’ve worked to minimize the waste of all aspects of our business, including these slightly used flowers. We bring the flowers back to our studio, donate what we can, and compost the rest.

Flower donation

Lightly used wedding centerpieces, lined up to be reworked into bedside arrangements for donation. Photo by Clare Britt Photo.

After years of providing regular flower donations to Ravenswood Community Services’ weekly dinners and on an as-requested basis to organizations with missions that are in line with the priorities of the business, Pollen is expanding the program to include hands-on volunteer opportunities to organizations and businesses. We’re excited to officially unveil our flower donation program, ReBloom.

Through ReBloom, small groups join Pollen’s floral designers at Pollen’s studio to rework our briefly used flowers to make floral arrangements for donation to people who could use a little lift. Participants learn some basic floral design, then work under the guidance of one of Pollen’s floral designers to create floral designs from arrangements that are returned to the studio after the weekend’s events. Once the arrangements are complete, the group delivers the flowers to a nearby assisted living facility, hospital, or similar place.

Flower donation

Volunteer/designers create new arrangements for donation. Photo by Clare Britt Photo.

Flower donation workshop

Volunteers choose from the lightly used wedding flowers to create new arrangements for donation.

Flower donation workshop

Volunteers deliver and distribute the arrangements to a nearby assisted living facility.

ReBloom flower donation program in Chicago

ReBloom gives a little lift to those who could use it!

Groups of five to thirty people can schedule a two to three hour time slot to include instruction, design, and delivery of the flowers to a donation partner.  The activity is perfect for corporate team building experiences and others interested in giving back to the community.  For more information, contact lynn@pollenfloraldesign.com or sign up for the email updates here.

Your Guide to Wedding Flowers. Part 2: Initial Contact.

Part 2: Initial Contact and Narrowing the Search.


photo by Katherine Salvatori Photography

In the first part of this series, I talked about how to research florists. Now, let’s say you have a handful of florists that you’re interested in working with. What next?  Give the florist a call or shoot them an email to find out a few important details.*

A few good questions to start with:

1.  Is the florist available for your wedding date?
First things first, right? Most florists can only take a limited number of weddings each weekend. For us, that’s 1-3 weddings, depending on the size of the weddings we have on the books and their logistics. If we book one big one early on, we’ll consider ourselves fully booked for that weekend. If we get interest from couples with weddings that are on the smaller side, on different days of the weekend, or have easy logistics, we can take up to three weddings. OK, sometimes four if it’s a three-day weekend.

2.  Does the florist service your wedding location?
I’ve received inquiries for Indiana and SW Michigan. We don’t go there. Don’t get me wrong… for the right price, we could make it happen. But most florists will have a service area they generally stick to. For us, that’s usually Chicago. We do travel to the suburbs, but we have a higher minimum order for suburban weddings, because it is unlikely we’ll be able to deliver two wedding on the same day if one of them is in the burbs.

3.  Does the florist have a minimum order requirement?
Some florists have a minimum order requirement (some apply only during wedding season), because they can only take a limited number of weddings each weekend or because their niche is more elaborate weddings requiring higher budgets. Your budget and the minimum order requirement may not match up.

4.  Are they the right fit for what you’re looking for?
Do a quick fit check. Describe what you’re looking for a little bit to find out if they’re be the right fit. For example, I got a call yesterday from someone who, with a little digging, I found out is looking for balls of roses for their flowers. That just isn’t our thing, so we aren’t the best fit for that person. Or you may want a florist who can serve multiple functions (more of an event designer) to help with things like lighting and linen selection, but some florists (like us) just stick to focusing on the flowers.

Once you have these answers, you might be ready for the next step, which is to set up an appointment. I say you might be ready, because you should do some prep work before meeting with a florist to get the most out of your consultation. We’ll cover that in the next post.

*Most of our inquiries come in via our website, but I totally get why some people prefer to call over email for the first inquiry.  If you want to make me really happy, if you call to get initial info, offer to send in an inquiry via the website to follow up.  This will put you into my system and make your wedding information consistent with my process.

Your Guide to Wedding Flowers. Part 1: Research.

About this series.  Your Guide to Wedding Flowers, from a Florist’s Perspective.

Most of my clients are doing this for the first time. They’ve never hired a florist for an event, so they’re figuring it out as they go along, relying on internet research as well as the experiences of friends and family. I started this with the idea of creating a quick one-sheeter with tips for working with a wedding florist, but I can see from the length of this first post that it’s going to be more than that…  A lot more than that.

In this series, I’m going to lay it all out to help you through the process, from how to find your wedding florist to how to make sure The Big Day goes as smoothly as possible, from a floral perspective. More specifically, from the perspective of this florist: an events-only florist specializing in seasonal, garden-style flowers who tries to make things as easy as possible for her clients. (Credit is due to our friend Elysia Root for the inspiration for this series. See her series on selecting a cake designer.)

 Part 1: You need wedding flowers.  Where to begin???  Research.

You’re engaged! Congratulations! Let the wedding planning begin! Where do you even start???
To begin your florist search, there are more (and better) options than Google. I’ll talk you through a few routes to go to give you some direction in your search. Most people use a combination of these resources to find the right fit for their wedding florist.

Your wedding planner (if you have one)

If you’re working with a wedding planner who is helping with your vendor search, they will have relationships with florists and will have recommendations at the ready for you, based on your wedding style and budget. Done and done! (But this doesn’t mean you can’t ask to meet with a florist outside of your planner’s network.)

Friend/family/co-worker recommendations

Once you’re engaged, you’ll find that plenty of the married people you know would love to talk about their wedding planning experience. This is a great way to start your research. Hearing about your friends’ wedding professionals offers insight to the way the wedding vendor does business, beyond the pretty pictures. Keep in mind that your co-worker’s wedding may have had a totally different look or budget than what you’re going for, so their florist may not be the right fit for your wedding.

Review websites

Websites with vendor reviews, similar to friend recommendations, offer a look at the couple’s whole experience with a company. As with all review sites, take it with a grain of salt, knowing that there are some people who can’t be pleased. My clients typically use a mix of wedding-specific and non-wedding specific review sites. Of course, Yelp is the big non-wedding specific review site. With sites like Yelp, keep in mind that storefront florists (those who have retail shops in addition to doing flowers for events) are being reviewed not only by their wedding clients, but also by their retail customers. In defense of my florist-friends who also have retail shops, the stars assigned by a walk-in customer’s $5 greeting card purchase are weighted the same as the stars of a person who had a year-long relationship with their wedding florist. So dig a little deeper when looking at those stars.  Thanks to our clients, we’re doing pretty awesome on Yelp.  We pay no money to Yelp, but have great visibility there.
The two big wedding-specific review sites are Wedding Wire and The Knot.  With both sites, vendors pay for greater visibility in their vendor directories, so be sure to look beyond the first page to see all of the vendors. As a sidenote, we don’t even show up in the Wedding Wire directory for Chicago florists, unless you search specifically for Pollen by name, despite having 24 reviews averaging 4.9 stars and getting their “Couple’s Choice” award last year for getting good reviews.  I don’t pay them any money.  Go figure.

Vendor recommendation lists (whether formal or not)

Maybe I’m biased, but I think one of the best ways to get recommendations is from other wedding professionals. You’ll most likely book your venue first, so ask them if they have recommendations for vendors. The venue will have seen the recommended florists’ work and the florists will be familiar with the space. Your photographer, your caterer, your DJ… they all have seen plenty of weddings and wedding flowers, so tap into those resources. I’m always happy to provide recommendations for wedding professionals whose work I admire and who I enjoy working with. Be aware that some wedding vendors have agreements with other vendors that compensate them for their recommendations. More specifically, some venues and some planners get paid by other wedding vendors to be on vendor lists or for bringing their clients in for meetings.  It doesn’t mean those recommendations aren’t good ones, but I’m all for full transparency about pricing structures. I’ll let our friends at FIG Catering get into more detail on their experience with commissions.

Social media

Social media provides plenty of visual references in your florist search. Once you have your venue, search Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook for your venue.  Click on the location and see what else pops up. Depending on your venue, you may have to sift through lots of photos to see any flowers.  Start following your photographer on Facebook and Instagram to see what florists they‘re working with. And of course, start following the florists who catch your eye to see what they’re working on.

Wedding blogs

Jump into the wedding blog rabbit hole! Search your venue or photographer on your favorite wedding blogs to see which florists have been featured. You can also look for more niche wedding websites for vendors who fit your style or values. Looking for eco-friendly wedding professionals? Use the Chicago Green Wedding Alliance directory (full disclosure: you’re talking to the president of the CGWA). Going against the grain with your wedding? Check out Offbeat Bride or A Practical Wedding and search for your venue or photographer to see which florists they’ve worked with. Looking for flowers in the Style Me Pretty vibe? Check out Style Me Pretty’s Little Black Book (full disclosure: member over here!).

Wedding shows

Wedding shows? Okay, I know what you’re thinking. Wedding shows are lame. Yes, the wedding shows of the past have been lame, but they’re getting better!  There are a few wedding shows that have specific viewpoints that are worth checking out. We’ve participated in just two weddings shows (multiple years at each), and are going to add a third to the mix. Indie Wed was the very first wedding show we participated in when Pollen was just a little baby. We’ve shown there most of the years since (a wedding prevents us from being there this year) and it’s always a great mix of wedding vendors that are on the non-traditional end of the spectrum.  The other wedding show we’ve been in each year is Committed, which is a wedding show featuring members of the Chicago Green Wedding Alliance. If you’re looking for vendors who are socially and environmentally conscious, this is the show for you. We’re adding Dose Trousseau to our dance card this year.  Dose Trousseau is a curated wedding show that is debuting this Valentine’s Day. An advantage of attending wedding shows is that you get to meet the people behind the business, most often the owner or lead sales person. So even though it will likely be a brief interaction, you can find out whether you “click.”

Now what?

You’ve done the research and you’ve found a handful of florists you’d like to follow up with.  Don’t get your heart set on any one florist until you get a few important details. In the next post, I’ll talk you through the first questions to ask those florists on the short list.
Did you find your florist in a way not listed above? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Which Weekends Book First for Wedding Florists?

What a busy summer!  On top of each weekend’s wedding work, I’ve been meeting with potential 2015 clients to talk about their wedding flowers.  We’re beginning to fully book up for some weekends for next year, which got me to thinking that I could provide some insight as to which weekends typically book up first for wedding florists.  If you’re planning a wedding any of the following weekends, you’ll want to secure your florist as soon as possible.

Valentine’s Day Weekend (February 13, 14, or 15th, 2015)

This is the busiest weekend of the year for many florists.  Because of the volume of business and potential issues with both availability and quality of product, florists may be hesitant to take on wedding work on Valentine’s Day weekend.  Some retail florists do not take any wedding work that weekend, which makes it more difficult to find an available florist.  More business is directed to event florists (who do just weddings and events, not individual gift deliveries), which makes event florists book up more quickly, too.

Mother’s Day Weekend (May 8, 9, or 10th, 2015)

Just as with Valentine’s Day, this is an extremely busy weekend for retail florists, so some will intentionally not book weddings or will book fewer weddings than on a typical weekend.  This, compounded with the start of wedding season, makes Mothers’ Day weekend one that books up quickly.  We’re already fully booked that weekend.

Memorial Day Weekend (May 23, 24, or 25th, 2015)

Any long weekend will be a popular weekend for weddings.  The more popular the weekend, the more quickly all types of wedding vendors will book up.

4th of July Weekend (July 3,4, or 5th, 2015)

Same reason as Memorial Day weekend

Labor Day Weekend (September 5, 6, or 7th, 2015)

Same reason as Memorial Day & 4th of July weekends.

And any catchy number sequences.  This year we have 12/13/14.  I haven’t come across any yet for next year, but I’m sure there’s something!

And I’m seeing an increase in popularity of September weddings.  Did I miss any popular weekends???  Feel free to chime in in the comments.

Happy Earth Day!

What better time than Earth Day to explain our sustainable approach to floral design!  I started Pollen specifically to offer an eco-friendly floral design option to couples planning their weddings.  In both our operations and in our sourcing of materials, we operate in as eco-friendly of a way as possible.  It’s been an evolving process, finding workarounds to the traditional ways of doing things as we go.  Here are a few of the things that we are doing differently…

We avoid using floral foam.  Floral foam is a petroleum product, never biodegrades, and contains formaldehyde.  The less of it we are putting out there, the better.  Instead of using foam, we design our arrangements in water, using chicken wire and/or tape if necessary to provide some support to the arrangement.

summer locally grown wedding bouquetWe work with local flower farmers as much as possible.  In the Chicago area, for about half the year we have access to beautiful locally grown product. During the growing season, we work with these local blooms as much as possible.  This means the product doesn’t have to travel as far (less fossil fuel required), we’re supporting the local farming community, and our designs reflect the seasons!

Throughout the year, we have several partners we lean on for our sustainable approach.

Bright Endeavors

I met the folks at Bright Endeavors when Pollen and Bright Endeavors were located in the same building in Ravenswood.  Bright Endeavors is a social enterprise that makes eco-friendly candles and bath products while providing job skills training to women who are at risk for poverty.  They have a votive refill program, where I am able to bring back my votive candles again and again to be filled with soy wax.  (Pssst…They also have products appropriate for wedding favors!)

Collective Resource

Collective Resource swings by each week to pick up our compostable materials.  They transport all of our leaves, stems, and spent flowers to a commercial composting facility. And. yes, Collective Resource offers this service for home food scraps as well.  They can also help you plan a zero-waste event!

Chicago Green Wedding Alliance

Chicago Green Wedding Alliance approved vendorThis group of wedding vendors began as a grassroots effort, formed by myself and a few other like-minded business owners wanting to encourage greener weddings and make it easier for couples to find eco-friendly wedding vendors.  We’ve grown to a membership of 40+ businesses, hosting an annual wedding show as well as other educational and fun events.  This Sunday, April 27, 2014 we’re holding our second annual Wedding Recyclery, a tag sale for couples to sell and buy gently used wedding items.  More info on the Recyclery here.

What’s next as I continue to green the business?  This year, I’m trying out growing a few things right here in our own backyard at Pollen.  Also, I’m going to work harder this year to more consistently find new homes for the flowers we bring back from events.  (If you have an organization that would benefit from slightly used flowers, feel free to reach out.)  Heads up: I’ll be looking for a volunteer to rework our picked-up flowers and coordinate their delivery!

Support Local Florists for Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day.  After 10 years working for others in retail floral, I gotta say, I don’t miss it.  Well, maybe a little.  But we don’t do Valentine’s Day at Pollen.  Just full-service weddings and events.

Today, I changed Pollen’s answering machine message to say that we don’t do gift deliveries.  Answering machine, you ask?  Yep, answering machine.  I got a land line when we moved the studio.  The anxiety of having my cell phone ring on a Sunday was starting to get to me.  (Should I answer?  Shouldn’t I?)  So I got a land line.  Unfortunately, the phone number I got with the land line belonged to a restaurant that too-recently shut down.  I should start selling pizzas on the side, with all the calls I get for food orders.

I’ll be honest, I’m going to be screening calls this week, especially on Friday.  If you want to reach me this week, send a message through the contact page here, email me, or call my cell phone if you have the number.

As I was saying, we don’t do Valentine’s Day, but I highly recommend you work directly with a florist located in the area that you would like delivery.  I while back, I provided the reasons why.  Here are some of my favorite local retail flower shops (in alpha order):

I love our floral community.  Lots of very talented florists to choose from in the area!

Second Annual Floral Design Workshop

Update 8/6/2013: The workshop is sold out.  To get first dibs next year, “like” Pollen’s Facebook page!

We at Pollen are excited to offer for the second time our Client Appreciation Floral Design Workshop, exclusively for past and present Pollen clients!  It’s a chance for us to say “thanks” to our clients and to catch up.  This year’s workshop will be held at our new studio in Avondale on Sunday, August 18th from 11AM – 1PM.

workshop setup

Pollen clients can bring a friend, drink some mimosas, and design an arrangement with locally grown flowers.

The introductory two-hour class will cover:
– flower selection,
– cut flower care, and
– the basics of floral design.

Instruction will have an emphasis on working with seasonal farmers market flowers.  After some instruction and demonstration, each student will design a floral arrangement to take home.  Students are encouraged to bring the vase they use most often, but should only bring vases that are under 10″ tall and with openings 5″ wide or less.  I’ll be demonstrating in a 5″ x 5″ cylinder to create a low and lush table centerpiece.  These same cylinders will also be available to those who don’t have an appropriately sized vase.

To offer the most interactive instruction possible, the class is limited to 16 people, and therefore clients are limited to one additional guest.  Registration is $15 per person, and includes instruction, refreshments, flowers, and the use of tools.

Last year was a blast, and we’re excited to be able to include a few more people this year in our bigger space.  I’m so looking forward to it!  Past and present Pollen clients can get more information and register here.

We’ve Moved!

We’re excited to announce that we’ve moved!  Our studio now is located at 2918 N. Milwaukee Avenue, in Chicago’s Avondale neighborhood.  Where’s Avondale, you ask?  We’re just north of Logan Square.

What’s new at the space?  It’ll be a work in progress.  We have a little yard in back that we’ll be planting up with some of our favorite things.  There will soon be a studio dog or dogs (EEP!).  And of course there’s more space.

We still are open by appointment only to potential and current clients.  Although this is a commercial location, we will continue to operate as a floral design studio, not a retail storefront.  We remain focused on providing flowers for weddings, corporate events, and social events, and do not offer delivery of individual floral arrangements.

I’ll post some fun before and after photos as we make progress on the new space, but it being June, we have to keep charging ahead with wedding season!  So please pardon our dust as we make our new home our own!

How to Pin a Boutonniere

When I deliver weddings, people are often REALLY relieved when I offer to pin on the corsages and boutonnieres.  It’s become clear that people really aren’t comfortable with this task, and I’ve seen so many strangely and/or precariously pinned boutonnieres, that I’ve decided to provide some tips on how to pin a boutonniere.

First, where does the boutonniere get placed?  On the left lapel.  On a notched lapel, such as the one shown below, the boutonniere is placed below the notch.  Many suit coats have a buttonhole in the exact area where you want to pin the boutonniere.  Guess what boutonniere means in French?  You guessed it: buttonhole.  That’s why it’s there, though admittedly kind of vestigial.

Lapel showing buttonhole

So let’s get started.  First, I hold up the boutonniere to the lapel, to see where I think it looks right.  I try to center the boutonniere on the lapel from left to right, allowing for a little space from the seam leading to the notch of the lapel.  I like to angle the stems so they follow the narrowing angle of the lapel.  You can see below what my mind is targeting as I size up the lapel.  Equal distances between the left, right, and top of the lapel, stems angled toward the bottom of the lapel.

Lapel, showing target boutonniere placement.  How to Pin a Boutonniere, by Pollen.

Now for the hard part.  Bring on the pins!  Basically, you use the pins to make a stitch through the boutonniere stems.  The stitch (or pin) begins and ends on the back side of the lapel, catching the boutonniere stem on the front of the lapel.  Make sense?  By approaching the boutonniere from the back of the lapel, the pins aren’t visible.

I hold the boutonniere in place, then flip the lapel slightly so I can see the back of the lapel.  I put the pin through the back of the lapel, fairly perpendicular to the boutonniere stems.  I like to place the first pin near the top of the stems.  The stems may be wrapped with ribbon or floral tape.  I like to get that first pin through the top of whatever is holding the stems together.  I use a second pin a little lower than the first, to prevent the boutonniere from pivoting.  Or if the boutonniere has a leaf background to it, I’ll use the second pin up higher and go through the leaf.  Below is a photo of two pins behind the lapel and through the boutonniere stems.

Back of lapel pin placement for how to pin a boutonniere.  by Pollen.

And the final product:

Pinned boutonniere, by Pollen.

I’ve seen many different ways of pinning boutonnieres, but I find this technique to work best for me.

What?  Too many words to read?  Okay, okay.  See the video here!

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Thanks to the model, Matt Gassman of The Traveling Photo Booth!

What Happens in the “Slow” Season?

People often think that those in the wedding industry get to take the winters off.  Not so!  While we do indeed have fewer weddings and events to work on during the winter months, we’re still busy, but with a different kind of work.  We’re busy with consultations, networking, marketing, and budgeting.  So what have I been doing in the off season?

With many couples getting engaged between Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day, these months are busy for wedding professionals.  “Booking season” is full of tasks like responding to inquiries, meeting for consultations, and writing proposals.  I expand my meeting hours during these months to accommodate the influx of inquiries, so just like during the wedding season, I’m still working into the evenings.  I’m doing something right–I’ve been meeting with awesome couples, and happy to report that we’re working with many of them, too!

Knowing how wedding peeps’ schedules work, those planning networking events for the wedding industry often schedule those events for January through March.  Thursday Therapy has become a popular year-round opportunity for wedding vendors to hang out in a relaxed atmosphere, and we were happy to participate in February’s Wild West themed event at the colorful and quirky Catalyst Ranch.  Pollen provided the flowers, while fellow members of the Chicago Green Wedding Alliance provided food, drinks, photography, bakery items, etc.  Other participating vendors included Cage + Aquarium, Goose Island Catering, Heather DeCamp PhotographyLuscious Layers, Nimble Well, and Spilled Ink Press.

photo by Heather DeCamp Photographyhttp://www.heatherdecampphotography.com/

photo by Heather DeCamp Photography

This is also a popular time for wedding shows, to connect wedding vendors with the recently engaged.  We keep our wedding show participation pretty streamlined.  We were excited to participate in Indie Wed and Committed this winter.  The usual wedding shows aren’t our thing, but these two shows attract a little more nontraditional crowd, which we love!

Here’s our display at Indie Wed.  Thanks to Amanda Megan Miller Photography for including us in her Indie Wed recap!

photo by Amanda Megan Millerhttp://www.amandameganmiller.com/

photo by Amanda Megan Miller

Members of the Chicago Green Wedding Alliance gathered at the end of February to display at Committed at Greenhouse Loft.  Check out the recap here.  That’s right, I’m wearing the same dress.  And if I do your wedding flowers, you’ll get to see me in it again on your wedding day!  (It’s my uniform.)

photo by Greenhouse Loft.http://www.greenhouseloft.com/

photo by Greenhouse Loft.

And then there are the less-photogenic tasks of the off season.  Bookkeeping catch-up.  Budgeting.  Organizing.  Taxes.  Catching up on all of the things that during wedding season, I tell myself, “I’ll do that in winter.”  Like blogging…