August 28. Well, the wedding. The fabulously floriferous wedding. Five months after planting the first seeds, the day arrived.
6:30 a.m. – Lin and I are out harvesting, filling 5-gallon bucket after bucket (warm water inside) with clouds of Ammi and Nicotiana, dark Moulin Rouge sunflowers, the tail end of the gladioli (not hundreds like a month ago, but many dozens).
9:30 a.m.—The bride’s father arrives to pick up the flowers, accompanied by amiable fellow wedding-gardener Kofi, whose five buckets of flowers are already tucked into the back of the mini-van. Lin and I leave an hour behind the flowers, stop to eat along the way, and arrive at the wedding grove (Nelson Family Vineyards near Hopland) at…
12:30 p.m. – The setting is a bowl of lawn shaded by old oaks, with a view out onto the vineyard. A brisk wind flaps white tablecloths held in place by stacks of dinner plates on a dozen big tables. A minimalist arbor of manzanita branches, constructed by the groom, frames the view of the vineyard and serves as the backdrop for the ceremony. All the buckets of flowers, including more from Lauren, the other participating gardener and also one of the bridesmaids, stand ready in the shade beside a work table. Lauren’s contribution includes lots of surprises: Rudbeckia, Gallardia, Cleome, and lots of heavily fragrant Oriental lilies. We see the vases for the first time, after hearing rumors about them for months – tall, modern, crystal, with the look of flowing water, bought at a department store sale by the bride’s mother and shipped out from Iowa last week.
12:50 p.m. – We’ve organized the buckets and vases, procured water for them, and set to work. We’ll have Kofi’s help for 2 hours – then he must go back to Ukiah to buy thrift store wedding clothes (his one suit not yet cleaned after another wedding last weekend). He keeps busy on prep work, stripping stems. Our other flower-arranging team member has not arrived.
1:30 p.m. – We hear that our other volunteer overslept and won’t be here in time to help at all. Gusts of wind sweep all the flowers to one side of the vase as I put them in, so I keep adding more until each vase is so full the stems are locked in place.
2:00 p.m. – The first arrangements I made were the largest two, using the tallest stems, for the base of the arbor. I set them on the lawn in the lee of the bar so they’d be out of the wind, but that wasn’t enough. I watch from across the grove as the wind catches one and then the other and they spill across the grass in slow motion. The vases are fine but only a few flowers survive. I find a pair of short vases and make a couple low bouquets to replace the tall ones. Our work area is a heap of discarded flower parts, and the ordered line of buckets has disintegrated as we shift them around to keep them shaded as the sun moves.
2:40 p.m. – The florist in charge of the bride’s and bridesmaids’ bouquets arrives with her perfect creations. “This is so interesting,” she says as she looks us over – “It reminds me of a project I did where I had homeless people come in and help arrange flowers.”
3:10 p.m. – Jenelle, Kofi’s gardening partner, arrives and sends Kofi off with her truck. She steps in long enough to make a couple dramatic table arrangements before she must adjourn to the little cabin at the edge of the grove where the bride and her maids, Jenelle among them, are stepping out of their everyday country clothes and into elegant wedding silks. The wind has become a spritely breeze; no more vases have fallen.
3:30 p.m. – Lin moves over to the arbor to bulk it up with grape branches we cut this morning. The bride’s grandparents come over to offer encouragement and assistance as she fastens flowers among the grape leaves and ties a vase to the foot of each arch just to be sure they stay upright. The grandparents drove from Iowa and are camping in a nearby state park; he is the minister officiating today.
4:05 p.m. – A generous arrangement of flowers is on each round dining table. Lin is working on the arbor, finding a use for the single-stem water holders she bought at the Oakland Flower Mart last week. I trot up to the head table, a long one on a rise facing the rest of the gathering, sloshing along several buckets of flowers, 2 low bowls, a scrap of hardware cloth, and a pair of tin snips. I fashion little frogs for the bowls to hold flowers in place – couldn’t do it ahead, since we hadn’t seen the vases, but all those library books on flower arranging had shown us the necessity. Lin has already been here with the grapevines, twining them along the front of the table, connecting the two long low arrangements I make in the bowls.
4:35 – Lin appears, huffing “Stop – we’ve got to stop doing flowers and clean up.” I surface from flower-arranging trance and look down at the grove, now filling with clean people in their best clothes. Many are moving from table to table looking at the flowers. Everyone is smiling. “In a minute,” I say. “I have to finish.”
4:45 – As we gather up our gear, load empty buckets into my car, and put the flower debris in a tidy pile that will disappear during the ceremony thanks to the caterers, guests greet us in a tentative way as they take in our disheveled, old-dirty-farmhand style. We don’t stop to chat. One friend – thank you, Lucinda – sees the situation in a glance and asks if there’s more to do. Plenty of flowers remain, and more vases. When I tell her we could use a couple more arrangements – for the gift table, the bar, the music table – she steps right up, finishing the job while Lin and I go change clothes in the porta-potty.
4:55 – We arrive as guests. It’s beautiful. The wind has calmed completely and the scent of Lauren’s lilies pervades the grove. Guests are taking photos of the flowers, which is why I can share these pictures (thank you, KC Chamberlain and Carolyn Brown), since Lin and I have finished with doing anything but enjoying a sweet celebration.