Wedding Class @ Southern Floral in Houston, TX

Written by Frances Egbert

Our industry constantly changes and evolves. The trick for us is to stay up to date with new trends, techniques, designs, and styles. Thus, learning is crucial in the flower world, and somehow nothing seems to replace hands on experience. On Wednesday, April 15th, I had the opportunity to volunteer to help J Schwanke with his Gala Wedding Bouquet Hands-On Workshop at Southern Floral. J has an amazing wealth of knowledge, sharing tricks, tips, and advice throughout the day. The class was just as much about learning how to use the incredible Gala Bouquet holder as it was about asking questions from “What is the best tool for the flowers?” to “What purpose do gard petals serve?” I’d like to share some of the advice J shared with us…

Tricks of the Trade:
“I could eat off my buckets if I had to.” J explained the importance of consistently making sure certain things in your shop are clean, well taken care of, and at the correct pH levels. He related a study done on the effectiveness of floral nutrients and how detrimental it can be to your flowers if your buckets, hoses, sinks, foam buckets, and tools aren’t cleaned properly. With proper floral nutrient a rose lasted 8 days, with plain water it lasted 6, with flowers placed in nutrient that was not correctly mixed/ distributed the flowers lasted 4-5 days. If well mixed, the solution should feature a homogeneous pH of 3 to 4.5, which is the optimal value for preserving the health of the fresh flower foliage. Use a kit to routinely check the pH levels of your flower nutrient, it will be well worth your time. Longevity is a major determinant of the happiness of our customers. The longer the flowers they receive from us last, the happier they will be, the more times they’ll return for more, and the more friends they’ll tell; which we all know is the best form of advertising.

To Wire or not to wire:
“Absolutely not! The old fashioned remedy for droopy stems is as obsolete as the Edsel!” J explained that many years ago wires would be inserted into the calyx of roses and then wrapped around the stem to prevent the rose head from drooping. This dramatically shortens the vase life of the flower because you are creating a hole in the flower for air filtration, introducing bacteria into the flower via the wire, and dehydrating the stem with floral tape. Properly “processed” healthy fresh flowers that are placed in cool flower nutrient water never need to be wired. If flower heads droop there is something dramatically wrong with the flowers or water. Cool water is best for flowers. It used to be common practice to put stems into warm or even hot water after cutting the stems, but just like hot water tends to cook things, it will slowly cook the ends of your stems. Cool water is recommended for multiple reasons, it more gentile on your flowers and its more energy efficient for your coolers.

Scissors or a Knife:
J recommends using a knife. He explained that a sharp locking blade knife will allow you to cleanly cut just about any flower stem. Scissors, while more comfortable and easy, can crush the tiny vessels that transport the water from the bottom of the stem to the bloom. If a knife is used properly you will have no problem cutting stems and keeping your hands cut-free. The best way to use a knife is to wrap the knife handle in you fingers and leave your palm open, extending your thumb. Leverage the stem between your “goal post” (thumb and knife blade) and pull. You do not need to bend the stem over the knife, that will destroy the molecular structure of the stem. And never change the distance between the knife and your thumb, this will keeps your hands safe and your flowers happy.

Lily Pollen:
Every week we seem to babysit our lilies in the front of the shop. Every so often we’ll take turns pulling out the pollen. Too often I’ve found myself throwing away the pollen pods and wiping my hands on my apron or slacks, and no matter what type of fancy stain remover I use it never seems to come out. J suggested leaving your un-washed untreated pollen stained clothes in the sun for 3 hours. The sun will neutralize the pollen and you will be pollen free after you wash and care for your clothes properly!

Designing in the Gala Bouquet holder:

Armed with 5 orchids, 6 roses, 2 spray roses, monte casino, ruscus, lily grass, aspidistra leaves, Colorfesh plumosa, and ribbon we began creating our beautiful cascade bouquets. There were people with all levels of experience participating, and interestingly enough we all exchanged ideas, methods, and other useful information, teaching each other as we were learning from J. We focused on line, movement, space, and how to properly use a bouquet holder. He emphasized that now is the time to practice. It takes time to get used to how long stems need to be before placing them in the foam, and where to put each stem, how to get the shape that you want and so forth. Practice now, so you are comfortable with the design, then when you are making a bridal bouquet you can have a more secure design that will withstand the throwing and dancing that it sure to come when the bride receives her beautiful masterpiece.
J taught us a beautiful technique that would be perfect for a little glam, a winter look, or a fun sparkle. He sprayed tack 2000 onto a beautiful Eufloria rose and dipped it in Crystalina glitter, creating a snow topped look on the petals of the rose. We did the same with the Monte Casino which added a little glam to our beautiful bouquets. It would be a perfect way to dress up a boutonniere or corsage, and took virtually no time to stylize. J also recommended using ribbon throughout your design. It will give you the freedom to introduce texture and dimension into your creations.
When we finished with our bouquets J explained how to properly use Floral Lock or Bouquet Hold. He explained that we should not stick the end of the straw into the foam, but rather get close to it and spritz a little at a time. Be careful of any of the solution getting into your eyes, so keep your distance. To store the Floral Lock, leave the red straw attached, and as J said “don’t pick at the end of the straw, no matter how much you want to. When you need to use it again cut 1/4 an inch off the straw and you will have no problems with clogging.” He continued to explain that leaving the little bit of glue on the end of the straw also seals the container and doesn’t allow any bacteria to thrive within.

J’s class was a great way to become familiar with how to use the Gala Bouquet holder, learn useful tips and tricks, and socialize amongst other flower enthusiasts. Wendee Gordon from Olive Tree Florists related her feelings about using the bouquet holder: ” This is my first experience with a bouquet holder. J took the fear away, he made it easy and fun to use.” Donna Leger explained that ” It has been super exciting, and a little intimidating as a beginner, but J made me feel so welcome. I learned so much and I’ll be back next time!” Making bouquets is one of the most fulfilling parts of our careers. It’s amazing to see the brides reaction when you hand her a beautiful piece of art. What a great way to learn more about how to make that happen, and to be confident with your designs. To learn more tricks of the trade from J visit his website at

As J emphasized on that night at his show, we are in desperate need for the opportunities to further our education, to share our knowledge, and develop our skills. The more we know the better armed we are to face the challenges and continual changes of the flower industry. We are all ready to burst into bloom, but we need that last little push. I’d like to say thank you to Allied for providing an opportunity to “get pushed.”