Wedding Flowers & More: Interview with Anna Fern

Today’s interview is with the wonderful Anna from Anna Fern Weddings, a florist and stylist whom I hugely admire: her work is full of creativity, heart, and magic, while also always being so modern and innovative, which I adore. She’s a fellow Italian, a fellow Londoner, and a fellow romantic – I know you’ll love her as much as I do and I’m so excited for you to learn more about her. She kindly shares so many insightful notes with us today about what it means to tell couples’ stories through their wedding flowers, which I hope will be really educational and interesting for all of you wonderful readers.

Could you tell me a little bit more about you, your background, your brand, your style of floristry, and how you unlocked that style?

As you know, I was born and bred in Italy, where I was until I finished my university Master (in Plant Biotechnology). I then moved to Sweden, in the far North, for my PhD in Plant Biology – and no, my plant related career has had not much impact on how I do my floristry! I spent around 8 years killing plants to see how they looked inside and to grind them up into a fine powder to extract various substances from it, so not quite the same! 🙂

After my science career I moved into wedding planning, which has been an invaluable experience. Now, as a florist, that knowledge allows me to work with planners much more efficiently. I know what they need from me, what to ask them, and how they normally work. I also offer on-the-day coordination and have often had a double role as florist and coordinator on the day. It’s a lovely opportunity to do two jobs I really enjoy doing! While I was a wedding planner, I also started to train with a luxury London florist, as I wanted to develop more skills and learn something new. It all has stemmed (pun intended!) from there. I have ALWAYS loved flowers, one of my earliest memories is going for a countryside walk with my family and coming back with a huge bouquet of wildflowers, which gained the prime spot in the living room and was then dried and kept for years! My approach to flowers has always been very instinctive, I still choose colours and flower pairings based on the way they make me feel rather than specific colour theories or shape rules. So far, it’s always worked amazingly – nature is perfectly imperfect!

To me, flowers should be something that moves you emotionally, that makes you smile and gives you an endorphin rush. I compare it to the same feelings you get looking at paintings or sculptures for example! I love gardens and anything revolving around them (one of my favourite spots in London is Kew Gardens, I’ve had the annual membership for 6 years now!), so I always take inspiration from the look and feel of gardens, the way rose bushes climb up a wall and plants appear from a stone path. My brand and my floristry work are all about honesty, feelings, and emotions. I want couples to feel taken care of and surrounded by a colourful warm hug.

Can you describe that moment (experience, emotion, and so on) when you knew that floristry and styling were what you wanted to do?

I’ve always been a shy person, and styling and floristry are two ways of expressing myself and show my world to everyone in a much more powerful way than I can do with words. One of the defining moments was a styling I designed, which involved constructing a dress out of wisteria. I collaborated with a seamstress, a hair and make up artist, and a photographer; we literally drove around to collect flowers, and attached them one by one to the bodice and skirt of the dress! It was an incredibly powerful experience of pure creativity, with no limitations other than our imagination. The feeling of pure joy that project gave me stayed with me and repeats itself anytime I create something I’m proud of.

Can you tell me a little bit more about your processes? How do you design a floral concept for couples that reflects them?

I start from the choice of venue, which tells me a lot about the couple and their style. I look at it in terms of photography opportunities – it’s easier for me to suggest where to place flowers if I think about where guests are going to walk through, where the bride is going to make her appearance, what the flow of the day is within the space, and so on. We discuss in detail the style and feel of the flowers they love most, going through a list of adjectives to describe them in terms of textures, shapes, and feel of what they wish to achieve with the overall floral decor. For example, they might say they love wild, flowy, and natural florals – or maybe delicate and ethereal. This gives me a starting point to then go back, sit down at my desk, take out a notebook, and start writing down ideas. We chat colours, and I routinely expand on the base colour palette of the wedding, so that flowers have even more impact. Sometimes it’s just about adding one shade, sometimes it’s about throwing something unexpected in the mix. It all ends up in a big proposal, which might include sketches as well if I cannot find any reference photo (that’s the hard part, sometimes the idea I have has not been done before and I need to be able to present it to the couple by almost creating a moodboard for a single installation). It normally takes me a couple of weeks of research, speaking with suppliers and getting quotes to present a bespoke proposal. From there, the couples and I discuss options (as I might suggest more than an alternative design for each of the ceremony, drinks reception and dinner decorations) and move forward.

Do you usually work weddings on your own, or do you have a team?

I have delivered a few small weddings and events by myself, but most times you will find me working alongside a team of loyal and trusted freelancers, and possibly even production crews as well if the job requires it. The size of the team really depends on the wedding: schedule of the day, the number of arrangements, in situ installations, turnaround timings, what kind of rules the venue sets, the amount of time allowed for takedown, and so on. This is something most couples tend to not know, and I completely understand why: weall do our best to deliver without involving the client in all the background planning and work that goes into pulling the wedding off. I have learned how important it is to only show the amazing result and not the hard work that is behind it during my years as a wedding planner, and I have decided to apply this to my floristry work as well, as I believe it’s key to great service. Even the few couples that ask about the size of the team, or remark on how little time is available for set up of a specific area, often underestimate the number of people and time necessary to complete the tasks. Obviously the size of the team and time they are required onsite has an impact on the overall budget, but my focus is to always make sure we deliver the job in the best way and as safely as possible for the team and the couple. A wedding is big project, with a lot of variables, and we have to decide what can and cannot be done in advance, depending on the flowers we use, how to transport it in the most efficient and safe way, what needs to be done in situ, how many people to dedicate to a specific installation, and so on. There are a million different things going through my head in the months leading up to a wedding, on the few days before, and on the day. I live on lists of things and tasks to cross off!

What does YOUR typical wedding day/week schedule look like?

I tend to sleep only a few hours before a wedding – do you remember the fear of not hearing the alarm clock the day of a school trip? It’s kind of similar! If I manage to get any sleep at all, I’m up insanely early, normally around 2 – 3 am. The first thing I do is get myself a cup of coffee, so that I can feel relatively human! I then do one last check of the flowers to make sure they are all still looking lovely, and proceed to make things like buttonholes and bouquets, so that they are superfresh, and to pack them carefully. I would have already done a list of everything I need the day before, and packed and labelled everything, and placed it in order for it to be loaded on the van correctly depending on when we need it. I run through it again to make sure I have everything, recount the arrangements, and I’m then ready to load it all up. I usually rent a van with a driver, so that I can fully keep the focus on the wedding rather than on the road itself, and once we are all safely packed we leave. We might be delivering personal flowers first, or going to the venue directly to start setting up. I tend to leave well in advance, as traffic can be a huge issue, especially in Central London! Once at the venue, we unload everything and I start briefing the team on what needs to be done, dividing them in smaller teams, describing arrangements, providing photos and references and explaining the look and feel we want to achieve. Then it’s all hands on deck! I supervise everyone’s work and make sure it’s all up to the standards I want it to be. Typically we breathe again once the couple sits down for dinner, but it’s not for long, as we still have the takedown to go through, once the evening is done. This can be a gruelling task, at silly o’clock. By then, my day has gone into the almost 24h of continuous work! If you think the day of the wedding is a little insane, the lead up to it is also pretty hectic, with flower deliveries in the middle of the night, flower prepping, keeping flowers alive and making sure they open just right (move them into the heat, move them back into the shade, change water when needed…it’s almost like having a little army of temperamental toddlers), collecting props, and so much more!

What are some things couples can look out for when choosing their venue, in terms of floristry opportunities/limitations?

Parking, loading, and unloading space is one of the nightmares we have to sometimes deal with. Of course, one can’t choose a venue just based on that! But it is definitely one of the biggest obstacles to being able to do our job efficiently and safely. Timing restrictions are another one of the biggest limitations in my experience. I have worked with Grade II listed venues which tend to have very strict rules of what can and cannot be done with flowers (from the use of certain materials, to the use of water, to protecting marble floors and staircase barricades) and although it requires a higher level of attention to detail and good planning, it is not as complex as having to change over an entire room in one hour, with tables and chairs still to be put in place. Or having to build a Chuppah on site with only 1.5 hrs before the ceremony starts. The more time and the fewer restrictions a venue gives suppliers, the more freedom we have in being creative and being also able to reuse and repurpose arrangements through the day.

In terms of opportunities, it’s great to see how many focal points the couple can find throughout the venue. Ask the venue coordinator to walk you through the venue the same way the guests would on the day of the wedding, so that you can experience that same journey, and see what they will see. How much time will they spend in each room? Is there a staircase or fireplace, or windowsill screaming to be decorated? Any ceiling fixtures or possibility to hang décor?

Luxury Wedding Flowers
Leana Catherine Photography

What tips would you give couples looking for their wedding or elopement florist?

Do your research, ask your friends for suggestions and recommendations, scout the internet and find a florist whose work makes you heart skip a beat. Then ask for an in-person meeting if you are able to, to get a feel for them. Do you seem to have the same vibes, do you feel comfortable with them, do they get you? It’s definitely a two way street, we also want to make sure we have a great feeling about you as a couple and that we would work well together, and that first meeting is a great chance to discover that.

What questions would you want couples to ask you before booking you, in order to find out if you’re the right fit for one other?

I want a couple to feel free to ask as many questions as they need to! I’m totally happy for them to ask me about my design and booking process, so they can be 100% comfortable with it. I want them to be interested in how I do things and how they are involved in the process, so we are both just as invested in one another.

What would you like to educate couples (and other suppliers) about when it comes to the behind-the-scenes of your work: your costs, the nature of your work, the time you dedicate to learning and training, challenges you face, things that are misunderstood, etc…

I think there are a lot of things that couples may not know about the behind-the-scenes of floristry – quite understandably! If it’s not your area of expertise, all one might see is the beauty and effortlessness of the final result. And that’s totally fine! But yes, it is a lot of hard work: it starts with long hours to pull together the proposal, then it’s early mornings and late nights, long days worrying about the flowers being available, of good quality, nice size, then the challenge of keeping them alive and well and hydrated so that they perform at their best on the wedding day. Different arrangements and items need to be prepared at different stages, so there is a lot of planning involved. Labour costs come into place as well as mentioned above. Transports, pickups, takedowns, specific vases or stands, arches and urns, it all adds up. Of course, we’re required to have insurance, as most venues now require a 5ML public liability and some even higher. It’s also a very physically demanding job, as there is a lot of loading and unloading heavy buckets, bucket scrubbing at the end of the wedding (one of my least favourite jobs…!). There is a lot of physically and mentally demanding work, with some considerable stress involved and a lot of planning and thinking involved.

Costs that I need to account for include transport, labour (especially if a crew is required for larger installations), and, depending on the size of the wedding, extra studio space might be required too. Also the prime material, flowers and greenery, comes at a considerable cost. Couples might be used to seeing cheap petrol station or supermarket flowers, but the flowers we work with for weddings are of completely different provenance and quality. We use a selection of wholesalers, based in the UK and Holland, tested and trusted, with whom we develop close relationships and who have special relationships with growers around the world. I tend to use what is in season, as the quality is much better and availability more secure, however when you build a proposal you use projections and prediction in price, and as flowers are living and breathing creatures, we can never be sure of what’s going to happen with the weather – and ultimately to the prices! All this needs to be taken into account. Training never stops, and something I enjoy very much is freelancing for other florists, as this is a great way to pick up tricks and tips, and to be involved in incredible projects. This year I am planning to train more in sustainable floristry techniques (for example, with reduced floral foam) and I want to join a flower retreat with other florists. I enjoy reading books and experimenting with techniques I see in the work of other florists. It’s an ever-evolving art, and I feel that learning new styles and techniques can only improve the way I serve my couples.

Luxury Wedding Flowers
Nkima Photography

What is your favourite part of the wedding to flower?

I don’t think I could answer that without feeling like I’ve been asked to choose my favourite child (well, I don’t have kids, but you get what I mean!). I would probably have to say, whatever installation makes the bride and groom cry and the guests go WOW! It could be an entrance arch, or a sweeping staircase, a floral tunnel, a suspended cloud, or the ceremony decor. A favourite of mine (but boy, the pressure!) is creating the bridal bouquet, as you get that intimate experience of presenting it to the bride and seeing her reaction up close. Buttonholes are a lot of fun too – they are literally little delicate bouquets for the groom and guests and I think they can be extremely meaningful!

What makes you give yourself a mental high five post-wedding?

The smiles on the couples’ faces, the pat on the back from the freelancers, the email in the inbox the day after to say it all was amazing – and the chance for some sleep of course!

What is your dream location to flower a wedding?

I love a venue that has a beautiful inside and outside, and opportunities to create a visual or physical link between the two. Places like castles, old churches in ruins, walled gardens, country houses…but I also love to take a venue in the heart of a city and transform it with flowers and greenery into a small oasis of magic. I’m also partial to fully outdoor weddings, like the venue style you can find in Italy and South of France!

If you could flower anyone’s wedding (celebrity or fictional character – past, present, or future), who would be the lucky couple?

Oh wow! Great question! I have to admit I have a huge girl crush on Jodie Comer (Villanelle in Killing eve), so if she ever gets married, I’d like to put myself forward… She is just so stunning and elegant, and I imagine a very fashion-forward wedding, with monochromatic explosions of flowers, a feminine and structured bouquet, possibly a hairpiece or some floral jewellery… it would be a dream come true!

What are your favourite sources of inspiration for your work?

I start from the colour palette, and then start thinking about the kind of flowers that would likely be used to deliver a certain style and feel for the arrangements… and I go from there. I screenshot lots of things I like – it might be for example that I love how a specific flower is placed in an arrangement and I want to replicate that specific placement in a bouquet. I can screenshot a photo that brings me a certain emotion that I want to recreate, or it could be a corner of a quirky street I’ve been walking through. Sometimes ideas just come to me, and I wouldn’t really be able to tell you how…!

Do you have any projects on the horizon you’d like to tell us about?

I’ve just launched a new service, in addition to my fully bespoke floral design, which I’m so excited about! I want couples that love my style to be able to access what I do even if they have a conservative budget or simply aren’t spending above £2,000 for floral décor as they might be eloping. The idea is very simple: the couple can choose up to 3 colours, and I do the rest! Each of the 4 packages we have developed includes a different amount of flowers, and we will create something unique every time, even for couples choosing the same package. Colours will be different, shapes and vases will be different. They are not floral packages for couples just looking to find the cheapest alternative out there – it’s an offer developed specifically for couples with smaller weddings that want to have Anna Fern Wedding floral décor, as they appreciate our designs and trust we can deliver something special for them.

I really hope you enjoyed getting to know the lovely Anna, and learning more about the wonderful and immensely complex behind-the-scenes world of flowers. I absolutely adore her commitment to each and every one of her weddings, and how creatively and mindfully she is adapting her services for couples having micro weddings or elopements.

To get in touch with her about your wedding or elopement flowers, head over to her contact page – she’s planning on expanding this interview into a series of blog posts over on her website, so do make sure you follow her on Instagram and Facebook to keep up to date! And I’m also planning on having her as a guest on my soon-to-launch podcast – so if you have any questions for her or any topics you’d love her to cover, get in touch!