Wedding Flowers

Often, the string quartet is the 1st to arrive at the church or to set themselves up in the civil ceremony room. Because of this, the musicians get to see the flower arrangements in their full glory, without guests being in the way. The flower displays can be stunning, but there can be problems.

One problem is that our viola player is allergic to lilies, which are often used as part of displays, so he tries to get as far away from the displays as possible. Another problem is that a string quartet are sometimes positioned close to where the ceremony is to take place, there are often tall pedestals with flower arrangements balanced precariously on top. If the string quartet has to squeeze in between desks, chairs and flower displays, it can become a bit hazardous, especially with violin and cello bows fly around the place.

Myrtle is held to be the luckiest flower for a window-box and in Wales is planted on either side of the front door to bring harmony to the household. With its white, sweet-smelling flowers and lustrous dark leaves, fragrant when bruised, redolent of romance and happiness, myrtle preceded orange blossom in the bridal bouquet and many bushes at cottage doors owe their existence to the old country custom of planting a sprig from the bride's bouquet when she returned from church. This planting was always done by a bridesmaid, never by the bride, and the future blooming of the bush portended another wedding. If the sprig did not strike, the planter was destined to become an old maid but myrtle's obliging nature made this depressing outcome unlikely. Myrtle grown from Queen Victoria's wedding bouquet in 1840 furnished the traditional sprig for Princess Anne's wedding bouquet in 1973 as well as the requirement of 'something old'. (For the princess 'something borrowed' was the tiara owned by Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, which had been worn by Queen Elizabeth II, then Princess Elizabeth, at her wedding twenty-six years earlier. Apart from myrtle, the princess's bouquet included fifteen white roses, fifty lilies of the valley, a few white orchids and orange blossoms — all traditional wedding flowers.)

Marigold, green broom and rosemary, gilded and dipped into scented rosewater for added fragrance, were favourite wedding plants in Tudor England. (Rosewater in food or drink, Persian brides say, binds a husband to his wife.) As late as 1700 country bridal beds were decked with rosemary for remembrance. In Gloucestershire until a hundred years ago, bridemaids carried white Achillea Ptarmica —'seven years' love'—to bring about this happy state for the bride, and French brides believe that mignonette—'little darling'—in the bouquet will hold a husband's affections. The significantly named 'baby's breath', Gypsophila paniculata, with a cloud of tiny white flowers, is a bouquet ingredient with obvious fertility connotations: on a day chosen at random in the summer of 1974 twelve out of sixteen brides in Winnipeg, Canada, included baby's breath in their bouquets. The flowering quince, Cydonia japonica, is another well-liked bridal flower, deriving from the ancient Greek belief that a shared quince promotes love between husband and wife. Lily of the valley makes a potent love charm, both before and at the wedding. About 1897, a putty figurine of a man, together with withered rosebuds and lily of the valley, was found in a little-used attic under the roof near the servants' quarters at The Poplars, Hereford, England, probably a love charm hidden by a maidservant. In France, lily of the valley is the traditional lover's gift on i May, and today both the flower and the scent, 'muguet', are widely advertised as May Day approaches.

The orange tree, simultaneously bearing golden fruit, sweet-scented white flowers and leaves — typifying fertility through this abundance - is a traditional ingredient in love charms and marriage luck. This particular traditional in Spain, where orange trees are plentiful. Saracen brides wore its flowers as a sign of fecundity and crusaders are said to have carried the custom to the West. When Jacqueline Kennedy married Aristotle Onassis in Greece in 1968, the couple danced round the altar and were crowned with orange blossoms in the traditional Greek style. (Again, orange trees are plentiful in this country.) Artificial orange blossoms, although ubiquitous, are a little suspect and must be destroyed within a month of the wedding lest their good luck turn to ill. (It's also good for the suppliers of artificial flowers, they certainly don't want them to be reused!)

White is the colour for most weddings and white-petalled flowers — orange blossoms, roses, violets, camellias, lilac, stephanotis and, above all, Lilium candidum, the white or madonna lily, are top wedding favourites. While the use of flowers at weddings is as widespread as ever, bouquet shapes have changed. Mrs Slater, chief florist at Moyses Stevens in London and creator of Princess Anne's bouquet, said of the years since Princess Elizabeth's wedding in 1947: 'Bouquets have changed a lot — they're much smaller now, daintier'. (This is good news for the string quartet. There have been a few occasions when we've had to dodge bouquets of flowers being thrown the bridesmaids to catch, but where the bride hasn't been very accurate in her throwing!)

Miss B. D. Hadow of the same firm adds: 'Most bouquets these days are chosen, as far as shape and colour are concerned, to complement the bride's dress. . . if the bride is wearing a period dress she would certainly want a loose Victorian posy, probably in a lace frill with ribbons. If... she is wearing a modern style, the bouquet would be designed entirely to enhance the design of the dress. We find that brides very rarely come in to ask for any specific flower, but prefer to describe what they and the bridesmaids are wearing and to ask for our advice as to toning colours, suitable flowers, and overall shape.' American florists report that the once-popular 'arm' and 'shower' bouquets (the latter with tiny flowers attached to satin ribbons falling from the main bouquet) have been eclipsed by bouquets carried in front, such as the 'cascade'— triangular and falling to a slender point. Bouquets are normally the concern of the bride and bridesmaids alone — but in a novel departure at his White House wedding to Nellie Grant, Algernon Sartoris, the bridegroom, carried the bouquet of orange blossoms, pink rosebuds and tuberoses, with a trailing streamer inscribed 'LOVE'.

At Western weddings the bridegroom, best man and ushers usually wear white carnations, gardenias or camellias as boutonnieres (an American bridegroom in a white wedding jacket, on the other hand, wears a red flower) and by an old tradition the bridegroom is supposed to choose a flower which also appears in his bride's bouquet. (, Occasionally, buttonholes have been supplied for the members of the string quartet).

An American wedding custom, deriving from the old English 'flinging the stocking' (described later) is 'throwing the bouquet'. Just before the bride leaves to change for her honeymoon (inexplicably Jewish brides throw their bouquets after changing into going-away clothes) she mounts a staircase or dais and tosses her bouquet among the bridesmaids standing below; the girl who catches it will be the next bride. (Or, as I said in the previous paragraph, if she is not very good at her throwing, the bouquet can head in the direction of the string quartet, this rather difficult to dodge a flying bouquet holding a violin or cello.)

If no bouquet is carried the bride's floral fan or prayer-book markers are thrown instead. Bridegrooms sometimes toss their buttonholes among their ushers. In Europe the bride's bouquet has medicinal virtue, and it is said that three leaves from it will cure any fever.

The bride's floral wreath, worn in her hair, signifies maidenhood; its destruction, the end of girlhood. Like the bouquet it may be thrown, this time among the guests, and to secure a fragment means early marriage. In Switzerland it is set alight by the gelbefrau or mistress of ceremonies at the wedding, (presumably after the bride has removed it from my hair, so beware the over enthusiastic gelbefrau). Brisk burning is lucky; smouldering less so. (Beware of the smell of lighter fuel). The bride kneels in the 'ashes of maidenhood' and asks the company's blessing upon her marriage.

I presume that the insurance of wedding venues in Switzerland is somewhat different to that in the UK. Particularly extreme are the insurance requirements of local authority wedding venues, some of which are completely ridiculous. There is one local authority owned venue, not so far from where I live, that has introduced a new ruling. This ruling relates to jazz bands, ceilidh bands and pop bands, but also, probably unbeknown to them, also the string quartet. They state that the loudspeakers of the bands PA system mustn't produce any sound at a lower frequency than 100 hertz. I presume that this is because they're frightened of sound waves causing vibration damage to their ancient venue.

However they got it a bit wrong. The bottom note of a bass guitar and of a double bass, as used in an orchestra, is something like 45 Hz. Even the bottom note of a cello, as used in a string quartet, is it about 65 Hz. So this means that no music group of any kind that uses a bass instrument, can ever play at their venue. This is complete nonsense, because they regularly have string quartets, jazz bands and ceilidh bands at the venue. I've played there many times myself. I'm guessing that most bands just ignore this and say okay. The problem comes if there is some instant at the venue, possibly nothing to do with the band itself, but that gets the lawyers involved. Lawyers will typically search for anything that they can pin the blame on, they're looking for the softest target. If the bands PA system, or cellist of the string quartet, can be shown to have played a sound below hundred hertz, (which will certainly be the case. I don't know of any PA systems ever designed that would cut out sound below hundred hertz.) So the lawyers will have found their soft target, the musicians.

I suspect somebody got their decimal place wrong, either in miss copying, or out of ignorance. The number should have been 10 Hz, which is getting towards the resonant frequency of some architectural items". He would never thought that playing in a jazz band or a string quartet would involve dealing with such crazy things, but I suppose it keeps life interesting.