Smithers-Oasis North America Design Director Sharon McGukin, AIFD, AAF, PFCI enjoys sharing floral tips and techniques for celebrating life with flowers.
How do wedding flower design stories go from 'disaster to delight' in times of challenge? Event designer Ian Prosser AIFD, AAF, PFCI of Botanica in Tampa, Florida shares his experience.
Ian is known for rushing from one fabulous event to another. The photos are glamorous. The wedding designs exquisite. Botanica events come together in perfect detail. Until they don't!
We've all had 'that wedding.' The one where things start to roll out of control, challenging us to rein it back in.
“This was a very high budget wedding. It went awry, but we made a purse out of a Sow's Ear. And, in the end, they were absolutely thrilled,” Ian begins as he shares details about how the Botanica team turned near failure into a fabulous finish. Tornado. Hurricane Ian.
Suddenly trucking a wedding from Tampa to New York City. From grit to glory, these are stories we can learn from.
Photo: Ian Prosser AIFD, AAF, PFCI
Photo: Ian Prosser AIFD, AAF, PFCI
Sometimes Mother Nature throws us challenges, even to those at the top of their game. Regaining control requires focus, finesse, and flexibility. Florists always strive for pretty, but this story is about being prepared.
Ian's social media posts usually feature Botanica’s beautiful work and appreciative clients. One photo revealed an exhausted Ian standing in a rain slicker, soaking wet in a downpour. He had just survived a simultaneous wedding and tornado. Ian was the victor.
Soon after, Hurricane Ian offered an opportunity to relearn the 'can do' lesson amidst local destruction. “Yeah, my namesake. And it created so much havoc,” laughs Ian. In the world of events, the show must go on. The Botanica team loaded a transfer truck, and magically moved a wedding from Florida to New York City. Just another day in the life of a mega florist. Right?
“One wedding really caused us to think on our feet. It's pointless panicking because you have a job to do. You have a very set time frame that you have to be complete in.”
The wedding took place at the Ca' d'Zan - the Ringling Museum; hunting lodge of John and Mabel Ringling. “Which is no regular hunting lodge. The entire thing is marble, so it's not quite a log cabin in the woods,” adds Ian.
With an eye on the weather, the team arrived on-site ahead of time. “I don't want to arrive on time. I always want to be there ahead of time so that I can assess all situations,” Ian explains. The wind was blowing. There was absolutely no way the ceremony could take place where it had been planned. The wedding planner suggested Plan B.
“I wasn’t overly happy about it,” Ian continues. “Because the driveway needed to be accessible until 3:30, and I had a $20,000 structure to produce. It was 10-feet square and 12-feet tall, and took six designers four hours to produce.” The facilities manager agreed. "There was no way to physically lift and move the structure because of weight of so many Oasis cages and flowers. I was pretty thrilled that we could not. Because this is a facility where we are not allowed to drive anything into the ground for stability.”
Neither could thing be attached to a staircase handrail; designs must be freestanding. They moved to Plan C. Adjacent to the building was a tent for cocktails. “And the whole big thing was "What we're going do with the cocktail party?" says Ian. “I said, quite frankly, "I don't really care about the cocktail party. We can move that somewhere. We've got to attend to the ceremony."
What’s the first step when things roll out of control? Get a willing consensus from the decision makers. When dropping off the wedding bouquet at the house, Ian said to the bride, "Just so you know, I greatly doubt that we can do the ceremony where you want it to be, but as long as I have your trust and you know that I have your best interests at heart, we will make this as fabulous as we can. But, we have to address the reality of the situation."
Meanwhile, the tent canvas was blowing like crazy. The planner was busy addressing the needs of every vendor. “I eventually just had to take charge and say, "Okay, I understand what you're saying, but this is what we need to do."
Botanica constructed the flower structure around a 54-inch crystal chandelier. Seating was arranged in the round so everybody had an awesome view. A 70-foot long meandering path with flowers on either side was created. A beautiful entrance with flowers all along the back of the seats greeted guests as they arrived. Flowers graced both sides of the aisle. “It really turned out gorgeous.”
“Then came the reception. Oh my gosh!” Ian proclaims. They were working in a completely open courtyard in the museum. “We knew that the weather was going to lift towards the end of the day, but things needed to get done now.” While the ceremony took place in the other space, Botanica created three gorgeous archways for guests to walk through using furniture belts to strap the structures to trees.
The crew was working at crazy speeds trying to catch up. In the unloading area only one vehicle was allowed at a time because the grass was so wet. “Now 15 team members were held up for two hours. We've now lost 30 hours of installation time.” Ian turned into a little general. I explained to the staff, "Please don't take this personally, but I have got to keep you on track here."
The planned beautiful archways at the entrance could no longer happen. The open space was now the cocktail area. A gorgeous round bar with four huge Accent Decor containers filled with 50 pounds of weights, and a flower bucket holding 12 bricks of wet Oasis foam. “You're talking substantial weight, plus all the flowers. Those beasts were exactly that!” A fine, calm, cooperative weather settled in as they designed. “Then, all of a sudden, I hear wind and an almighty crash. I thought it was a caterer situation where plates had smashed or something. We look up and the four big heavy arrangements that were on the bar had blown off onto the ground.”
The containers and flowers were smashed. Some of the containers were broken. “Fortunately, we always carry extras, just in case. We used two of the least broken containers. On the spot, we remade these four $1,500 arrangements. “
Everything was reshuffled. The client was extremely happy. It was beautiful. “Sadly, for us, it was not exactly how it was supposed to be. You don't get those glorious images that you were going to get,” Ian adds in disappointment.
Photo: Ian Prosser AIFD, AAF, PFCI
Photo: Ian Prosser AIFD, AAF, PFCI
Valuable lessons were learned. The trucks were only allowed in one at a time due to wet grass. “From now on I will number those trucks! The truck that has the Oasis products in it will be the first truck in, not truck number four. We had to unload three trucks to get to everything we needed first from that last truck.
Many things had to be produced on-site. This was $200,000 in flowers with lots of containers, Oasis foam, cages, and raquettes, and other materials. “Had I numbered the trucks, I would've known which truck to bring in first. I will most decidedly do that next time’” says Ian assuredly. “We were all thrown a curve ball which was a bit of a disaster. We lived to tell the tale. That's a mistake that I will not make again.”
“You know, as old as dirt as I am, I can still learn. It doesn't matter how many years you've been in this business. I thought, "Dang it, we're getting held up because we're bringing candles and all of this other stuff off first because it's the first truck to arrive in the loading zone. Let me tell you - there may have been a cocktail or two consumed that evening!”
That's how you go from grit to glory. You learn and you do it again. People look at Ian’s work as so glorious and think, "Oh, it's easy for him because he has a big budget." Wedding flowers are easy for no one. There's always a challenge. We can learn from each other.
If Ian thought, this was the worst that could happen … that was before he realized Hurricane Ian was headed his way. “It was supposed to be a head on hit for Tampa, but we were spared,” shares Ian. As soon as they knew their homes and business were going to be safe, their focus went to the island, Boca Grande. Where Botanica does a lot of very high-end weddings.
“It all comes down to - don't carry all your eggs in one basket,” Ian continues. In an eleven-week period, nine weddings were scheduled in Boca Grande. The first one canceled because it was a Saturday after the hurricane and nobody was getting on-island. “There's barely a leaf left on any of those trees.”
The following week all the flowers had already been purchased for a wedding. “We actually had a flower sale at our business and sold the flowers for less than they cost us. We were able to donate, $4,300 to the church they were supposed to get married in. At least some good came from that, which was really nice.”
The hurricane happened on Wednesday. By Friday we heard rumblings that they might move the wedding. “By Sunday, we knew the it had been moved to New York City - 60% of their guests were from New York or New Jersey. This family had quite some pull. They made a phone call to St. Patrick's Cathedral. Within 10 days, we had a 6:15 PM time slot for this wedding on a Saturday night, which is completely unheard of.” Ian explains. Apparently, they have a two-year waiting list to get married in the cathedral.
Photo: Ian Prosser AIFD, AAF, PFCI
Zoe and Ian reworked the plan on Monday, having many discussions with the family and groom. “These were very emotional conversations because everybody's in a complete tailspin.” Creative director, Zoe, is also Ian’s daughter. On Thursday, Zoe and Ian went to New York spending 15 hours, including travel, in the city looking at St. Patrick's Cathedral, finding all the logistical nightmares. “Remember, it's right in the middle of Manhattan. We are from Florida. We've never dealt with this before. I know that many of my peers deal with it on a regular basis, but we hadn't.”
Two team members left Tampa on Monday with a truck filled with everything needed - containers, buckets, tables, even heaters. “We ended up working in the family's barn in New Jersey, which was not heated.” The flowers were rerouted to a New Jersey wholesaler. Five designers flew in on Tuesday to start producing the wedding. Ian called some floral friends to join the team in NYC, because Botanica had another big wedding in Tampa that weekend. The production went without a hitch. “Remember, now it's a complete rework of the reception under pressure. We had about 50 hours of redesign in this wedding. We did not charge the client for those extra hours. Maybe we should have, but we didn't,” Ian confides.
“Fortunately, they're a wealthy family and just beyond appreciative that we would actually go to New York and do this wedding.” For them to find a florist that could suddenly produce a wedding of this size would have been difficult. “They said we want you to come and do the wedding. We did.”
The small Catholic church in Boca Grande, held 90 people, seating another 90 in the church courtyard, for a total of 180 guests. The flowers planned were much smaller. Two altar pieces for $550-$600 apiece. This would look like a bud vase in St. Patrick's Cathedral.
Ian had to go back to the family and say, "We need another $4,000 in order to do what you want in the church. Or, we need to cut things.” They were delightful. “They gave us everything we needed. We rented vehicles. Booked 33 hotel room nights. It was a difference of $24,000, but they did it.”
The turn-around took place within a 10-day period, which was amazing. What was planned here didn't work there. “Unfortunately, one of the most unpleasant experiences that I've had in my 40-odd years in this business was working with the facilitator at the museum. It goes back to what my parents used to say to me “It's not what you say, it's the manner in which you say it."
The facilitator threw up as many hurdles as she possibly could. Including somebody staged at the bottom of the staircase to catch leaves as they fell. “Come on! It’s smilax,” Ian rolls his eyes. They didn't want leaves falling on the glass. “Now you've lost a person until the stair case is complete. You just have to bite the bullet. There are these people in the world. You have to realize you’re there for the client.” Dealing with negativity adds another layer to of angst the challenge.
“I met her in the walk-through. It could have been as simple as "I know it's your first time here. Let's run over some of the details that we need to be aware of," Ian suggests. Warm and fuzzy. “Because of their junky elevator, we carried in 50 buckets of flowers and put them down.” Then, 10 minutes later she tells the team they need to move the buckets, so they moved them. We just get those 50 buckets repositioned, and she says "Oh, I forgot to tell you, you need to put a tarp down." They had to move them again to put the tarp down. Those flowers were handled four times more than they needed to be. “Sand is running out of the hourglass. We got it done. The client was over the moon. I needed to remove myself from the situation, and I did.” The client was great. But, the facilitator made that part of the wedding a miserable experience. “You don't get those often, and so you just have to take it with a grain of salt.”
Sometimes just biting your tongue and walking away is the most amazing way to put difficult people in their place.
Maintain your integrity and professionalism. Take a few minutes to calm down. You gain nothing from exploding at that individual. “If it's somewhere that you think you may return, it's most decisively not a plan to let off steam and become unprofessional about it.”
Instead, use that energy to accomplish something. Like setting up cocktail tables for the caterer. High tops were needed in the hallway. “We needed to put flowers and candles on those high tops, but we needed the tables in place. Everybody was running like a scalded cat at the same time.” Why stand and wait? Just do it.
Treat others the way you wish to be treated yourself and work together.” Sometimes you have to step in. Sometimes other people step in for you. It is so appreciated when suddenly someone says, “I can help make this happen.”
From a contractual standpoint, for a wedding being canceled with Botanica within 30 days, they were not due to return any money at all. That is in their contract. “We have now added to our contract that in order to have us do your wedding during hurricane season, you must have proof of wedding insurance. Wedding insurance doesn't cost a whole lot of money in the grand scheme of things.” But, it makes sure that all of the vendors are taken care of - they all get paid, and the bride and groom or the family get 80% back. If the weddings are $100,000, they're going to get $80,000 back. “We insist on insurance now.”
As we go further down the line, we now have two weddings that have canceled. One has gone to Miami and one has gone to New York State. They do not have the funds to transport us there and cover all the other expenses.
The secret to a beautiful wedding is being prepared, flexible, and able to adapt on the spot. “When you're in the trenches, I think the most important thing is keep a clear head. It’s pointless wasting energy on negative thoughts. There's always a solution. You just need to take the time to find that it.
“Sometimes I just have to be by myself and think ‘Okay, so how do we move forward with this?” Don't lose it. Stay calm. Think about how to move forward and make this work. Sometimes things turn out better than you imagined. “Myself included, sometimes you work best under pressure.” “Sometimes you're like, well, maybe I would never have done it that way, but guess what? I did. And, it worked out great. I'll do it again. I'll refine it next time and we'll make it really work,” laughs Ian.
Therein lies the delight … at the end of a wedding disaster.