It's Thursday evening, two days before our wedding. I'm sitting on the floor of the chapel at Ash Barton, Devon, with buckets of flowers carpeting the flagstones. I feel excited, but overwhelmed; there's serious work to be done.
Fast-forward two days and I'm in my dress - the dress. Everywhere I look: the bouquet in my hands; the wildflowers displayed down the aisle; the groomsmen's buttonholes; the blooms in the chapel; the flower chandelier in the barn; the arrangements on the sofreh aghd (a Persian wedding-ceremony table), there's an eye-watering reminder of the big team effort, the weeks of planning and the months of growing our own flowers.
It wasn't as if I'd always dreamt of growing my own, let alone doing a DIY wedding - it just sort of happened. From the outset, Tom and I knew we wanted a personal approach. We also wanted it to be just us: no caterers, bar staff, make-up artist, hair stylist or band (we partly catered ourselves and had Tom's cousins as DJs). Saving money was a bonus of wanting the personal touch, too.
Tom and I got engaged in April 2016 and decided to marry the following year, in September. While in Dorset celebrating our news with Tom's parents, Frances and Martin, we discussed our vision for the wedding. Frances mentioned that we could help ourselves to flowers from their garden, and that she could also grow some. Being a recently retired teacher and a lifelong keen gardener, she leapt at the task. We researched seasonal blooms and after much browsing, Frances suggested dahlias. I knew little of this flower - not even how to pronounce it (dah-lia? Day-lia? It's the latter, by the way). They come in all shapes and sizes, from tight pom-poms to blooms the size of your face, and the colour palettes are endless.
Once we worked out the size of the operation ahead, Frances contacted the school she used to work at and asked if she could borrow a small plot of their gardens so we could achieve the quantity of dahlias we wanted. (Her garden was already full of established plants that we were hoping to use, and at the time we only had a small balcony.)
Sarah Raven has one of the widest selections of dahlias, so we sourced our tubers from her website. I didn't have a colour scheme; I just knew I wanted different shades and shapes, so we ordered 10 varieties - Café Au Lait, Henriette and Blanc Y Verde, to name a few. We potted them and popped them in the greenhouse in early March (a kitchen windowsill would work, too). They sprouted the following month and we kept them there until any risk of frost had passed. In early May, they were planted outside and the first flower blossomed at the end of that month.
In spring, Tom and I moved to a home with a small garden, so we decided to grow daisy- like cosmos. It needs minimal attention and grows into great clouds of flowers.
Meanwhile, I took two of my bridesmaids with me to a workshop at East London florist Rebel Rebel. It was the perfect playground to experiment while in the safe hands of experts. We learned that we needed a lot of foliage and flowers: dahlias would be the stars of the show, but having other delicate varieties made them pop.
I found mood boards helpful for visualising the wild-posy look I wanted. Pinterest was an obvious tool, but I also took inspiration from books. Petalon is one of my favourite London florists, so I knew Florence Kennedy's Flowers Every Day would be the perfect how-to guide.
Anything we couldn't grow (we wanted more flowers than we had space to produce ourselves), we bought from New Covent Garden Market. Tom and I picked bunches we liked the look of, instead of following a strict list: wispy Nigella, flouncy Veronica, berry like hypericum, plus fragrant herbs and stems such as variegated mint, geranium leaves and eucalyptus (we bought more than we needed in case of casualties).
In the West Country, Frances and Tom's sister Alice sourced more bright dahlias - Gerrie Hoek and Mrs Eileen - from Black Shed flower farm. It was hard to resist the pick-your own foxgloves and other specimens, so those made it into the van with the homegrown dahlias.
When it comes to cutting your own, early morning or evening is better than daytime. We stripped the leaves on the lower stems, ensuring none were submerged in water, as this causes bacteria to reproduce. A drop of vinegar or bleach in the buckets also helped to prevent bacteria; Martin was tasked with this job, as well as delivering the precious cargo.
After a nerve-racking journey down the M5, fearing our months of work were perishing, we reached our destination. We immediately found the coolest, darkest spot on the estate - the chapel - and started the prep.
An army of friends and family began arriving on Friday - along with more dahlias from Tom's aunt and uncle, Margaret and Chris. Word had spread of our floral adventure, so they brought some they'd grown on their allotment, as did Tom's eldest sister, Harriet, and her husband, Darren.
When all the flowers were laid out, my Rebel Rebel training kicked in: they'd given me the excellent advice to pick stems I wanted for bouquets and buttonholes first, to ensure the most important arrangements used my favourite flowers. My bridesmaids put together their own bouquets, which was a lovely way for them to add their personality to the day.
As I had to flit about the barn, chapel and kitchen, I made sure Florence's book was open among the flowers to aid our helpers. We laboured until the evening on Friday, finishing the final bits on Saturday morning.
Most brides might say their wedding is the best day of their life - and it really is. But the team effort of a DIY wedding made it even more special for us, as we felt people were invested on a personal level and not just as a 'guest'. We were all proud of what we achieved together.
What did I learn from this optimistic floral feat? For one, it's not for everybody, especially not the time-poor. We were lucky enough to have Tom's hard-working and generous parents, as well as the mass of helpers over the weekend. Growing your own flowers doesn't have to be done on a huge scale, but however you do it, it doesn't get more personal or rewarding than this.
Words by Roxy Kavousi-Walker
Photographs by Alex Dimos and Nazarin Montag