When brides and grooms are planning their big day, much thought and a surprising amount of money goes into wedding flowers. There are bouquets, boutonnieres and all sorts of beautiful arrangements. But after that one glorious day, many of those flowers are unceremoniously thrown away.
Marilyn Johnson Aardema couldn't bear that thought. When she retired at 50 as a scientist from Cincinnati's Procter & Gamble, she wanted to spend her days bringing happiness to others. She had read about organizations that recycle wedding flowers, turning them into smaller arrangements for nonprofit groups. She figured she would find a nearby organization with that mission and spend her days volunteering. But she made call after call and couldn't find a local version of the concept. There were groups in New York, Chicago and San Diego, but nowhere locally where brides could give their flowers a second life.
So, she jumped in, naming her company ReBloom. Johnson Aardema got in touch with a local florist to make sure she thought the idea had potential. The florist was immediately smitten with the idea and began telling brides about the service.
"They instantly saw how nice it was," Johnson Aardema says. "Nobody likes thinking of their flowers being put into a trash can."
When a bride signs up for flower repurposing, Johnson Aardema and a few members of her small team of volunteers — often her adult daughter, her dad or one of several friends — will meet at the reception hall the morning after the wedding. They'll load as many arrangements as they can into their cars and then go home and work quickly, breaking them down into smaller bouquets of roses, lilies and exotic flowers. A large wedding may end up with 20-30 generously-sized repurposed arrangements.
They then turn around within a few hours and deliver them to nursing homes, hospitals and other nonprofit groups. They often hand them to visitors who are walking in without flowers or will deliver them personally to long-time residents who don't have flowers in their rooms that day.
ReBloom tackles about a dozen or so flower projects each year. Johnson Aardema figures they've done about 100 weddings and other special events since she started the business in 2010. She'd like to do more, but it all depends on how many volunteers she has available to help.
She asks brides for a small fee to cover her expenses — basically gas and inexpensive vases.
Robin Wood, owner of Robin Wood Flowers, sends most of the business ReBloom's way. She typically only refers larger weddings so it's worth the volunteers' time. Some brides, she said, can spend as much as $10,000 — or even more — on wedding flowers. She also tells brides they can write off a portion of their floral expenses on their taxes.
"They love it because it makes them feel good ... and they also get a tax deduction," Wood says. "It's really worth it for the big ones, and some of them are quite lavish."
Wood also says it's nice knowing the flowers will get a second life.
"Sometimes we drag flowers out in yard waste bags and recycle them at a local landscaper," she says. "This is so much nicer. Flowers are fun, especially in an institution where you don't have much to look at."
After each delivery, Johnson Aardema sends a note back to Wood giving details about where the flowers found new homes. One recent note offered effusive thanks, saying the recipient hadn't had flowers in 20 years.
Now that’s the way to share the love.