Where once the small white nosegay ruled, the armload of Calla lilies, the cascade of tropical flowers and the teardrop bouquet dressed in French lace and ribbons all have a place in today's weddings. Or you can stick with the small white nosegay.
It was never an easy decision, certainly not of the chicken-or-beef variety. But choosing wedding flowers has been made even more complicated in recent years by the availability of almost all flowers year-round and by the hybrids that never before existed. If you want tulips at your December wedding, most florists will fly them in from Holland. If you want roses with white inside and lavender out, just ask.
Because of that variety, and the cost of fresh flowers, most brides are slightly overwhelmed on their first visit to the florist. But the task can be one of the most rewarding of planning a wedding when you smell the fresh perfume of your bouquet and see the elegant splash of colors in the arrangements you've chosen for tables at the reception.
The advice of area florists is to do a little research before you talk to them. Your decision on a florist may be made as little as two months before the wedding, but be forewarned that some popular florists may be booked a year in advance. You may want to call and reserve the day soon after you set your wedding date, then choose your flowers later.
Before deciding on flowers, choose the color of bridesmaids' dresses so that you have an idea of the wedding color scheme and try to bring a small swatch of the bridesmaids' dress material to the florist. Traditionally, brides carried only white flowers in their bouquets. But today, they often use another color, along with white, to echo the bridesmaids' gowns.
"We also try to stress continuity," says Chris Pineau Psoras, owner of Flowers by Chris in Baltimore. Coordinating the type of flowers in the bridal party's bouquet with the groom's and ushers' boutonnieres -- white roses, for example, in each -- "makes a statement in a very subtle, classy way," she says.
For medium to large weddings, it's helpful to estimate the cost of your total flower package by multiplying the number of guests by $12 to $20. Expensive, imported flowers and a large family will push the figure closer to the higher amount. By cutting back on imports and using less expensive table arrangements, the cost can easily stay at or below the lower figure.
"A lot of people don't have any idea what flowers are going to cost," says Allyn C. Fruman, who works in design and marketing for Greening of America in Baltimore. "We generally go by what the bride wants to spend."
Bridal bouquets can cost as little as $50 and for small weddings -- under 75 people -- you may be able to hold the tab to $500 or less. For larger weddings, you can expect to spend from $1,000 to $5,000, depending on the choice of flowers and settings.
In general, florists agree, weddings are becoming more traditional and brides are carrying fewer flowers.
"Bouquets are getting more simple," says Michael Anthony, owner of Miguel's Floral Gallery at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Baltimore. "We really are going back to the great-grandmother's wedding."
But the range in bouquet choices remains enormous. Most florists use books to give brides an idea of the size and shape of the bouquets, then allow the bride to choose the type and color of the flowers. Many will also have a checklist to guide you in choosing flowers for the rest of the wedding.
In addition to bouquets for the bride and bridesmaids, weddings traditionally mean boutonnieres for the groom, ushers, and the bride's and groom's fathers and corsages for the mothers, the grandmothers and any other close relatives.
Beyond that, florists will outfit the church, synagogue or other setting with bows for pews and flowers that can range from a few ferns to an entire garden of plants, trees and flowers.
At the reception, the florist will deal with the floral arrangements on each table. The centerpieces can range from a simple basket of wildflowers to an elaborate elevated arrangement, set in a tall, slender vase, that lets guests talk across the table without peeking around the centerpiece.
Fresh flowers also long ago replaced the plastic bride and groom the most popular choice for decorating a wedding cake.
"We never do a cake that's not decorated with flowers," Mr. Anthony says.
For a truly elaborate, money-is-no-object wedding, many florists will take on the role of set designer when you need to create a scene within a scene.
At the Hyatt, for example, Mr. Anthony recently created an indoor garden inside the hotel, complete with a grass rug, mulch, dogwood trees and a gazebo in the center.
While most florists can make up a pretty bouquet, the best will create something unique and breathtaking for each bride. Ask your florist if someone in the shop chooses the flowers personally from the wholesale market each day. Also ask if someone from the florist shop will be available at the wedding to pin on corsages and boutonnieres and to rescue a bouquet or a centerpiece if a flower comes loose.
The most important thing, Ms. Psoras says, is not how much you spend on flowers or how many you have. "But you never cut back on the quality or the style."