What happens when the unexpected happens on a wedding day? Madeleine Elmer, owner of Fleur De Vie in Houston, Texas had to make that decision when Hurricane Harvey threatened to rob a couple of her brides of the wedding day they had envisioned. Madeleine chose to carry on as planned and ensure the brides had beautiful flowers at their weddings as long as she was confident she could keep her staff safe in the process. Together, Madeleine and her team became Houston’s Floral First Responders. We’re grateful she agreed to drop by the Brouhaha and share her story.
By Madeleine Elmer
Floral First Responders Part One
When the first predictions of Hurricane Harvey bearing down on the Texas gulf coast came out the last week of August, I was pretty nonchalant. Media hype. After all, we have been there, done that through countless hurricanes and floods and always came roaring back. We are intimately familiar with monsoon season on the steamy Texas Gulf Coast. But as the Fleur de Vie design team, otherwise known as the Fabulous Fleurettes, worked our way through hundreds of blush and ivory roses, fragrant freesias, pale green hydrangeas and lush foliage that fateful Friday for Dianne and Dan’s August 26 wedding, one of my designers said, “Y’all can eat lunch, but I’m going to get water and batteries. Don’t you want to come with me?” I passed, “We still have 16 boutonnieres to do. I’ll fill up a couple of empty milk jugs.”
Little did we know that over 50 inches of rain would fall on the Houston area over 3 days of inundations in the largest flood in U.S. history.
We installed the rehearsal dinner on Friday night in horrific humidity but not rain. Yet. Table arrangements were changing minute by minute as out of town guests cancelled by text. After all who wants to fly into the “dirty side” of a Category 4 Hurricane? The family considered having the minister come and marry Dan and Dianne that night, just in case. But in true Texas fashion, they decided to go for it.
Saturday morning came with ominous clouds and dire predictions of massive bands of rain. Houston is only 50 feet above sea level and was built on a flat former prairie landscape. And much like New Orleans, our city is veined with bayous and tributaries draining into nearby Galveston Bay so when it rains, our streets tend to flood making them impassable for hours at a time. Except by canoe. When the mother of the bride called to cancel the wedding at 10:30 a.m., I was deflated. I felt as if my own daughter’s wedding was being cancelled. The country club where the reception was to be held told the family it would be imprudent to go forward as guests may not be able to leave the evening reception due to street flooding. Little did they know that the club itself would be filled with bayou water within three days and closed for months of extensive renovation.
The Fleurettes were called and cancelled, just as disappointed as I was. I just sat looking at all the lovely flowers feeling so sad for our sweet bride-not-to-be Dianne. I thought about seeing if there were any batteries and water left at the store. A couple of hours later, a text came in from her mother saying the reception was being moved to the Houstonian Hotel which was going to pull together a cocktail reception on four hours’ notice. And the ceremony would be at the church, two hours earlier than planned. Without hesitation, my fabulous Floral First Responders sprang into action, threw on their rain boots and jackets, left their homes and families and scrambled from across town to load up as the first bands of rain came.
Soaked to the bone and with 30 minutes until the ceremony, we delivered the altar and bridal party flowers to a very grateful bride and family and wished them well as we whisked off in our scented caravan to install the reception. The hotel staff was amazing, with bellmen and catering staff hustling to load in all the flowers, candles and lanterns at the front entrance with luggage carts under the protection of the porte de cocher as rain blew in from the sides.
By 5 p.m. the “reception v. 2.0” was decorated and ready to go. With fewer guests and tables, the flowers were even more lush than planned and the room looked lovely. The Fleurettes had a well-deserved celebratory glass of wine in the hotel bar and watched the increasingly dramatic weather reports. I toasted their commitment to the team and to our clients. We headed home to hunker down for Harvey.
In spite of pounding rain as the reception ended, trapping some of the guests in the hotel overnight, the next round of Floral First Responders battled the elements, as the committed team at Floranthropy Houston came to pick up the flowers and deliver them to area hospitals and nursing homes. That is a serious commitment to floral philanthropy.
After three days of being pounded by trillions of gallons of water, the dams that held back upstream runoff were topping over and the flood gates were released to ease the pressure, flooding thousands of homes along Buffalo Bayou, including several family members of the bride, and my own home. Never thought I would own lakefront property, but life is what happens while you are making plans. So we puttered into our neighborhood in my nephew’s bass boat and waded in to survey the damage. We were the lucky ones, as we got less than two inches in the house, but as my fellow Houstonians know, two inches of water means cutting out 2 feet of sheetrock and all wood floors on the entire first floor. We were now temporarily homeless as our home dried out with giant fans and dehumidifiers.
Floral First Responders Part Two
Three weeks after our home and studio were flooded, our next bride, Marileigh was to be married to her fiancé Barrett, whose parents’ plantation style home had flooded three feet in the aftermath of Harvey. The entire contents of the first floor were piled in a mountain in front of their home. Floors, walls, carpets, cabinets, furniture. In spite of the chaos that once was my organized studio, I knew we couldn’t let the family down. If the parents could go through with the wedding in spite of everything they were dealing with, so could we. The venue, a lovely rustic dairy barn set on acres of green pastures with white fences in Hempstead, Texas had not flooded. Game on.
Climbing over the furniture that had been temporarily put in the garage where all my floral equipment is stored, I managed to retrieve everything we needed for the wedding. Except for the fishing lures. The groom is a big fisherman so the bride wanted customized fishing lure boutonnieres and had carefully selected them. In Houston’s Indian Summer humidity I searched high and low until I found them. It took two days but I made the catch. At last. The irony of fishing lures did not escape me.
With boxes filled with hundreds of small glass vases, oyster shells, barn wood boxes, mercury glass votives and all my equipment loaded into the FDV SUV, I jangled around in my floral gypsy wagon for days having nowhere else to store it. With our studio space uninhabitable, the wonderful team at Mayesh Houston came to the rescue by offering us workspace and processing of the flowers for the wedding. When the Fleurettes showed up to work that Wednesday, the flowers were all placed on racks, processed and ready with work tables all set up. I nearly cried with gratitude. Then Mary Frances and Beth gave me a wonderful gift from my fellow Texas florists, a large storage bin filled with supplies and goodies: mosquito spray and hand sanitizer, chocolate and wine, tote bags and floral supplies. The silver lining of going through a disaster like Harvey is acts of kindness like these fellow florists and my wholesaler showed me. When the going gets tough, Texans show up!
Incredibly, the mother of the groom who is a professional baker decided to go forward with baking the cake and did it in a neighbor’s spacious kitchen which had not flooded. On a sultry, sunny Texas day in late September, Marileigh and Barrett’s wedding went off without a hitch. Another notch in our Floral First Responders belt.
I am taking some time to oversee the restoration of our home and studio this fall and planning weddings and rehearsal dinners for late fall, winter and spring when everything will be back to “normal.” The collateral beauty of this epic disaster is manifold. Neighbors and strangers coming together to help each other get into their flooded homes by boat, ferrying elderly homeowners to safety and dry land. Feeding each other, caring for each other’s pets, offering their guest rooms, manning a check-in gate at the front of neighborhood to prevent looting of flooded homes and provide cold water and First Aid.
And I will never forget the commitment, “can do” attitude and support of my Floral First Responders, Adele, Maura, Jexter, Mary Frances, Jonas at Mayesh Houston, and Lindsay her team at Floranthropy. In the wedding business we are in the business of love. Love conquers all.
Madeleine Elmer | Fleur de Vie | Houston, Texas