A wreath or floral tribute of some description is probably one of the first things anyone associates with a funeral. Indeed, flowers have always been a major part of the burial traditions of most cultures (with the notable exception of Judaism – it is not traditional to send flowers to a Jewish funeral, but baskets of fruit or food instead). Their widespread popularity is not only due to their visual beauty, but because herbal and floral essences were also once used to anoint the deceased, and their scents used for practical as well as aesthetic purposes.
There is no denying the emotive impact of flowers at a funeral. Many people still remember the three simple white wreaths on Princess Diana’s flag-draped coffin; or the stunning blanket of five hundred blue irises on singer Michael Hutchence’s, with one poignant tiger-lily in their midst as his daughter’s namesake. Wreaths from relatives describing the deceased’s relationship to them – ‘MUM’, ‘DAD’, ‘SON’, etc. – are still popular. These can be expensive though: on Interflora’s website the price listed for a ‘Dad’ floral tribute is £120, and for ‘Mum’, interestingly, an additional £15, at £135. (Small wonder, then, that you rarely see one reading ‘DAUGHTER’ !)
But there are a bewilderingly large number of options open to anybody wanting to pay their respects to the deceased, or as a gesture of support for their families. As the website Aboutflowers.com suggests, floral tributes often vary stylistically from region to region, so it is best to take advice from a local florist on what is appropriate for a particular funeral, and any restrictions the cemetery or funeral home may have. The undertaker may have taken specific instructions from the next of kin, so it is also worth checking with them. Wreaths for the casket itself tend to be reserved for family members or particularly close friends, and it would be considered insensitive to order something for the casket without consulting the family first.
Standard wreaths, sprays of flowers, and posies remain the most popular options, and range in average price from £30-£80 depending on size or colour. Florists are happy to work in colours of the customer’s choice, or, if local, they may well know in advance the colour schemes already specified by the family for the funeral. Were a customer to request unusual flowers or tributes, the florist would need as much notice as possible.
These days it is possible to ask for pretty much anything in the way of a tribute, and there is a growing trend in requesting something that reflects the personality or hobbies of the deceased; often something fairly outlandish.
Alison Picknell, who has been a florist in Surrey for 20 years, states: “You can make most things if you use chicken wire and moss, with a ‘basing’ of double chrysanthemums. I’ve done all sorts of things: a ladder and bucket for a window cleaner; an angel; horses heads; glasses of brandy; a football shirt in the deceased’s favourite team’s colours. I once made a whole pub, down to the little window boxes!”
It is a nice idea, but the more unusual tributes don’t come cheap – upwards of £80 depending on size and complexity. For example, Interflora charge £85 for a little blue and white teddy bear, £150 for a football, and £200 for a motor car made out of double spray chrysanthemums and carnations. It is a good idea for groups known to the deceased, ie. work colleagues, or fellow club members, to pool their resources to buy one impressive tribute, rather than many smaller ones. There may well not be enough room on the accompanying card to write all the individual names, in which case it is more appropriate to put: ‘From your friends at the gym’ or ‘From the whole department’ (make sure that there is at least one name and contact address, so the family can write a letter of thanks afterwards).
There are other options, though. If the deceased has been in a nursing or old folks’ home, a nice idea is to buy flowers in small bunches which can later be distributed amongst the other residents of the home. And it is always important to check the announcement of the death, or ask the family as, increasingly these days, only ‘private’ flowers are requested, – ie. flowers just from close family – and a charitable donation is preferred in lieu of other floral tributes. If so, it is still acceptable to send a bunch or posy of flowers to the next of kin’s home as a declaration of love and support for them in their time of trial, but just not wreaths to the actual funeral.
Another perfectly acceptable alternative might be to send a pot plant of some description to the undertakers, to be delivered to the family after the funeral. Or something entirely different and non-organic: naming a star after the deceased; buying a seat in their name at their favourite theatre or sports ground; or a bench in a park they used to love (although all of those options are considerably pricier than flowers). You could always buy a tree from a garden centre and plant it yourself, with prior permission from the local authority if in a public place. Even if there is no plaque attached to it, family and friends can still be made aware of the significance of it as a gesture, and as something by which to remember the deceased.
On the whole, however, the trend is still towards giving money to a charity of choice, as well as some floral tributes at the funeral itself. Differing preferences for the two options tend to be regional: inner city florists receive far fewer requests for elaborate tributes/wreaths than do suburban florists, and the general consensus of opinion is that younger city-dwellers spend far less on flowers when they do request them. It is the more elderly suburban or country demographic who spend the most money, as the traditional notion still hold firm that flowers are synonymous with funerals.