Peonies, foxgloves, white garden roses galore. In two days time on Saturday, May 19, all speculation about the royal wedding—including details about who designed the dress, who will walk Meghan Markle down the aisle, and how will Windsor be transformed?—will be laid to rest. Ahead of Prince Harry and Markle’s nuptials, The Knot taps industry expert and former Chief Floral Designer at the White House, Laura Dowling, for her predictions and her design insight.
Dowling, now based in Alexandria, Virginia, stepped into the coveted role of chief White House florist, after a thorough, nationwide search nearly 10 years ago. She maintained her tenure at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue from 2009 until 2017 under two-term former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama.
While Dowling can count many standout moments during her tenure in the White House—she was tasked with all the official state dinners and the annual White House Christmas—one of her most memorable design projects was her very first state dinner. “Perhaps my favorite [was] the India State dinner in 2009, which featured a bold décor scheme of apple green silk linens, purple and fuchsia flowers, the historic gold vermeil collection and the George W. Bush presidential china,” she recalls. “All of the décor was designed to craft a narrative that honored the visiting dignitaries while highlighting the best of American culture and traditions.”
In 2013, Dowling met Prince Harry when he joined First Lady Obama and Dr. Jill Biden for a Mother’s Day tea that honored military families. “I led a bouquet-making craft session in the State Dining Room where the children of military personnel could each make Mother’s Day bouquets for their moms,” she recalls. “Prince Harry was a top secret, surprise guest at this event and when he walked into the room with the First Lady the entire room erupted in a collective gasp.”
His demeanor–equally engaging. “Harry was so kind and charming, engaging the children in mischievous banter and making everyone feel comfortable,” she adds. “We asked him if he wanted to make a bouquet and he laughed, saying: ‘I’m all thumbs in that department.’ But he noted that his entire family appreciated flowers and gardens. I was impressed at how he knelt down at the kids’ eye levels to admire their choice of flowers and colors, chatting with each child and encouraging them. He couldn’t have been more down-to-earth, gracious and adorable… a true Prince Charming!”
With her background, Dowling continues to shed her expertise as the author of several books, her third (currently in the works) is centered on wreath design. She also travels around the world to provide unprecedented intel about floral design, which is why she’s grown familiar with royal wedding florist Philippa Craddock’s form of design. “I absolutely love the choice of London-based florist Philippa Craddock as the royal wedding florist,” she adds. “She is known for her work for luxury brands and fashion houses; her work is always stylish and creative, grounded in a classical approach.”
Read her complete predictions for the 2018 Royal Wedding below.
The Royal Wedding Florist Has Seen the Dress
“The florist is no doubt working closely with the dress designer and the bride to create the perfect floral complement to what promises to be both an aesthetically beautiful—and touchingly sentimental—royal wedding,” Dowling says.
Meghan’s Bouquet Will Be Both Symbolic and Striking
“I have this vision of Meghan carrying a refined and elegant bouquet of white flowers with lush greenery that features her favorite flower (white peonies) with symbolic elements (Princess Diana’s white garden roses) along with a nod to royal wedding traditions (sprigs of myrtle—a symbol of love and marriage),” she says. “I think the bouquet will be classical in style, featuring a structured shape with a few trailing vines and escaping elements to create a very romantic look. I also predict that Meghan’s bouquet will be striking—intricate and detailed—with many symbolic touches.”
We May See Flowers That Honor Royal Family Members
“By using flowers and plants from the royal gardens, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle ensure that their wedding flowers will be sentimental, honoring royal and family traditions as well as representing special symbolic messages in the language of flowers,” Dowling continues. “Perhaps we’ll even see special flowers that honor specific members of the royal family, including Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, who maintain a special and close relationship with their grandson. The fact that the royal couple are donating their flowers to charities after the wedding is another thoughtful touch.”
The Use of White Roses Is a Tribute to the Late Princess Diana
“The couple’s use of white garden roses is a lovely tribute to Prince Harry’s mother, Princess Diana, whose favorite flower was the white garden rose,” she adds. “The white garden rose was featured at her memorial service and is a key element in Princess Diana’s memorial garden at Kensington Palace, where white roses bloom in glorious profusion. Peonies are Meghan Markle’s favorite flower so I think we can definitely expect to see this quintessential flower of May in the bridal bouquet as well as in the royal wedding floral displays. Foxgloves, an iconic element of the English cottage garden has a distinctive, architectural look so I predict that we’ll see this flower in striking displays of British garden flowers presented in large urns placed throughout the ceremony and reception venues.”
The Decor Will Celebrate the British Landscape
“The branches of beech, birch and hornbeam will add a lovely wild and organic feel to the wedding floral displays, ensuring that the bouquets retain a very natural look and feel,” she continues. “The inclusion of these materials in the compositions means that there will be a focus on creating a natural design that celebrates the British landscape which is important to the royal couple. The overall effect will be one of casual elegance, creating a warm and inviting ambiance for guests—as well as for those of us watching around the world.”
There Will Be at Least a Dozen… Floral Staffers
“Although Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding will be smaller than Prince William’s wedding to Kate Middleton, the size of the wedding party and the décor requirements at Windsor Castle will no doubt be comparable,” she notes. “To plan and execute a royal wedding is no small feat! I imagine that Philippa will augment her regular team of designers with an army of freelance florists—perhaps numbering a few dozen all together—all of whom will be eager and excited to participate in this historic event. At this stage of the game, the plans are all in place and the early prep work is already underway: gathering and organizing the architectural elements, creating work plans and project plans, and fine-tuning scheduling details. Philippa will oversee the multiple moving parts and no doubt add her special distinctive touch to all of the designs.”
The Cake Might Have a Boho Touch
“The use of fresh flowers to decorate the wedding cake is traditional, but I expect that we’ll see this royal couple add a modern twist to give a slightly more bohemian look,” she says. “Delicate flowers and garlands that trail in and around the cake to enhance the British garden and springtime theme—and coordinate with the lemon elderflower-flavored cake.”
There Will Be Touches of Whimsy
“Philippa is known for creating refined and elegant designs with a modern sensibility. Her designs are a breath of fresh air: classically inspired with a strong artistic sensibility and a keen eye for color,” she continues. “I think the wedding flowers at Windsor Castle will reflect the best of British garden traditions with a nod to contemporary trends in design. Look for classic designs in stone urns that also feature touches of wit and whimsy—dancing branches, butterfly orchids, etc.—that infuse the designs with warmth and charm.”
The Royal Florist Will Send a Message
“She will have an innate understanding of British flowers and royal traditions while of course honoring the bride’s American heritage and special flower preferences,” Dowling muses. “In addition to making a brilliant style statement with her designs, she also conveys a strong environmental message: her flowers are locally grown, sustainably harvested and designed in using eco-friendly techniques.”
The Royal Florist Will Spark Trends Everywhere
“As the royal florist, Philippa will break new ground,” Dowling concludes. “The wedding flowers will not just carry out royal traditions, but will embrace and honor broader social and environmental policy themes—a new and modern approach in royal wedding decor.”
Keep up with The Knot as we cover all things related to the Royal Wedding 2018, happening Saturday, May 19. Looking to secure your own wedding day vision? Start with The Knot’s Style Quiz, here.