Bouquets to save: Recycled flowers

A Yellow Blooming Peonies Cake is shown in Knoxville, Tenn. Brides are choosing plastic recycled flowers that are affordable and eco-friendly for cakes, bouquets, corsages and boutonnieres.

Glynis Abapo knew just what she wanted her dream wedding cake to be: simple. Three or four tiers. A rich, white confection with white peonies and peony petals cascading down.

The problem? The handmade sugar flowers cost a fortune.

Abapo found her answer in plastic flowers, specifically, the quirky yet elegant creations crafted by Tennessee artist Lauren Karnitz from materials that most people throw away: milk jugs, detergent bottles, straws, wires, medicine bottles, even sucker wrappers.

The flowers were relatively affordable, says Abapo, 31, of Atlanta. And eco-friendly.

Karnitz, a 42-year-old oil painter, has been crafting roses, peonies, magnolias, sunflowers and other hybrid creations out of recycled materials for nearly two years. She stumbled into the wedding flower business as an experiment, and Karnitz has filled orders for cake flowers, bouquets, corsages and boutonnieres from brides.

“ ‘Can I have that?’ is now my signature phrase,” Karnitz says, laughing. “Meaning, can I have that peculiar piece of plastic you are about to toss?”

Most clients are eco-conscious brides who like the idea of reusing materials. Other green-minded brides are making or buying alternative flowers made from fabric, paper, even old brooches.

Traditional wedding flowers, everything from table centerpieces to the bride’s bouquet, typically run $2,000 to $2,500, according to The Knot.

Like any other wedding florist, Karnitz consults with brides beforehand to get a feel for their wedding theme and size, and what they want.

Then she gets to work at her home in Knoxville using a trove of discarded junk. Slices of laundry detergent bottles become petals. Ribbon, electrical conduit and copper wire are transformed into stamens, pistils and stems.

It takes up to two hours to make one corsage or boutonniere, depending on the difficulty. Providing flowers for a cake can take anywhere from 20 to 30 hours.

Boutonnieres and corsages average $45 each, while cake flowers run anywhere from $150 to $450 per cake depending on cake size and design complexity.

Karnitz doesn’t dye or paint her flowers but keeps the colors of the recycled materials. Many of her designs burst with color, like bright yellow peony cake flowers made from cream and yellow milk jugs, or an azure blue corsage constructed with blue twist ties and accented by a tiny yellow bumble bee.