HE WEDDING canopy, or chupah, is a metaphor for the new home-in-the-making and, in keeping with its symbolism of a new stage in life, demands its own celebration and decoration. How this is done depends on budget, season, style and, above all, venue, since your chupah can be anywhere from a garden to a synagogue.
Both canopy and poles may be carved and sculpted wooden shapes; you can even get Perspex poles. Otherwise, it’s plain metal covered with fabric and laced with ivy, into which the flowers are tucked.
Rachel, of Bud, enjoys the freedom of a non-shul setting. “A hotel chupah will be built by a production team. It can be pleated and draped. I have made a complete frame of flowers and elaborate corners with trailing orchids mixed with crystals.” She also likes to hang amaranthus, with its catkin-like strings of flowers.
But a shul chupah has its charms, too. “It has to be more traditional, to suit the setting,” she says. “Pastels in, say, white and green can be breathtaking.” One of Rachel’s favourite combinations is the dark green of small-leaved glossy ruscus, variegated ivy and scented eucalyptus, mixed with white peonies.
Gaby, at Jennie Mann in East Finchley asks clients about the size and condition of the chupah. Complicating factors include handheld poles — the four stalwarts involved won’t want to be weighed down with excess botany — and precious but fragile antique chupah material, as at Bevis Marks Synagogue, which calls for minimal handling.
A shul chupah tends to rely for its effect on tucking flowers into a base of winding ivy. A hotel chupah can take the full works — “ruched fabric and flamboyant flower groups,” says Gaby. At Kristal in Temple Fortune, Sandra generally aims at a soft look with gentle pinks, pastels and blush shades in roses, peonies and hydrangeas. But she remembers vividly the warm-toned chupah she created for a Sephardi wedding. “It had red and orange roses with copper beech. It looked gorgeous,” she recalls.
Jennie Mann’s Gaby says “A combination of flowers gives a more relaxed feel. For a cleaner, more modern arrangement, we use just two varieties.” Her most-used flowers are hydrangea, rose, lily and orchid.
Rachel starts from a favourite flower or colour. “Brides are usually far more definite about their bouquet than about the chupah,” she notes. “I have had mothers as clients for the chupah and never met the bride.”
Flowers can be sourced at any time from somewhere on the globe. But staying in tune with nature adds a sympathet i c dimension. For early spring, Gaby uses tulips, hyacinths and ranuncula as well as blossom such as lilac. Later, she might use peonies and sweet peas. Sandra likes to incorporate sweet-smelling winter-flowering jasmine and hyacinths. Pussy willow gives a velvety soft touch. Rachel likes blossom and twigs, as well as ranuncula and tulips. In late spring, Rachel turns to peonies, sweet peas and hydrangeas, now starting their long season. Gaby brings in sweet peas and peonies as well as herbaceous border plants like phlox and lacy gypsophila, together with early roses.
As summer settles in, Sandra concentrates on roses, especially the perfumed off-white Norma Jean, Marilyn Monroe’s original forenames. Roses can stand the heat, so will go on looking good right through the event.
Her favourite flower is the misleadingly named gelder rose, which looks like a mini hydrangea but is actually a type of viburnum. Like hydrangea, it wilts in extreme heat, so avoid using them in summer heatwaves.
Late summer into autumn is the time for hydrangeas and dahlias. Gaby likes mixing hydrangea with flame-coloured autumn foliage and berries. For a stand-out winter flower, you can’t beat amaryllis against evergreen foliage. And since roses have such a long season, you can also count them in.