Growing up, Yona Benstock Friedman would often visit her grandparents — who were Holocaust survivors — in Denmark. So, when she founded Flowers by Yona in 2012, designing arrangements for special simchas, social and corporate events, it was the culmination of all that she had learned about flowers on those childhood visits.
“The flower arrangements in Denmark were different than what I’d seen here, the usual roses and Gerbera daisies,” she recalled. “I loved seeing gardens, flower stores and carts with flowers around Copenhagen. Years later, after studying at Emory and working in public relations, I was still thinking about the flowers. When I moved to Israel, I decided it was time for a career change. I learned mechanics from an award-winning designer in Tel Aviv; and went to floral design school in Holland. After school, I went back to Israel, where I worked with some of the best design companies.”
Israel happens to be one of the world’s largest exporters of flowers, sending tons of sunflowers, lisianthus (prairie gentian), tulips and anemone abroad. There, Friedman worked mostly with what was in season and locally grown, adapting to the peculiarities of Israel’s wedding industry.
“In Israel, they have weddings every day except Saturday,” she explained. “Most of the design work is done on-site the day of the event. Long days in the hot sun taught me how to work with flowers in the heat … but also how to work fast.”
Indeed, weather is often her first consideration: is the event taking place inside or outside?
“Make sure it’s a time of year that you’re comfortable being outside,” Friedman counsels. “If you have an outdoor event, make sure you have a rain plan! Most of my experience has been in outdoor events. The indoors is nice because everything is there; you don’t have to consider too many factors. Outdoors consider bugs, even/uneven ground (can’t have a wobbly table), heat/rain/snow/cold, lighting, flowers that can handle the weather (example: hydrangea won’t last great in the heat).”
The flowers, which come from a local wholesaler or are flown in from California, South America or Holland, are stored in coolers in Friedman’s studio, where they “drink water for a while.” Unnecessary leaves are stripped, the flowers get a fresh cut and go in a bucket of water. “Some need to be refrigerated and some stay out,” she says, “it all depends on the flower and its opening stage.”
Currently, Friedman offers three main services: full floral design, full event design (including flowers, linens, furniture rentals, drapes and lighting) and bouquets and boutonnieres for wedding parties, which are pick-up only. She’s also worked on special events, such as ESPN’s coverage of the Super Bowl, for which she created floral football accessories. Friedman enjoys thinking out of the box, which “is whenever I get a chance to do something different, a new hanging installation, a new ceremony backdrop, a new color palette that shouldn’t go together, but does.”
The COVID pandemic didn’t help things, but Friedman has persevered. With events canceled, farmers were forced to burn and discard their flowers. And, not knowing how 2021 would end, they didn’t plant as many the next year. “The first 18 months were rough,” Friedman acknowledged. But, due to the end of pandemic restrictions in some places, she expects a “wedding frenzy” to hit the U.S. this year.
“Everybody is ready to get married,” she said. “2022 is going to be the biggest year for weddings (globally, but especially in the U.S. in decades). Supply was short and wholesale prices for designers skyrocketed. Most people can probably expect higher flower prices to continue through the year.”
Friedman predicts that we will also “continue to see a lot of garden style florals. Lush florals, dancing flowers (movement like scabiosa, ranunculus). We will start to see less greenery and more flower-forward designs. I think there is going to be a lot of color in weddings this year.”