The candle-lit wedding is over; the guests are gone. Come midnight, all that’s left are a few slivers of cake, some flat Champagne and those stunning floral arrangements that wowed the crowd at Historic London Town & Gardens in Edgewater.
It’s the flowers that Brittaney Sard has come to save. With the newleyweds’ OK, Sard takes them home, reshapes them into bedside bouquets and, the next day, delivers them to folks at Genesis Spa Creek Center, a nursing home in Annapolis.
Among the recipients is Terence “Shugg” Williams, 51, a double-amputee and five-year resident.
“These are going right to my room,” Williams said of the stunning lavender-and-white roses, mums and lilacs — a Ravens-like bouquet on a chilly January afternoon.
“When, out of the blue, someone gives you beautiful flowers, it really brightens your day,” he said. “It doesn’t matter that they are [re-gifted]; no matter where they come from, they still lift your mood.”
The task is a labor of love for Sard, of Grasonville, who has been salvaging wedding flowers since 2017 when she left a job in corporate communications, feeling unfulfilled.
“I wanted to help people; I wasn’t giving back,” said Sard, 28. Her nonprofit, Petals for Hope, has blossomed: With support from florists and wedding planners, Sard and her staff of 100 volunteers attend as many as 10 events on weekends to scoop up the flowers and take them to nursing homes, hospitals and hospices, mostly in Anne Arundel County.
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“I’d seen all of the waste at weddings,” she said. “It breaks your heart to see those flowers get trashed.” So Sard becomes a foster Mother Nature, ferrying them in her SUV to about 15 nursing homes in the county, plus the Hospice of the Chesapeake in Severna Park and the Anne Arundel Medical Center (Annapolis).
Typically, the flowers last from one to two weeks.
Sard’s efforts are “a dream come true for us,” said Erica Gamble, creative director of Sophie Felts Floral Design. The Gaithersburg florist, which handles high-end weddings, has Petals For Hope recycle their handiwork, which starts at $6,000.
“We always tried to give the flowers away, but we never had the time or energy to get them to nursing homes," Gamble said. "Before Brittaney came along, the majority of them got composted. Sustainability is becoming more important to couples getting married. Brides and grooms are excited to see their roses, peonies and sweet peas put to use, and we’re thrilled.”
The reactions of recipients run the gamut, from heartfelt to total surprise.
"Some people are extremely excited; others think we have the wrong room. They ask, ‘Are you sure these are for me?’ " Sard said. When she pulls up to one nursing home, residents ring a bell and shout, “The flower girl is here!"
”You see the light in their eyes and sense their spirits are lifted by someone coming into their room, out of the norm, with bouquets and talking to them like a human being," Sard said.
One delivery to Sunrise of Annapolis, an assisted-living facility, brought an elderly woman to tears.
“I thought we’d offended her,” Sard said. “But no. She said, ‘My husband passed away years ago and no one has given me flowers since.’ ”
Men appreciate the donations as well. Several months ago, Sard and her staff set up a “flower bar”at the Spa Creek Center, allowing residents to create their own arrangements.
"One older gentleman sat there making smart comments, like, ‘This is stupid. This is for girls,’ " Sard said. “In the end, he made his own display and took it to his room.”
Justin Quint, 33, an administrator-in-training at Spa Creek, observes that when he enters a resident’s quarters, “I see the flowers on their windowsills and dressers."
“Those who have a little dementia like to tell you multiple times how pretty the flowers are. That’s OK; they’re repeating happy things.”
Volunteers at Petals for Hope say their deliveries cheer them as well.
“My mom was a florist, and I do floral work for charity as a way to honor her. It’s a way to feel connected," said Monica Felter, 56, of Davidsonville. An ethics official for the Department of Justice, Felter spends her weekends gathering the centerpieces from wedding venues and giving them to the lonely, the sick and the needy. One pick up landed hundreds of long-stemmed roses, orchids and other elegant ornamentals.
Back home, Felter makes fresh cuts on the flowers, gives them water and keeps them overnight in her garage.
“My husband is allergic,” she said. “But Russell is a good sport; he knows this makes me happy.”
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On colder nights, she’ll wake up and check her brood “to make sure they’re OK.” Next morning, Felter arranges them in vases she acquired at yard sales, packs them into her Ford Escape and hits the road.
“This keeps the flowers out of landfills,” she said. “The damaged ones, we compost in the woods near my home. Deer like them.”
Making deliveries, volunteers often linger to chat with recipients and even photograph them; newlyweds enjoy seeing their flowers go to good homes. And residents press for news of the ceremony itself.
“When I describe the bride’s gown, their faces light up." Felter said. “They tell me about their own weddings 50 years ago. Our work isn’t just about the flowers; it’s about the love you share through the visit, the camaraderie. The flowers are the vehicle for that."
To learn more about Petals for Hope, go to petalsforhope.com or call 410-253-6019.